Monday, November 3, 2014

Reflections on our apple orchard and the beloved PA Dutch treat of Apple Dumplings

 The apple tree casts its shadow so still,
Where the lilies abound by God’s Holy will.
-Chronicon Ephratense, 1789

This passage is found in the Chronicon Ephratense, the history of the community published in 1789. Perhaps the author considered the apple tree a symbol of the tree of life while referring to members of Ephrata Cloister as the lilies.  Certainly apple trees were found throughout the community providing food for the residents.  Several visitors to 18th century Ephrata mention an orchard located in the center of the “town”—remember in colonial days the “Cloister,” with about 40 buildings, was the town. 
A woodcut basket of apples from the book called Golden Apples in Silver Bowls
One of the first issues of the Brother’s printing press was a book called Golden Apples in Silver Bowls.  The book, printed in 1745 for the Mennonite community, included a woodcut of a basket of apples.  The Brother’s used the same image on other printed items, including a memorial hymn written for Conrad Beissel in 1768.
We don’t know the varieties of apples grown here historically.  Today, the orchard planted in the mid-20th century behind the Visitor Center contains old varieties like as Johnathan and Smoke House.
Householder Michael Miller sold fresh apples, cider, and dried apples to his neighbors.  The dried apple schnitz were like candy to children in colonial days, and I can imagine mother’s carrying a few to settle the children during a long worship service.  Who doesn’t love a slice of bread with apple butter and  schmierkaes, a kind of cottage cheese?  In all these ways, apples were probably on local tables for most of the year.
Today, our apple dumplings that provide another harvest for Historic Ephrata Cloister.  Thirty-four years ago members of the Ephrata Cloister Associates, inspired by the apple trees on the site, began selling dumplings to raise money for the Back to the Cloister Fund.  This dedicated pool of money has permitted the return of numerous original artifacts to their place of origin. 
Somehow, I’m not sure the apple dumplings of today are made just like those that Swedish visitor Peter Kalm tasted in Pennsylvania during the 18th century.  He wrote:
One apple dish which the English prepare is as follows:  take an apple and pare it, make a dough of water, flour, and butter.  Roll this thin and enclose apple in it.  This is then bound in a clean linen cloth put in a pot, and boiled.  When done, it is taken out, placed on the battle, and served.  While it is war, the crust is cut on one side.  Thereupon they mix butter and sugar which is added to the apples; then the dish is ready”
Boiled apple dumplings?  Where’s the cinnamon? 
An old legend says that the three circles or balls on William Penn’s coat of arms represent apple dumplings!  While I doubt the truth to this claim, I’m sure he would have enjoyed apple dumplings.    Who can’t make a meal of these tasty treats—especially with ice cream!

-Michael Showalter, Museum Educator

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