Posts Tagged ‘The Last Letter Home’

Immigrant Apples

January 14, 2010

I am mourning the approaching end of fresh fruit for the year.  Soon Scott and I will get our final box from Future Fruit Farm. When we joined this Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, I knew we could look forward to local and organically-raised apples, pears, and plums. And that would have been plenty!

To my delight, some of the varieties we receive are also heirlooms, or antiques. Heirloom varieties have been documented and preserved for at least a century.  Many immigrants crossed the Atlantic with precious seeds tucked into their trunks, or even stitched into the hems of their garments for safekeeping.

Antique apples have far more taste and variety than varieties bred to look good over long transports.

I began learning about heirloom fruits (and vegetables and flowers) when I worked at Old World Wisconsin.  I also started reading immigrant fiction.  When Swedish novelist Vilhelm Moberg wrote the four novel suite The Emigrants, he used apples symbolically.  The stories follow Karl Oskar Nilsson and his wife Kristina as they leave  Småland for a new home in Minnesota.

Kristina, who never stops longing for Sweden, lies awake at night and remembers:  “Against the evening sky the young Astrachan apple tree stood out clearly—she had planted it herself….  Each autumn she had dug around the little tree; it had carried its first apples the last fall they were at home—big juicy apples with transparent skin; how many times she had gone out just to look at the apples; and how delicious they had been.”  (Unto a Good Land, Moberg)

Kristina, forever looking over her shoulder, is immortalized in Lindstrom, MN.

Karl Oskar grows an Astrachan tree, but it doesn’t bear fruit until Kristina is on her deathbed.  He brings her the first ripe apple, which she is barely strong enough to taste.  “It’s an Astrachan…!” she breathes.  “…Our apples are ripe.  I’m home.”  Those are her final words, and the apple falls to the floor.  (The Last Letter Home, Moberg)

Astrachan (Astrakhan) apples, which evidently originated in Russia and came to the United States from Sweden in the 1830s, were once very popular.  Unfortunately, the variety has fallen out of favor over the past few decades.  I haven’t yet had the opportunity to taste one, but I do enjoy the antique Winesap and Cox Orange Pippin apples I get from Future Fruit Farm.

When I make apple pies, I always use a recipe shared by German-American Otto Hilgendorf.  Two of his family farm’s outbuildings were moved to Old World Wisconsin in the 1970s, and when I began working in the German area in 1982, he sometimes visited. I’m very grateful that I had the chance to meet him.  I wish now I’d thought to ask him what kind of apple he favored, but I love thinking about his family—and all the other immigrants who cherished their apple trees—when I make pie.

Me and Otto Hilgendorf at Old World Wisconsin, 1982.

Otto Hilgendorf’s Sour Cream Apple Pie
Line a pan with your favorite pie pastry, and fill with apples.  (I don’t peel the apples, just core and cut and chunks.)

Mix 1 c. sugar with 1 T. flour, 1 T. cinnamon, and a pinch of salt. Sprinkle half of that mixture over the apples.

Spread 1 c. of sour cream over the apples, and sprinkle the rest of the sugar mixture on top.

Bake about one hour at 350 degrees, and serve cold.

Otto Hilgendorf’s Sour Cream Apple Pie