The young farmer pressed his foot down on the shoulder of the garden fork. He pushed the tines into the soil all around the hole, creating small tunnels in the black South Dakota earth. “We need to make it easy for the roots to grow,” he explained to the four-year-old girl and her little brother, who stood watching. “My dad used to throw a horseshoe in the hole when he planted apples.” He smiled as he remembered. “Said it added iron to the soil.”
When the earthen home was ready, his wife knelt down, placed the young tree into the hole and gently pushed the loose soil around the roots. Wash dress and apron did not protect her bare knees from pressing into the newly-thawed ground. The girl and boy dropped down next to their mother and patted the earth around the tree.
At last, the family stood back to admire their work. Six small trees, spaced far apart, protruded from the soil on the east end of the garden, sticks pointing to the sky. The little boy reached for his sister’s hand and their father knelt down next to them. “You two will need to help water these trees,” he said. “Hopefully, someday you’ll get to eat apples from them.”
They did, and they did. My sister Deloris recalls carrying buckets of water to the young saplings, especially in years when rain was scarce, but the trees and the children grew up together, and before too many years, four more apple-eaters were added to the family.
Our parents grew up on farms during the Thirties. Survival demanded that they set aside food for winter and for years of scarcity. Nothing was wasted. So, when those six apple trees began to produce, Mom cooked, baked and canned every possible apple concoction, and we kids enjoyed the bounty. The aroma of apple crisp or baked apples fresh from the oven often greeted us when we got off the school bus on fall afternoons.
The Whitney crabs, small, but sweet, became pickles and sauce and juice, stashed in the basement in clear mason jars. When the Wealthy and Winesap varieties bore fruit, there was spicy, brown apple butter and chunky applesauce. Deloris, Darlene and Dorothy peeled and sliced. Jars of canned apples for pie soon joined the others on the shelves. Almost every Saturday Mom baked pies. During the winter, she folded a jar of canned apples with sugar and spices and tucked them between crusts. Sunday dinner delight!
Sometimes in the fall, frigid temperatures threatened the apples still on the tree. My brother Delmer climbed the ladder in approaching darkness to pick the remaining apples. He handed them down to my sisters, who carried buckets inside to save the fruit from frost. Mom and I wrapped the biggest, best red striped spheres in newspaper and packed them in a box in the porch. Through March we could unwrap crisp, juicy fruit. Even when they began to shrivel, they still worked in apple cake.
Some years, late spring frost killed the fragrant blossoms, or drought stressed the tall trees and the crop was sparse. But in years of bounty, Dad would reminisce about when he and Mom and Deloris and Don had planted those six young apple trees.
Autumns and Apple Pie Sundays flew by. More than twenty years after that hopeful tree-planting day, Deloris and her husband climbed into their car after a visit “back home.” Suddenly, Dad hurried out of the house, carrying a five-gallon bucket loaded with apples. He opened the door to the back seat and set it on the floor. The scent of the fresh fruit filled the vehicle. He ruffled the soft blond hair of the four-year-old girl and her little brother as they smiled up at Grandpa. Then he turned to his daughter with a twinkle in his eyes and said, “Mom doesn’t want these to go to waste. Hope you can use ‘em.” They did.
Martin Luther once said, “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.”
Mom’s Apple Cake
3 cups diced, peeled apples
1 cup sugar
Let sugar and apples set for 30 minutes to form juice.
1 ½ cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ cup cooking oil
2/3 cup chopped nutmeats (walnuts)
½ cup coconut.
Sift flour, salt and soda. Mix well. Add oil, egg and apple mixture all at once and mix. Fold in nuts and coconut and bake in a 9 x 13 pan at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.
Mix the following topping and spread on the cake immediately after removing it from the oven:
6 Tablespoons softened butter
¾ cup brown sugar
4 Tablespoons cream
1/3 cup chopped nutmeats
Place the cake back into the hot oven for five minutes.
Note from author: Enjoy warm with ice cream or real whipped cream!
(DeAnn Kruempel grew up on a farm near De Smet, S.D., the sixth child of Harrison and Mabel Wolkow. She attended school at Erwin and De Smet, married Vicar Robert Kruempel, and lived in Benedict, N.D., Toeterville, Akron, and Missouri Valley. The author now resides on an acreage near Logan and is employed as Children's Librarian at Missouri Valley Public Library. DeAnn has written a series of books, four published so far with a fifth to come out soon. "Promises to Keep" are available at Amazon.com.)