Let’s don our party hats and sing Happy Birthday to John Chapman! Granted his birthday isn’t for another week but I am all for starting the celebration early. And just who is the birthday boy who will be 235 years old on the 26th of September? You know him better as “Johnny Appleseed.” Born near Leominster, Massachusetts, little of John’s childhood is known, but we do know that at the age of 25, he was an accomplished nursery man and had planted apple trees in the western portions of New York and Pennsylvania.
In the early 1800’s, John set out to explore the fertile lands just south of the Great Lakes and west of the Ohio River. This area later became the states of Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois. When settlers began to arrive here, they found apple trees ready for sale, courtesy of Mr. Chapman. In the years that followed, he became known as the Apple Tree Man, or Johnny Appleseed.
John was known to be a deeply religious man with great respect for the land and its inhabitants. Legend has it that he talked to the wild animals as he went about the business of planting apple trees. One story tells of how he was stranded in a snow storm and looking for shelter, crawled into the hollow of a fallen tree. Apparently a Mama bear and her cubs had all ready staked out a claim for that tree as the perfect winter hide-away, but amazingly, the foursome snoozed together peacefully until the storm abated.
A newspaper account documents that John Chapman passed away near Ft. Wayne, Indiana in 1845 after being stricken with a disease called “winter plague.”
The apple harvest is in full swing here in Maine. Grab a sweater, pack a picnic lunch, and pick some apples!
NANA’S APPLE CRISP
This recipe was given to me by my late maternal Grandmother, Genevieve Dodge Tucker, who was given the recipe by her mother, (my Great Grandmother), Nettie Penora Dodge. This dessert was a popular item on the menu at her inn, The House by the Side of the Road, on Cape Cod. Its simplicity is key to the wonderful flavor and texture – no oatmeal, no nuts, just a wonderful crunchy, buttery shortbread crust and soft, sweet apples. Serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
FOR THE FILLING:
8 large Cortland apples, peeled and thinly sliced
2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
½ cup sugar mixed with ½ teaspoon cinnamon
FOR THE TOPPING:
½ cup sugar
¾ cup all-purpose flour
5⅓ Tablespoons unsalted butter
To prepare the filling: Put sliced apples into a lightly buttered baking dish. Sprinkle with lemon juice and toss gently. Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar mixture and toss again to coat. Set aside.
To prepare the topping: In a bowl, combine sugar and flour. Cut in cold butter using a pastry blender or fork until mixture resembles coarse meal. Pour topping over apples, patting down gently with the back of a spoon. Bake in a preheated 350° oven for 40-50 minutes or until topping is golden brown. Let stand 20 minutes before serving. Serve warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Paula Anderson is a contributing writer to Maine Food & Lifestyle magazine, as well as a columnist for 3 Maine Newspapers with a focus on food, nutrition, and entertaining.