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Food For Thought

One of my favorite times of year, for a good many years, was early fall when the apples in our orchard were ready for picking. My dad, having set out to raise most of the food his family needed, planted not only big gardens, but all kinds of berry bushes, grapes, and fruit trees. At one time, the acreage on the very edge of town had been part of a large commercial cherry orchard. Oddly, by time Dad bought the property, there was not a single cherry tree left on it. There were several large black walnut trees and a small grove of about six pear trees. Dad planted several types of peaches, plums, and just about every kind of apple including one that had seven different varieties grafted onto the same tree. We had summer apples, which he called glass apples, that were available during the summer for pies, eating out of hand, or for making that marvelous apple butter which is as smooth as butter and has me convinced that is how it got its name.
But the Jonathans, the Red and Yellow Delicious, Jonadels, and Winesaps, with their crackling crispness and tart juiciness, had to wait for fall. One morning, Mother would announce that we should hurry straight home from school, change clothes, and join her in the orchard where she would be picking apples. I’d do just as she said and would find myself happily standing on a ladder, the afternoon sun warm on my shoulders, and the fresh smell of apples all around me. Mother would already have bushel baskets and corrugated boxes filled with the red and yellow beauties, and still the limbs seemed to be loaded with fruit. She kept the varieties separated so that they could be sorted according to how she would use them. There were usually bees humming around the trees, attracted by the sweet aroma of apples in the warm sunshine. They never seemed to sting or bother us, but feasted on the bruised and damaged windfalls in the grass below. We never bothered picking up even the prettiest ones once they were on the ground, as they would be bruised and would not store well. Besides, we always had more apples than we needed, without them.
It’s a sad fact that, if you have a bumper crop of apples, so does everybody else, so selling the surplus isn’t very profitable. Mother canned and froze as many as she could against a skimpy crop the next year. But first, we ate as many as we could while they were fresh. A few dozen “special” apples would be wrapped in paper and stored in an extra refrigerator in the basement. These were “Christmas apples,” meant to be lovingly polished and given as gifts and to fill Mother’s big, carved, wooden bowl for Thanksgiving and Christmas – and maybe stuffed into stockings on Christmas Eve. Some varieties were best for eating fresh, some best for pies and turnovers, others made the prettiest jelly, or the best caramel apples for Halloween. Mother knew which ones she would use for those frozen pie fillings, and which would make toppings for her special coffeecakes. Some would be diced and canned to use as ingredients in our favorite apple muffins next winter, and some that appeared to be destined for immediate use would be left in the kitchen for after-school snacks, adding to pancake batter, or sliced and dipped in batter then deep-fried to go with pork chops. A lot would be simply washed, coarsely chopped, and put through a small press that had probably been a lard press at one phase of its life, and turned into cloudy but delicious apple cider.
When my dad’s mother was visiting, she made a very special treat that she called Milotions. (Having never seen that word in writing, I have spelled it phonetically.) I’ve never found it in any cookbook and assume it is either German, as my grandmother was, or Norwegian, as her husband was. I’ve asked any number of ethnic good cooks but nobody admits to having any knowledge. So it remains a mystery. Grandma started by making a stiff dough using leftover mashed potatoes and flour. (This is similar to lefsa, so the recipe could well be Scandinavian.) This dough was rolled out about as thick as pie crust, and filled with sliced, peeled apples. I don’t recall that she added sugar, as they were not especially sweet. But I know she dotted the apples generously with butter and maybe added a bit of salt. These were then wrapped completely with the dough, making a flat packet about two inches wide, five or six inches long, and three-quarters of an inch thick. She then arranged them, seam side down, close together in a buttered baking dish, dribbled them with thick cream until they were shiny, and baked them until the apples were tender. These we ate, fresh and hot from the oven with more butter melting on top of them. They were very filling, and eating more than two gave me a grand stomach ache – but they were a real treat!