I pretty much grew up on dried apples. From late August until this time of year, Mom would patiently peel and thinly slice a variety that we called “horse apples”. It was a variety for which Pap had lost the name, but the draft horses on the place and the mules and cows loved to munch the apples. Mom only knew for sure that he had ordered the trees from Stark’s Brothers and that it was a brought-on variety.
The nags and cows on our old place, there in the head of Blair Branch, loved to eat them because they were ultrafi rm and juicy and crunched up pleasantly in the mouth when eaten fresh there off the trees in Pap’s old orchard. They were about the size and shape of a pregnant baseball and sort of yellow green. Nondescript and not that tasty by my standards, but they were full of sugar. And they would dry from juice to leather on a sheet of tin roofing in hot sun in just a day.
And so we peeled and dried them by the bushels and they shrunk to nearly nothing before Mom stashed them away in feed sacks there in the pantry or behind the wood-fired cook stove there in the kitchen. Apple chips that would swell up in your stomach and give you the ultimate belly ache if you ate more than a few. Ultimate constipation.
But Mom had recipes galore that involved nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice, ginger, molasses, spice bark, sassafras, and so forth, and once or twice a week throughout the winter, breakfast would consist of fried apple pies instead of fried bacon and gravy and biscuits and fresh hen eggs. She would soak the dried apples overnight in some thrown-together mixture of sweetening and spices. Then she would roll out biscuit dough there on a floured end of the big kitchen table, so thin that you could see through it.
She would take a soup bowl turned upside down and quickly strip off big circles of dough contained inside the bowl, over and over again. And then she would fill the middle of the dough with whatever nectar she had soaked overnight and combined with dried horse apples. She would fold the circle of dough into a half moon and crimp the edges of the fold with a table fork. And then she would fry the pies, two at a time, there in smoking hog-lard grease in a big cast iron skillet atop her coal and wood-fired kitchen cook stove.
Many times, when I was in grade school there at Blair Branch Grade School, I would take one of Mom’s fried apple pies and maybe a boiled hen egg to school for lunch and the teacher would say, “I’ll swap lunches with you and give you a dime to boot.” You never saw, or will ever see, food and money change hands so fast in your life.
The teachers I recall from those years in the late ‘50s and up to maybe ’62 are Monroe Caudill and Willie J. Back and they both had access to deli cuts unknown to those of us on Blair Branch. I’m reasonably sure they never ate a lunch they brought from home. They routinely swapped out coldcuts for real home cooking.