Penn­syl­va­nia Dutch re­frig­er­a­tion and clever stor­age of all things ap­ple

The Southern Berks News - - LOCAL NEWS - Richard L.T. Orth A Look Back In His­tory

The use of an un­der­ground cel­lar, built in­de­pen­dent of any other build­ing, had been a pop­u­lar method for stor­age of ap­ples, dairy, and root crops since Colo­nial days. On cer­tain Colo­nial home­steads in south­east­ern Penn­syl­va­nia, the large manor house base­ment was sub­di­vided to ac­com­mo­date a vaulted root cel­lar. Ul­ti­mately, some stor­age and us­age ideas were com­bined in our rich ap­ple cul­ture, as it was more ef­fi­cient to make the year’s sup­ply of ap­ple­sauce and ap­ple but­ter at har­vest time, than to store the ap­ples for a later date. Like­wise, one could also store ap­ples by dry­ing them as, “Sch­nitz,” which opened up another av­enue of uses, for ex­am­ple, Sch­nitz pie, Sch­nitz un Knepp, etc. Ap­ples that could not be stored in their nor­mal state for long win­ter months had to be pro­cessed.

There­fore, many of our Penn­syl­va­nia Dutch farm­steads in the East Penn and Oley Val­leys and else­where had a va­ri­ety of ap­ple or­chards that pro­vided do­mes­ti­cated food dishes for our eth­nic na­tives, in­clud­ing sweet cider, or “cider twice” (hard cider) that was once trans­ported to the port of Philadel­phia by Con­estoga wag­ons. There, farm­ers made a sig­nif­i­cant profit as much of it was pur­chased by wealthy sea cap­tains who ex­ported said cargo as well as other riches to dis­tant lands. They were also a num­ber of farm­ers who sold house­hold vine­gar at the Port of Philadel­phia, as well. Many a fair-sized farm had a siz­able one or two-screw cider press upon which ap­ple mulch was squeezed into bar­rels of cider, then stored in a giant vaulted cel­lar un­til it was shipped to Philadel­phia, or pro­cessed into vine­gar.

Among the Penn­syl­va­nia Dutch, as well, there ex­isted the prac­tice of stor­ing ap­ple but­ter in an open gal­lon crock and then seal­ing it tightly by ty­ing news­pa­per down over the top of the crock. It was then placed in the attic to be stored for months. But when open­ing such a crock of stored ap­ple but­ter, af­ter sev­eral months, it would have formed a thick, hard crust by then. The hard­est part of this crust, how­ever, was then cut away and the re­main­ing por­tion placed in a pot and heated ad­ding a small amount of wa­ter and sugar for con­sump­tion. In a short time, the thick mass again would be­come a smooth and tasty treat as it was be­fore but in this case with no re­frig­er­a­tion or freez­ing nec­es­sary. Quite a trick was Grandma’s folk knowl­edge of pre­par­ing food and stor­ing it, but has be­come a lost art and re­mem­bered vividly by some with a men­tion in a col­umn, as such.

Per­haps a pre­cur­sor trait found in all of us Penn­syl­va­nia Dutch to store food in prepa­ra­tion, gen­er­a­tions ago, few na­tives liv­ing in the North Amer­i­can cli­matic tem­per­ate zone could ex­pect to eas­ily sur­vive, un­less they an­tic­i­pated plant­ing gar­dens and crops in the early spring­time or pre­par­ing canned goods and heat­ing fuel for our harsh win­ters. Maybe life back in the “good old days,” and be­fore, in Colo­nial times was made a lit­tle eas­ier by this “Cider twice,” per­haps likened to Ap­ple jack of New Jersey. On large farms in the eastern United States, great cider presses were erected dur­ing Colo­nial days in ei­ther spe­cial build­ings, or as ap­pendages to barns. Th­ese huge presses were ca­pa­ble of ren­der­ing hun­dreds of bar­rels of cider, thereby pos­si­ble to store ap­ples in another form, which, if it did not even­tu­ally turn into vine­gar might very well be dis­tilled into yet another form. “Johnny Ap­ple­seed” was per­haps more a sym­bol of the na­tion’s fer­til­ity as a whole than in just this one in­dus­try.

Then, too, if it were not for the famine-haunted past of the early Euro­pean im­mi­grants, they might not have taken up the chal­lenge of the New World’s fer­til­ity so vig­or­ously. As one looks back over the promi­nence of the ap­ple in the early Amer­i­can cul­ture, one can­not help but to be amazed at the in­ge­nu­ity with which the pioneer sought var­i­ous ways of us­ing and stor­ing this uni­ver­sal sta­ple.

The Penn­syl­va­nia Dutch found lots of ways to store ap­ples.

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