How d’ye like them apples?

This is September in Colorado:  cool nights and warm afternoons with clear, blue skies.  We’re lucky to have an heirloom apple tree in our yard, which this year is absolutely loaded with fruit.  (The hot, dry summer has been perversely great for the Colorado fruit crop.  This tree ain’t exactly an orchard, but it appears to share in the local bounty.)  With any luck, we’ll have enough pies and applesauce to last us until the apple blossoms open next spring.

Maybe it’s due to my huge fangirl crush in the 1970s on Laura Ingalls Wilder and her Little House series, but I’ve always been inordinately charmed by “free food,” and aggressively motivated to do something with it when I find it.  When I was a little girl, I loved finding those ferny weeds in people’s lawns that looked like Queen Anne’s Lace, but whose roots resembled (and tasted like) thin, pale carrots.  (Maybe they were Queen Anne’s Lace?  I don’t know.)  I remember a scrawny clover whose lemony leaves we used to chew.  My greatest childhood discovery was perhaps a patch of strawberries along a lazy spring that burbled up in the woods by my house.

All of these finds spurred survivalist fantasies that were originally inspired by Wilder’s pioneer imaginary:  I didn’t have a gun and I’ve never seen a prairie chicken in my lifetime, but I might find something that could help pa and ma round out supper tonight.

As an adult, my fascination with found food never dimmed.  I remember in particular a hike I did with friends the year after we graduated from college in the mountains outside Winchester,  Virginia.  I forget what the hike was actually called–after finding loaded raspberry and blueberry bushes there, we dubbed it “Mount Snackmore.”  And Fratguy has caught a clutch of small trout on more than one camping trip that was enough to provide a welcome supplement our camp dinners.  And this summer, in Boulder, Utah, I found a tree loaded with ripe apricots that seemed utterly neglected by the side of the road, ripe fruit rotting on the ground, so I picked some to eat before continuing on my run.

So come the first week of October, I’ll be standing at the kitchen sink washing, coring, and trimming apples for pies, with a pot of applesauce simmering on the stove behind me.  These apples are excellent for pies and baking–nicely tart, but not too tart to eat out of hand.  They sweeten up a bit and improve if we wait until the first hard frost to pick them.

If you have any good apple recipes or ideas for apple preservation, or just a good apple story, let me know.

24 thoughts on “How d’ye like them apples?

  1. Those look REALLY good!

    According to the orchard folks at the local farmers’ market, the apple crop in the upper midwest is WAY down this year. Alas. But the apples I’ve had have been so good!

    Apples make fall bearable (despite the oncoming winter).


  2. I think those are Queen Anne’s Lace, yeah; it’s a type of wild carrot. The familiar domestic orange variety was developed in the Netherlands in the 17th century.

    I love apple crisp, because I am too lazy to make pie crust.


  3. Smells great already. The typical apple pie calls for buttery pie dough, eggs in the filling and other old age ingredients. At home, we make apple pie with very thin no fat crust, no dough on top the apples and use less sugar than recommended. The pies disappear fast.


  4. We have a small apple tree in our front yard but every apple is targeted by insects before we can have a go. A lot also fall off the tree if it’s a dry summer like this one just past. So we mostly just pick apples off the ground and throw them into a compost bag to put out with the weekly recycling.

    Have fun with your tree’s fruit. I’d whip up a dish of apple cobbler if I had enough good fruit to make it worth my while. As it is, I’m more likely to have the ingredients for mock-apple pie in my larder.


  5. Not an apple story, but another “found food” one: along the highways, freeways, and ditches of Vancouver and area, the blackberries grow huge and wild brambles all over the place. They’re ignored by most locals, but you occasionally see a few people picking them. Once when I was in a taxi in Toronto the Azerbaijani taxi driver was reminiscing about his early years in Canada, which he spent in Vancouver. His fondest memory was of the blackberry bushes along the roads: “I thought, this was the best country in the world!” he said, “They even feed people for free!” I thinks that’s one of the greater compliments to my home country I’ve ever heard–it’s a welcoming enough place that there’s even food lying along the side of the road, free for anyone to pick.


  6. My mother always told me those queen anne’s lace carrots were poisonous, but in retrospect, it’s possible she just wasn’t thrilled about my own childhood tendency to eat the front yard.


  7. How about drying those apples? I think you cut them thin and put them on baking sheets at a very low heat. Go on the web to be sure, but I love dried apples in my winter oatmeal.

    Not so found food story: I partly grew up in southern Idaho, and both my grandparents were rural Canadians in their youth. Grandfather was an eye doctor in farm country, and he was not infrequently paid for annual refractions, minor eye surgery and whatnot — in food! We had fresh rainbow trout, bread and butter pickles, watermelon pickles….we ate it fresh and my grandmother canned, pickled, preserved, jellied and jammed from June on.


  8. I love making apple butter and apple pear butter from blogger “Free Range Living’s” archive. If you Google it, it will come up. I’m a big fan of free food. Most of what we plant in the yard is edible.


  9. I’ve always enjoyed combining apples (esp. semi-tart ones) and cabbage. I can’t find the exact recipe, but there’s an apple-cabbage side dish that I used to make. The trick is to marinate the cabbage in some apple cider vinegar or lemon juice and a little bit of sugar (brown or white) for about an hour. Then you cook it with sliced and peeled apples for about 30 minutes, until everything is tender. This looks like a variation on it:


  10. Kimbrulee–I actually cooked some farmer’s mkt. apples with cabbage and onions this weekend. (I didn’t do the sweet-sour thing, though.) I also do this with sauerkraut come cooler weather.

    Thanks for all of your suggestions. Fratguy and I have talked with a neighbor who’s a homebrewer about making cider, but I don’t think we’ll have access to a press. Cider would be ideal, though–these apples are perfect for it.

    Apple crisp is good, but I like pie best of all. The supermarket roll-out crusts are OK, but the Cook’s Magazine pie crust with vodka is pretty foolproof. I like pie with a crumb topping rather than a crust top, and if I’m feeling particularly fancy, I’ll serve it with ice cream and caramel sauce on top.

    And Sarah: thanks for commenting! I hope to see you at the 25th. I think someone eating my lawn would be terrific, rather than mowing it. Can someone loan me a goat? Then we’ll have the urban farming aesthetic down cold.


  11. And p.s. to Ellen Rigsby: yes, apple butter is a great idea. A neighbor of mine specializes in that, so I haven’t made it recently, but I may take a page out of her book. (She doesn’t have an apple tree, but rather gleans fallen apples from a neighbor’s yard!) Maybe she’ll take a bushel of apples off my hands.


  12. Damn. Now I’m hungry.

    Note of caution about the wild carrots. Some of them are, and some plants that look fairly similar are wild hemlock, the plant whose claim to fame is killing Socrates. It has noticeably spotted stems. (Hence the Latin name, Conium maculatum.) If your “wild carrot” has spotted stems, don’t eat!.


  13. Ditto to the Little House, eating wild carrots and berries, and even the lemony clover (wood sorrel). There was also spring near our house that grew watercress (wish I still had that!) and we learned how to make “Indian lemonade” out of sumac (but only if an adult verified that we had really found sumac, not another poison berry).

    No good apple stories, though, because I associate them with work, not play. But homemade applesauce is great warm with cinnamon on top of vanilla ice cream.


  14. Historiann, if you’d put one of those pies to cool on a windowsill, I’ll hop a freight car at the end of my street (*one* of my streets) and ride out there to personally re-enact one of the great American cartoon and movie tropes about free food; to wit, the hobo tiptoeing across the yard to grab a pie and then hightailing it back toward the freight yard with the one-eyed farm dog in enthusiastic pursuit. (I guess it would be a little too much to suggest heavy-on-the-cinnamon on a medium-brown crust, wouldn’t it?). But a small jug of hard cider would speed my way back east!



    And this fall’s driving me crazee, with the neighbors letting their fruit drop on the ground — in CO, this broad will take ’em off your hands:

    … and these gleaners will donate a portion of their harvest to Project Angel Heart:


  16. Our heirloom tree is a mature pecan tree, which blessed us with 40 pounds of pecans 2 Autumns ago. It appears that the drought has eliminated this year’s crop, alas. I love, love this kind of found food, and I also think of Laura and her sisters when cultivating my little garden. Here you see people collecting pecans on sidewalks, lawns, and parking lots, and we used to go out in the mornings and make sure we got all the ones from the street in front of our house just to make sure the dog and baby walkers didn’t get too many free snacks from us.

    Because pecans are a huge pain to shell, at least mine are, I think you should focus on apple recipes that do not require much peeling. Coring and drying. Pies with skins on. Things like that…


  17. I’m just as lazy a cook as you are, wini. I almost never peel an apple–I think skins give the pies character, and I use a food mill to process the applesauce, which removes the skins for me. And they enrich the compost, finally!


  18. I am teaching in Guatemala right now, and here in some regions they eat clover or shamrocks (not sure if both names are for the same weed?). They mince it finely and mix it with lime or lemon juice, salt and a little garlic. It’s eaten as a veggie side dish, like you would spinach maybe, but I like it as a spread. Delicious! They also roast a kind of giant ant that tastes like peanuts, which I am sure would gross out most people in the US. But it wasn’t bad. I was in a situation in which refusing would have seemed rude, I thought, so I went ahead and tried it and to my surprise, wasn’t bad. Not bad at all.


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