Photo: Probable Honeycrisp Apple by Tad Dukehart.
What does a temperance activist, a vegetarian folk hero, and a teacher at Ephraim’s one-room schoolhouse have in common? Apples.
JUICY TRUTHS ABOUT THE APPLE’S TANGY PAST
Did you know that, with the exception of North American crab apple trees, 17th century colonists brought apples to North America? Today, 7,500 apple varieties exist worldwide. The Honeycrisp, pictured here, is one of 2,500 varieties grown in the US. Many of us remember when it was first introduced around 1991. This tangy, crunchy apple, was developed in our neighboring state of Minnesota.
Swiss Immigrant Plants Door County’s 1st Commercial Orchard
Historians credit Swiss immigrant Joseph Zettel with planting Door County’s first commercial apple orchard in 1862. (Cherry orchards got going in Door County about thirty years later.) Zettel’s apples were likely bitter and pulpy, but good for making cider. His orchard was four miles north of Sturgeon Bay along Hwy 57. Folks today know the location as The Farm.
Zettel’s neighbors, hearty pioneers staking a claim on land indigenous people ceded to the U.S. government (Chicago Treaty 1833, Indian Removal Act 1830), were also planting apple trees. An old, gnarly apple tree still stands in the east lawn of the Iverson House. Before refrigeration, apples were the only fresh fruit that kept over the winter. Food uses were endless. Baked, sauced, buttered, dried … and peels saved to make cider.
A Notorious Fruit
In pioneer times, cider was a go-to beverage because clean drinking water was often scarce. Fermented or hard cider was common, too, and for some imbibing became a problem. Enter Kansan temperance activist Carrie Nation (1846-1911) whose husband died from severe alcoholism just two years after they married. Hard cider, and apples, became a target for her and others concerned about hard cider’s potential harm to families. According to author Keven McQueen, Nation described herself as “a bulldog running along at the feet of Jesus, barking at what He doesn’t like” and claimed a divine ordination to promote sober living by destroying bars. Though she was lampooned in cartoons after taking a hatchet to a bar, Carrie Nation was also known for great generosity towards children, women, and prisoners who had fallen on hard times.
The Apple Gets a PR Makeover
By the end of the 19th century, it was time for the apple to have a “PR” makeover. It helped that orchardists were developing new, flavorful varieties. Folksy apple cures were beginning to show up in print, too. Rustic Speech and Folk-lore (1913), for example, recorded this proverb: “Ait a happle avore gwain to bed, An’ you’ll make the doctor beg his bread.” We know the saying today as “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Soon, apples were in high favor again. Boys and girls across the nation (many still living in rural areas with apple trees in their backyards) brought the luscious red fruit to teachers. It was an inexpensive gift to give, and a healthy, practical (food) gift to receive.
By mid-twentieth century, Ephraim children may have been picking apples for teachers at commercial orchards like the one owned by Eddy Valentine on Town Line Road, or from the Fardigs. Perhaps they bought an apple from the Anderson Store (about 11 cents a pound in 1930), harvested from the Anderson’s family orchard on Moravia Street. For an interesting read about the Anderson orchard, track down a copy of Door County Almanak No. 2 and read Charles Peterson’s essay “Aslag’s Orchard.”
Some of the apples landing on teachers’ desks in the US originated from trees planted by John Chapman (1774-1845). Chapman, Johnny Appleseed, was a trained orchardist who planted hundreds of trees (not seeds as folklore claims) in the Ohio River Valley. He was a vegetarian. Later in life, Chapman became an itinerant preacher known for powerful sermons. Disney got hold of his story in 1948. Who remembers the Johnny Appleseed song released in the film Melody Time?
Oh, the Lord is good to me.
And so I thank the Lord
For giving me the things I need:
The sun and the rain and the apple seed;
The Lord is good to me.
How about teaching this song to your grandkids this fall while baking apple cake? If you do, share photos or recordings that can be posted on the EHF website to email@example.com! No kids around? Snap an image or record a rendition of yourself.
Marvin Lotz. Discovering Door County’s Past, 1994
Fred Johnson, Editor. Door County Almanak No. 2 Orchards, 1986.
Keven McQueen.”Carrie Nation: Militant Prohibitionist”. Offbeat Kentuckians: Legends to Lunatics, 2001.