Apples grow well in the mountains of Western North Carolina. The climate is favorable with plentiful rain and weather that is not too hot in the summers. The success of Barber’s Orchard, a large operation that has been a hallmark in Haywood County for about 83 years can attest to the above.
With bountiful crops of apples and the need for fruit in the winter, pioneer families found a way to bring this essential food to their tables, even in the coldest of winters. Grandfather John Rogers, with his apple house, found his way to bring fresh apples into the kitchen for apple cobblers, but most people did not have apple houses. (see my story Grandfather’s Apple House in Depression Baby).
There was not an abundance of fresh fruit in the grocery stores back in the 1930’s and 1940’s and before, and the fresh fruit from groceries was too expensive to feed large families of those days. Two or three oranges in the Christmas stocking was a luxury that came to children once a year.
But innovative women passed down methods of preservation of food…they found a way. This was before canning of food was available.
The peeling of apples and slicing them into portions that were placed outside in the sun to dry was a popular method of having fruit available all winter. Fried apple pies with cinnamon on top made with dried apples were much better than the pies we get today.
Mother always canned apple sauce and let us also remember the tasty apple butter that she made. It went well with home churned butter and hot biscuits.
However, there was another way to preserve these apples. The apples were peeled, cut into quarters and placed in baskets. A pan of hot coals was placed in the bottom of a wooden barrel with a piece of hot metal in the center of the pan. A teaspoon or two of sulphur was poured onto the metal and the sulphur fumes filled the barrel.
A stick was run through the handles of a basket of apples which was placed on top of the barrel, and then the barrel was quickly sealed by a heavy piece of cloth. The sulphur fumes would bleach or seal the fresh apple portions in about thirty minutes so that they would keep until spring. They tasted almost like fresh apples, but were distinguished by a slightly different flavor.
These bleached apples helped mothers put fruit on their tables and hungry children received the needed food values, even though fresh fruit from Florida or California was not available.
How do I know this? I remember my mother fixing these sulphured or bleached apples for her family.
I must thank author John Parris, who published a book in 1972, These Storied Mountains, for reminding me of another almost forgotten skill of our ancestors. And, thank you Mother, for putting yet another delicious food on our dining room table.