How ‘Bout Dem Apples??? A Look at Ohio’s Apple History

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About this time of year, when the leaves have fallen, I have apples on the mind. There is a rather obvious reason for this obsession. I have a very old and very large apple tree in my backyard. And about this time of year, the apples are picked and it is time to do something with them.

There are a lot of apple trees in central Ohio. And there have been a lot of apple trees in this part of the state for a very long time. Part of the reason this is the case was due to the efforts of a rather quixotic and peripatetic individual named John Chapman. A shrewd businessman as well as something of a free spirit, Chapman became better known by the nickname he acquired by starting apple orchards across much of Ohio and points nearby as the state was being settled after the American Revolution. “Johnny Appleseed” is probably the best known apple grower in American history.

But he was not the only person to bring fruit trees in general and apple trees in particular into the Ohio country. Many people settling in Ohio recognized that orchards would be a good thing to have as well as herds of livestock and fields of corn and grain. Most of those early trees are gone now, but the orchards that followed them are still around. And about this time of year, many of those apples are made into cider.

Because most people today buy their cider by the bottle at a neighborhood store, it is not often noted how it is made. This was not the case a hundred years ago when wagonloads of apples were brought to a local cider mill. And in some parts of Ohio they probably still are. In the words of a newspaper account from that time .

“Generally the mill is outdoors with perhaps only a rude roof over it. The apples are dumped into the cogged hopper, the old horse is started up around the ring, and the smell of apple sap fills the air as the fresh pulp crackles and squeaks.”

“Then it is shoveled into a birdcage like affair and the top of the piston placed where it will have equal pressure at all points. Then the big screw is turned and the juice begins to run through the slats, hits the grooves and into the vat. “

“As the sun comes up, the honey bees from neighboring hives stretch their chilled and cramped legs and then, catching the odor of the sap, make ‘bee lines’ for the place.”

Then comes the hauling away of the cider barrels to some cool place in the cellar; the placing of the secret compound into it to keep the cider “sweet.”

And in that world of a hundred years ago when people did not travel as far or as often and did not have the electronic diversions we have today, the chore of working with apples often became the excuse for a party.

Ohio author W. H. Venable described a typical gathering more than a century ago.

“The middle aged and young of a whole neighborhood assembled at some spacious farmhouse to peel and pare great heaps of apples for drying or make into ‘butter’ by stewing in boiled cider.”

‘The love-fortunes of men and women were determined by the counting of apple-seeds; and whoever removed the entire skin of a pippin in one long ribbon, whirled the lucky streamer thrice around his head and let if all behind him on the floor, and in the form it took a quick fancy read the monogram of his or her intended mate.”

And at the end of the evening, the assembled multitude would gather around and partake of foaming pitchers of cider and plates of apple desserts.

And even now, a hundred years later, they still do. Johnny Appleseed would have been proud.

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