Wilder Wednesday – How ‘Bout Them Apples

Wilder Wednesday posts are inspired by the Little House series of books.

“Pie!” said Pa, and, “Apple pie!” said Mr. Boast. “Jumping Jehoshaphat, I wish I’d known this was coming!”
Slowly they each ate a piece of that apple pie, and Pa and Mr. Boast divided the one piece left over.
“I never hope to eat a better Christmas dinner,” said Mr. Boast, with a deep sigh of fullness.
By the Shores of Silver Lake ~Laura Ingalls Wilder

The above pie was made from dried apples found in the surveyor’s house, but did you know that Pa later grew apples and plums on his farm in De Smet? On the 7th of May, 1886, Pa listed “apple trees, bearing; plum tress bearing small fruit in abundance, about 6000 fruit trees” as improvements to his homestead. Fruit trees generally have to be at least four or five years old to begin bearing, so Pa had been raising these trees for a few years.

pa hs proof

Laura and Almanzo had an apple orchard, too, on their farm, Rocky Ridge, in Mansfield. When they purchased the farm, there were “800 apple trees on it growing in nursery rows. Two hundred had been set out the spring before…”*

With lots of work and care, seven years later the Wilders had beautiful, delicious apples. Almanzo said that “my Ben Davis are different from any I have ever seen in being better colored and flavored and in the texture of the flesh.”* Most of the apples grown on Rocky Ridge were the Ben Davis variety; some were Missouri Pippin.

AJ apple

Almanzo in front of one of his apple trees.

At one time, Ben Davis apples were among the most popular grown in the US, but it more for the advantage of growers and sellers than consumers, since they were usually considered to be a dry and flavorless variety. There was even a joke that if you put Ben Davis apples in a cider press, “the Davies would soak up the cider.” However, it was a hardy breed with a long growing season. In addition, they were thick-skinned and did not show bruising as much as other varieties after shipping.


Ben Davis variety of apple

Although Almanzo seemed extra proud of his Ben Davis apples, it was his Pippins that won a prize at the Wright County Fair in 1922.

1922 10 19 pippin

Pippins are a lighter fruit than many other apple varieties. They are crunchy, juicy, and slightly sweet.


Missouri Pippin variety of apple

Almanzo claimed to be a novice orchard man when he acquired the apple orchard on Rocky Ridge, but he evidently had some experience with them. This quote is from Farmer Boy:
The apples were ripe. Almanzo and Royal and Father set ladders against the trees, and climbed into the leafy tops. They picked every perfect apple carefully, and laid it in a basket. Father drove the wagonful of baskets slowly to the house, and Almanzo helped carry the baskets down cellar and lay the apples carefully in the apple-bins. They didn’t bruise one apple, for a bruised apple will rot, and one rotten apple will spoil a whole bin.

Apples were eaten fresh, made into sauce, or baked into pies. Apple pie is something that I loved growing up, when all I had was what my mom made. Since then, I’ve tasted many, many versions of the all-American dessert, but none come close to Mom’s. In honor of Pa and Almanzo, here is her recipe, which has also won at the county fair.

Mom’s Sky-High Apple Pie

For the pastry: Refrigerate all ingredients, and the mixing bowl, pastry cutter, and mixing spoon for at least 2 hours before beginning. (I’ve learned that cold ingredients are key to a light, flaky crust.)
3 c. flour
1 t. salt
1 T. sugar
½ c. shortening (or lard)
½ c. butter
1 egg, beaten and halved
1 T. lemon juice
1/3 c. ice water

Mix the dry ingredients. Cut into shortening and butter until mixture resembles peas. Stir in ½ egg and lemon juice. (Reserve remaining egg for glazing the top crust before baking.) Sprinkle with water, using just enough to cause dough to stick together into a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill. When ready to use, divide in half and roll out. Line a large pie plate with one crust. (Hint: to prevent a doughy bottom crust, you can pre-bake the bottom for about 5 minutes before filling. This isn’t usually done with fruit pies, but it does make a difference.)

For the filling:
8 c. apple slices – different apple varieties produce different tastes. Granny Smiths are tart; I prefer McIntosh, Gala, or Pippins (Laura would approve).
1 ½ T. lemon juice
1 c. sugar
½ c. instant oats
1 egg
2 t. cinnamon
¾ t. nutmeg
⅓ c. butter
extra 1 T. milk, sugar and cinnamon
Combine everything but the butter and extras, and pour into the bottom crust you’ve prepared. Dot generously with butter. Top with remaining crust, fluting edges to seal. Slit top crust to vent. Mix the reserved ½ egg with extra 1 T. milk and use to glaze the crust, then sprinkle lightly with extra sugar and cinnamon.
Place pie on a thin, foil-lined baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for an hour. Let cool at least 10 minutes before slicing. Best with ice cream!

*A.J. Wilder, “My Apple Orchard,” Missouri Ruralist, June 1, 1912. (Note: the byline on this article is A.J. Wilder. Most LIW scholars agree that Laura actually wrote it. I remain unconvinced.)


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