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Apple Peeling 19th Century!

Posted by on July 18, 2011

Back in 1970, my dad planted 6 apple trees in the yard where I now live. He had Lodi, Harrelson, Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Jonathan, and Macintosh. The trees he planted were semi-dwarf, which means they have a short life span, so our trees are now dying out one by one. I’m really going to miss the Lodi. It was our big producer. Big, pale green to yellow apples covered the tree each year and were ready to harvest by the Fourth of July. We spent many holidays sitting in the yard peeling and cutting up apples for applesauce while honey bees buzzed over the discards. If you’ve ever canned fresh produce, you know that the work is worth it just to hear those pops when the lids seal down. What a sense of satisfaction that gives you!

These kids are grown now, but here’s a small portion of one harvest. They are sitting under our Jonathan Apple tree.

Of course, applesauce and apple butter aren’t the only things you can do with apples. I still remember my grandmother’s dried-apple pies. They were so good! And what of apple cider? Jams and jellies can be made from the peelings. There’s fresh apple cake, apple dumplings, and I don’t know what all else. Plenty, I’m sure.

People in the old days joined together to harvest those heavily-laden fruit trees in the fall of the year. We’ve all heard of the old quilting bees and of corn-shucking socials, so why not apple-peeling parties? Work parties were how the sheer volume of work got done while giving neighbors an excuse to visit and have fun.

Back in the late 1800s, with the apple trees bowing beneath their load, the host family prepared their barn to hold the large crowd that was sure to show up. Swept clean with tables and chairs set up, that big barn still wouldn’t be room for everyone. Folks came from all around, bringing their own chairs, knives and pans, and a covered dish for the meal to follow. Bushel after bushel of freshly picked apples waited in long rows. Lanterns were hung from the rafters to give light. Close your eyes and breathe through your imagination the delicious aroma of those apples. But wait until the peeling started when the fragrance is truly released.

Many of the apples were prepared for drying by stringing slices on heavy thread with large-eyed needles. The men laid those long strings of apples on a raised platform covered by a sheet where they would dry in the sun. The strings helped with the turning so the apples dried on both sides. Other batches were cooked and put up in jars to be used later for pies or whatever the cook wanted to make. Almost everyone had a job to do, but all was not work by any means.

Neighbors spent this time catching up with each other. Young unmarried people cast glances toward their sweethearts, and when the work ended they often disappeared. Others, looking for a future husband or wife, took advantage of the social by meeting and getting acquainted with a new guy or gal. Children looked on the party as a time to play with their friends and have fun. Teasing and laughter rang out as did competition among young and old alike. One contest was to peel an apple without breaking the skin while making it as long as possible. If you’ve ever tried doing this, you’ll know it isn’t easy. Sometimes the
competition was for the best prepared apple dish or recipe. A prize for the winner might be a new apple-peeling machine to shorten the work for the next party. And there would be another, and yet another as each neighbor with apples had his turn.

Sounds like fun to me!

2 Responses to Apple Peeling 19th Century!

  1. Mildred Colvin

    I believe they sometimes put a time limit on the peeling of that one long strand. The first to finish and the longest. I’m not sure how they determined if one was faster and another was longer. But working together to accomplish so much work had to give everyone a wonderful feeling. I think we miss so much by pulling away from our neighbors.

    Of course our crit groups show a little bit of that working together spirit, so maybe we haven’t totally gone away from the good things in life! 🙂


  2. Connie Almony

    Love this. One thing I have always loved about the Amish Fiction is the description of these kinds of gatherings. One day, I’ll have one myself. And yes, I’ve tried to peel the apple in one strand. Not sure I actually accomplished it though. Got a few apples now … lets see ….