Apples,  Fruit,  Interesting Stories

Summer apple adventures

This year, it’s been my pleasure to serve on the Washington Humanities Speakers Bureau. I’ve been traveling around the state talking about my book The Washington Apple, now available in paperback! If you’re interested in apple history, check out Cyler Conrad’s new website on the history of apple industry in Pateros and Methow in north central Washington.

Meeting audiences has been the best part of working with Washington Humanities. At every venue, people have generously shared their apple stories. A few weeks ago, I gave a series of talks in western Washington. One woman told me that when she was a child, her mother would give her money to buy a Hostess cupcake at the corner store as a treat. Instead of buying the cupcake, she always bought an apple. While many grocery stores in the 1950s and 1960s had shifted to displaying pyramids of apples in produce bins, her store sold apples from their wooden crates, wrapped in paper. She remember how much she enjoyed unwrapping the shiny red apples. That trumped cake any day.

On the way home, I visited Stehekin, Washington. Stehekin, on the north end of Lake Chelan, is only accessible by boat or on foot. In addition to fantastic views of the Cascades, hiking trails, and a phenomenal bakery, Stehekin is also home to the Buckner Orchard. The land was first homesteaded in 1889. In 1910, the Buckner family purchased the property and planted an orchard. They later sold the the orchard to the National Park Service in 1970.

apple orchard
This is the west side of the orchard. One of the hand dug irrigation ditches is visible in the foreground, starting in the right bottom corner of the photo.

Needless to say, I geeked out a little. There are not many intact historic orchards and irrigation systems, and I had so much fun exploring the site. Like other growers of their era, the Buckners planted many different varieties of apples, but the majority of the orchard is planted with the Common Delicious variety. Common Delicious apples fell out of favor commercially by the mid-twentieth century, replaced by other varieties of Red Delicious apples. Today, they are only available from a a few nurseries specializing in heirloom apples. Anytime a tree dies, it is replaced with an identical variety to maintain the historic character of the orchard.

A concrete foundation is all that remains of the packing house.

The irrigation canals, built in 1911, were the most impressive part of the site. The headwaters of the system are about a half a mile from the orchard on Rainbow Creek. A small diversion dam funnels water into the irrigation canals, shown in the photo on the left. Other than a few concrete boxes at canal junctions, the entire system is made of hand dug earthen channels. The photo on the right shows the concrete junction diverting water to the eastern side of the orchard. The empty canal waters the western side.

Fifteen buildings remain on the site, including the cabin built by the original homesteader, Bill Buzzard, in the 1890. The Buckners lived in the cabin in their early years on the property.

Kitchen of the original 1890 cabin.

In addition to a display of Buckner family photos, the kitchen included a recipe for Olive Buckner’s Chocolate Apple Cake from the 1930s.

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  • Mix
    • 2 c. flour
    • 2 tsp. baking soda
    • 1/2 tsp. salt
    • 1/4 c. baking cocoa
    • 1 tsp. cinnamon
    • 1 tsp. nutmeg
    • 1/2 tsp. cloves
    • 1/2 tsp. allspice
  • Add
    • 1 1/2 c. unsweetened applesauce
    • 1 1/4 c. sugar
    • 1/2 c. shortening (I used oil)
  • Mix in optional ingredients
    • 1/2 c. raisins
    • walnuts
  • Pour into a greased 9 inch square baking pan
  • Sprinkle the top of the cake generously with sugar
  • Bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes.

Olive’s cake was delicious and easy to make. The applesauce lends a nice freshness to the flavor. I baked a half batch in a loaf pan. It came out less dense than a banana or zucchini bread, but it worked well in loaf form. What is great about this Depression era cake is that it doesn’t use eggs or butter. Olive could make this cake without having to rely on fresh ingredients that may not have been available year round.

Working with Washington Humanities has been an adventure so far, and I’m looking forward to hearing more apples stories from around the state!

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