Johnny the vagabond meets the highfalutin Waldorf and together they make sweet music in a fine PNW salad.
The romanticized Johnny Appleseed, Johnny Chapman, was a real appleseed-totin’-plantin’-canoe-travelin’ eccentric with a passion for apples. At first he was as wild as the seeds he carried, wrote Michael Pollan in Botany of Desire (published 2001). Some called him a crank. He was a vagabond loner, a vegetarian at a time when there weren’t many, and he didn’t believe in grafting which involved cutting off a piece of an existing apple tree – he thought it was up to God to decide which apple the tree would reproduce.
At the same time he was a sly fox. He exploited homesteaders’ requirement to literally put down roots and plant at least 50 apple or pear trees; he was aware of settlers’ innate longing for anything sweet, and their thirst for intoxication via the cider that could be made from virtually any apple, edible or not.
His passion for apples, and the settlers’ equal appreciation for them, could eventually be seen in the swath of Appleseed’s orchards, 1200 acres of prime real estate across the Northwest Territory. The notion that this oddball chap with a pot for a hat died with land wealth doesn’t fit, but it is so.
Homesteaders’ trees, because they were grown from seed and not grafted, produced apples of their own whim, selected willy-nilly from ancient genetic data and not precise clones of the parent tree.
Many or even most of the seeds Johnny Appleseed Chapman dispersed created orchards of inedible fruit, but they could all be used in the making of hard cider. Hard cider isn’t finicky about the variety of apple.
Occasionally, and by chance, an orchard produced one prized tree that grew deliciously sweet eating apples. Gradually, those were selected, grafted and cloned to become our favorite eating apples. Though Johnny hated seeing apples tamed in this way, others didn’t have such qualms. Thankfully.
Our piece of property, a city lot in the middle of Seattle, was once known as Goocher’s Orchards and to this day we have remnants of that hundred-year-old orchard in our backyard. Three gnarly, but productive old apple trees make bushels of apples from July through October. The apples are edible, technically, though one sour variety might make your hair curl. They’re not pretty, a few worms here and there, but tasty at their prime, and they’re good for cooking. We’ve made chutneys, sauce, apple butter, pies, salads, fried apples. (We’ve done apples every which way on our MixedGreens blog – see a list with links below.)
Putting vagabond Johnny’s legacy into a snooty little salad from the Waldorf Astoria may seem off-putting at first, but then there’s the mayonnaise, bringing it right back to the kitchen table. This Waldorf salad revives a bit of the apple’s renegade spirit.
PNW Waldorf Salad with Kiwis Recipe
Amounts of each ingredient vary according to the cook’s whim, but this is what I used for four small, or could be two hefty salads. The surprise is the diminutive PNW kiwi, grown locally and available at farmers markets right now. They’re delicious.
2 medium locally grown apples, sliced or cubed, peeled or not
1 stalk celery, thinly sliced (1/2 Cup +)
1 cup of local kiwis, cut in half. These are ‘hardy’ kiwis from Greenwater Farm near Port Townsend. Substitute or include grapes, raisins, dried cranberries, cherries . . .
1/2 cup walnuts or hazelnuts grown in WA & OR, toasted and chopped coarsely
Dressing: A mixture of mayonnaise and sour cream (2:1). I used 3 T mayo, 1 1/2 T sour cream, a tablespoon each of apple cider vinegar and apple cider, salt & pepper to taste. Stir together and combine with all chopped ingredients. Can be refrigerated for an hour or two if needed. Just before serving, sprinkle with a few reserved nuts and an Oregon Blue or a thin slice of Port Madison Goat cheese.
Friends, this is a salad worth building a meal around. Season’s Eatings.
These sweet and sour crunchy renegades were not so easily tamed. In the Botany of Desire, published in 2001, Michael Pollan writes about four familiar plants – apples, potatoes, cannabis, and tulips- and interestingly, he theorizes how plants might have selected and domesticated us rather than the other way around. Botany of Desire is an absorbing read about the life and history of these plants that are probably wily survivors a lot like we are! Botany of Desire, 2-hour film on Channel 9 Seattle, October 28th.
Coming soon: a recipe index that will make finding specific food ideas/recipes easier to find on this blog.
MixedGreens apple-related postings from the past:
* Thanks to Wikipedia for these two historical illustrations, the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel and Johnny Appleseed.