Apple-Nut-Cheese Biscuits

It’s hard to find something more quintessentially southern than biscuits. Each family has a distinct recipe, and arguments over ingredients and technique have been known to cause long-lasting feuds.

This recipe, sent in by Ms. Carolyn McCosley, came from an used book store in Edenton, North Carolina. It was in the 2006 Methodist Kitchens of Edenton, which includes both cherished family recipes and revamped versions of popular recipes. These biscuits blend sweet apples with savory cheese,  and are the perfect addition to any meal. 

Apple-nut-cheese biscuits

⅓ c. sugar

⅓ c. chopped walnuts

½ tsp. ground cinnamon

1-¾ c. packaged biscuit mix

¾ c. shredded sharp cheddar cheese

¾ c. apples, peeled, cored, and chopped

⅓ c. cold water

¼ c. butter or margarine, melted

Preheat oven 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease 9-inch round baking pan. In a small bowl stir together sugar, nuts and cinnamon; set aside. Stir together biscuit mix, cheddar cheese, and chopped apple. Make a well in center of biscuit/cheese mix; add water all at once, stirring just until moistened. Form into a ball. Flatten dough on floured surface. Divide into 18 pieces; shape each into a ball. Roll in melted butter or margarine; then in sugar/nut mixture. Arrange in a baking pan. Bake for 25 minutes. Serve warm. Makes 18.

If you’re looking for recommendations on which apples to use, try the American Golden PippenThis apple was discovered in New Jersey, but has its roots in the South. It grows well in most places, and when grown in Eastern North Carolina’s sandy soil, “it is less tart and very good for eating and cooking.” [145]

Stagville Apples and Cream

The Stagville Plantation is a historic site in Durham county, once home to over 900 slaves and their owners, the Cameron family. (Stagville Center) In the early eighties, the Stagville Preservation Center published a collection of recipes entitled “Stagville Treats” in order to raise funds for the plantation’s upkeep. This collection included recipes used by the Camerons in the eighteen hundreds, found in the family’s personal papers, as well as more recent contributions submitted by board members.

 

Original Recipe

“Slice cooking apples thinly and cook until tender. Arrange in serving dish and sprinkle generously with light brown sugar. Spread a topping made with small COOL-WHIP, instant vanilla pudding, sherry to taste and fold in chopped nuts. I prefer walnuts and you may choose to add chopped dates. Serve chilled. Use institutional size can for a crowd of 30. This is not a sweet dish and goes well with meats.” (McPhaul 13)

 

Recipe Suggestions

3 Medium cooking apples*

1/2 Cup brown sugar

8oz Cool Whip

2 Cups vanilla pudding (3.4 oz instant mix prepared)

1/2 Cup chopped nuts (walnuts suggested)

1/2 Cup dried dates or golden raisins

Sherry or substitute**, to taste

 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit. Slice apples thinly and spread out on a greased baking sheet. Bake 30 minutes, or until apples are tender. Allow apple slices to cool.

In a large bowl, mix all ingredients. Chill at least one hour prior to serving. Serves 6.

 

*Apple Qualities

Apples should be firm enough to hold their shape when cooked. This is especially important because the recipe calls for the apples to be sliced thinly before being baked. A softer apple will disintegrate when mixed with the other ingredients.

Common varieties of apples that would work well for this recipe include Granny Smith for a tart dish, or Fuji for a sweeter result. Stay away from Golden Delicious, which tends to soften too quickly.

 

**Non-Alcoholic Sherry Substitute

Apple Cider Vinegar is a good sherry substitute for this recipe, diluted with equal parts water. Other acidic fruit juices, such as orange, lemon, or pineapple juice, would also work well.

 

Calhoun Heritage Apple Varieties

Below are some of the heritage varieties that would work well with this recipe.

 

Horse

“Well, some people claim they’re called that because that’s their best usage, feeding them to horses. That’s an ungenerous appraisal – the thing is, Horse is NOT a fresh-eating apple, not at all… When cooked, that tartness and sourness disappears and you don’t have to add extra sugar. They hold their shape well while cooking. If you let them ripen and soften for a while, they’re a little tastier, if you enjoy that “sour apple” flavor.”

Larry Stephenson Carroll County, MS

 

Collins June

“Very high quality, but not much color…appearance is a big problem in Zone 8 (hot nights…) But…eating quality of fruit is high, because we essentially bake them right on the tree…” Mr. Lawson says that Jim Thompson and Major Collins knew each other well and often worked together. In one of Lawson Nursery’s catalogs they recommend it as a good cooking apple.

Herbert Childress, Dunnville, KY

 

Lacy

“Medium size, yellow back-ground with red stripes. More tart than the Yellow Horse apple. Good for eating fresh, canning, cooking, and drying. The Lacy is also a sweet apple. It is sweet and tart at the same time. My Grandparents own one Lacy apple with bore a small crop last year. It is 7 feet tall now. The Lacy apple has been grown for a long time as my grandmother remembers her grandparents growing Lacy apples.”

Tim Vaughn, Monroe, NC

 

Raleigh

“Dear Mr. Calhoun: Thanks for writing me in regards to the old Raleigh apple tree. We don’t know much about the old apple trees. My mother said that the apple trees were on the property when she and Dad married in August 1940, and that the apple trees were old then. She says they are good any way you want to fix them— cook, fry, make apple butter, eat raw, etc.”

Mrs. Rose, Hampton, VA

 

Rusty Coat

“Another old apple variety my grand-parents [had] was the old Rusty-Coat. It was very hard and not easily bruised, but it could be cooked and eaten if there was a good strong knife.”

Lester Allen, Greensboro, NC

 

Wilson

“Felix Wilson was the cultivator of this apple he came up with it, while rafting hoss down the Tug River story goes he seen it hanging on the river bank, he takes it home and plants it on his farm on sand gap in Wayne Co W.VA people came from near and far to get grafts from his tree. It cooks up so well makes great pies and apple butter. Good to snack on as well.”

Sidney Wilson Jr, Genoa, WV

 

Sources

McPhaul, Jane Hobbs. Stagville Treats. Stagville Preservation Center Corporate Board, 1982.

Stagville Center. The African American Community at Stagville. The African American Community at Stagville, Stagville Community Center, 199-.

Brushy Mountain Apple Butter

Think of spring. What comes to mind? Old oaks in the yard, the breeze shifting over rolling grasslands, shrills of joy peppering young faces during a game of hide-and-seek, a pitcher of crisp tea to commemorate the new year on the porch. What could be better?

 

How about a rich apple butter?

 

Apple butter, despite its name, is not necessarily a dairy product. It is characterized by a long, slow cooking of apples with cider or water until the apples caramelize, turning the sauce a deep brown color. The high concentration of sugar allows the preserve to maintain a long shelf-life, popularizing the product over the centuries.

 

Apple butter enjoys a rich history that spans the American South. Orchards occasionally yielded excesses of fruit–apple butter allowed families a substance that would hold over seasons.

 

Apples hold a special significance to the residents of Wilkes County, home of the Brushy Mountain Apple Festival. For over forty consecutive years, the festival has been a cornerstone celebration of Wilkes County culture and community. This is in part documented by the 1970s text Second Dinner Bell: From The Brushies, a collection of recipes and interviews from festival-goers, which documents a refreshing desire to capture and re-tell historic foodways.

 

 

 

The apple butter recipe, pictured here, stands out.

 

 

The recipe simply calls for “Apples, Sugar, Flavoring,” beckoning the chef to employ their own personal touch on the butter. Lee Calhoun’s letters document the popularity of the Brushy Mountain Limbertwig in the region, crediting their tangy flavor and ability to store well over time–however any firm, tangy apple could fit the bill.

 

 

We attempted to follow a similar recipe from chef Sara Lynn (albeit with more detail), which is documented below.

 

Yield: 1 Serving
Prep Time: 15 min | Cook Time: 10 hrs | Total Time: 10 hrs 15 min
3 lbs apples, peeled, cored, and diced
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup white sugar
1 cinnamon stick
¼ tsp salt
1 bunch sage
1 tsp vanilla
1. In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar, white sugar, and salt. Place apples in a slow cooker, sprinkle with the sugar, and mix. Place the cinnamon stick and sage in the slow cooker. Set to low for eight hours.
2. After about eight hours, check the apples. They should be broken down and releasing juices. Remove the sage leaves and cinnamon stick. Discard the sage and set the cinnamon stick aside. Using an immersion blender (or regular blender), puree the apple butter. If you’re doing this in a regular blender, be sure to leave some space so it doesn’t explode. Place the apple butter back in the slow cooker.
3. Add the vanilla and cinnamon stick, stirring well. Cook for another two hours on high until dark brown and thickened. You can cook it longer for thicker apple butter. Remove the cinnamon stick and discard. Cool the sage apple butter and store in jars for up to a week.

Apple Dumplings

Apple dumplings are traditionally associated with the Pennslyvania Dutch. They are a favorite dessert or breakfast item in which apples are peeled and cored and set on a piece of dough. On the dough, the apples are doused in a combination of sugars and spice depending on the recipe and then the dough is folded over the apples and baked in syrup with sugar and butter.

Although this recipe may not be the most historical representative use of apples in Eastern N.C. the recipe intriguingly showed up in several community cookbooks from the outer-banks and as well as from other cities inland. The recipe may have arrived with American-Germans who settled in the Piedmont and from there spread out East through migration in the state.

Making Apple Dumplings

During our cooking, we opted to make the recipe based off a recipe found on a cooking blog. The original recipe and blog post for this version of apple dumplings can be found here.

Ingredients

  • 2 small apples ,peeled and cored
  • 8 ounce tube refrigerated Pillsbury crescent roll dough
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 3/4 cup Sprite soda
Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Coat a baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.

  2. Cut each apple into 4 wedges.

  3. Separate the crescent dough into 8 triangles.

  4. Place an apple wedge near the small end of the dough triangle, then roll up. Pinch the ends to seal. Transfer to the prepared baking dish.

  5. In a medium microwave safe bowl, melt the butter. Add in the granulated sugar, brown sugar, and cinnamon; stir until combined and smooth.

  6. Drizzle butter mixture over the dough.

  7. Pour the Sprite to the sides of the dumplings (not on top) so a nice crust is formed while baking.

  8. Bake until golden brown and apples are tender when pierced with a fork, 35-40 minutes. Remove from the oven and let stand 10 minutes.

    Using Old Southern Apple Varieties for the Dumplings

For those wishing to recreate Apple Dumplings using Southern apple varieties, we recommend the following apples that were mentioned by writers of letters to Creighton Lee Calhoun. These apples were chosen because the authors of these letters indicated that the apples were suitable for baking. Whether they appeal to contemporary tastes is up to you to find out!

  • Summer Lady Finger
  • Rexrod Beauty
  • Rusty Coat [Mentioned in a letter about fried apple pie, could work well in apple dumplings]

One mention of a good baking apple came from Jack M. Mathews who in 1995 letter wrote that the “[Summer Lady Finger] is my favorite apple for eating, cider-making, and baking.”

Jack M. Mathews wrote to Calhoun in 1995 about a fruit tree called a Summer Lady Finger that he had grafted a few years prior to the letter. The graft originally came from a Mr. Green who lived in the upper end of Grayson County, Virginia.

Apple Stack Cake

Apple Stack Cake  

Can’t afford a wedding cake? An Apple Stack Cake might be the solution! According to legend at least, apple stack cake originated as an affordable alternative to a wedding cake. Friends and family would each bring a single layer of cake, which was assembled at the wedding. The taller the cake, the more beloved the bride was. While this is a somewhat charming recipe myth, there is no evidence it’s true. However, apple stack cake has historically been a widely popular recipe throughout Appalachia, including Western Carolina.

This is a recipe that is strongly suggested one make ahead up to a week in advance. Between each stack cake layer is a spread of apple butter or applesauce, which over time sinks into the cake, creating a rich, moist dessert. Recipes vary greatly, as some use dried apples to make the spread. Drying apples, making applesauce, and canning apple butter is a great way to preserve excess apples from family orchards, and the apple stack cake is a great example of the reconstitution of these ingredients.

Here are a few recommended Old Southern Apples for making apple butter or applesauce, straight from Calhoun’s letter binder.

“Old Yellow Sour Apple,” grown in Laurel Springs, NC. Letter from Hiram Bare. “There is one other apple specimen that we know of; “Old Yellow Sour Apple” (one tree left around here that we are aware of). These apples make about the best apple butter anyone could stand.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Hicks” apple, grown in Spruce Pine, NC. Letter from Frank Edwards. “The old apple I named “Hicks” for the old man Sparks. We bought this property from Hicks in ‘49 the old apple tree was growing in the field, and still is. The tree is more than 100 years old now. The fruit is not pretty, dull red mix with green… The flavor can’t be beat. Very good for cooking, apple butter, etc.”

“Wolf River” apple, grown in Avery County, NC. Newspaper article by Doug Hundley– “…one good for apple butter… All are great apples, serving different purposes, but there still are so many more great old time apples in Avery County.”

 

Sherri Castle’s Recipe for Apple Stack Cake

Yields: 12 to 16 servings.

Dried Apple Filling

1 pound (4 to 5 packed cups) dried unsulphured apples
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground mace or nutmeg
4 to 5 cups water, divided

Cake Layers

5 cups all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
⅔ cup vegetable shortening
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup sorghum molasses
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup well-shaken buttermilk

For the filling: Place the apples, brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger, and mace in a large saucepan. Add enough water to cover. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to low, and let simmer, stirring frequently, until the apples are tender and the filling is very thick, about 1 hour. If the mixture gets dry, add more water. If it is soupy, continue to simmer until the excess cooks away. Use a potato masher to break up the apples into chunky sauce. Set aside.

For the cake layers: Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease and flour two 9-inch cake pans. You will be baking the layers in batches, for a total of six layers. (Alternatively, you can bake the layers one at a time in a greased and floured, well-seasoned cast-iron skillet, which is the traditional technique. Yet another option is to pat the dough into six 9-inch rounds and bake them on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper.

Whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.

In another large bowl, beat the shortening, sugar, and molasses with an electric mixer set to medium speed until the mixture is smooth and creamy.

Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Add the flour mixture in thirds, alternating with half of the buttermilk. The mixture should be the consistency of cookie dough, so knead the dough together with your hands if that works better than the mixer. Add a bit more flour if needed.

Pour the dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Divide the dough into six equal pieces. Wrap each piece in plastic wrap so it won’t dry out. Use lightly floured hands to pat a piece of dough evenly into the bottom of the prepared cake pans. The dough should be about ½-inch thick. Lightly prick the dough all over with a fork, making a pretty pattern if you wish. Bake until the layers are firm when lightly pressed, about 15 minutes. The layers do not rise as they bake.

Turn out the first layer onto a large cake plate. Immediately spread it with one-fifth of the apple filling (about 1 heaping cup). Continue baking, stacking, and topping the warm layers. Leave the top layer bare.

Cover the cake with several layers of plastic wrap and then tea towels, or store it in an airtight cake carrier. Let the cake rest at room temperature for at least two days before cutting.

 

Mrs. Elliott’s 1870 Recipe “Green Apple Pie”

 

In the United States, the apple pie enjoys a near sacred position. “The apple,” as nineteenth century Virginian pomologist James Fitz writes, “is our democratic fruit.” [1] 

Recipes for apple pie may be found in the nation’s earliest cookbooks, but today, in the spirit of Creighton Lee Calhoun’s Old Southern Apples and home in Pittsboro, North Carolina, let us consider a recipe for “Green Apple Pie” found in Mrs. Elliott’s Housewife: Containing Practical Receipts in Cookery. [2, 3] Mrs. Elliott’s Housewife was published by Sarah A. Elliott of Oxford, North Carolina in 1870 and is thought to be North Carolina’s first cookbook.

Her recipe is typical of the period, without the contemporary attention to ingredient quantities or cooking times.  Elliott instructs her reader to: “Peel tart apples and stew them nicely, strain them through a net strainer, season them while hot with butter or cream, flavor with nutmeg, and put them on a crust that has been baked in a pie plate. Always have sweet milk to drink with apple-pie.”

For those that prefer to bake with a bit more instruction, I recommend Nancie McDermott’s, “My Apple Pie Recipe, Easy as Pie” and her book Southern Pieswhich provides three more southern apple pie variations. [4]

Looking for recommendations for old southern pie apples? Letters from readers to Creighton Lee Calhoun suggest baking with the following heirloom apples, many of which are preserved at Horne Creek Farm and the Southern Heritage Apple Orchard in Pinnacle, North Carolina.

Fay Farrow wrote Calhoun in 1993 to document the Sam Apple: “It is a yellow with red streaks on it it gets ripe in July & August. It is a very good apple for eating fresh drying or making pies.”
  • Black Limbertwig
  • Blacktwig – Robert L. Dudney wrote: ” “Keep well, good eating, cider, pies and most any use.”
  • Carolina Red Junes
  • Disharoon
  • French Pippin
  • Grimes Golden
  • Kinnards Choice
  • Mammy
  • McLean – Wynee Wally wrote: “I wanted to tell you my McLean apple is wonderful. Its flavor is just what I like in an apple. I’ve made pies, baked, made jelly and it has always turned out so good. In fact, this year, it was so good I’ve kept some in the raw and I let every night. They might not last too long the way I like to eat them.”
  • Mitchell
  • Ophir – Nellie L. Williams wrote: “This apple did not require much sugar when used for cooking and made the best tasting and most beautiful pinkish color applesauce and a very good pie.”
  • Pound Pippin
  • Red Summer Rambo
  • Rusty Coat
  • Sam – Fay Farrow wrote: “It is a very good apple for eating fresh drying or making pies.”
  • Summer Banana
  • Summer King
  • Summer Orange
  • Wilson
Nellie L. Williams wrote Calhoun in 1987 regarding an old apple tree on the property of Mr. and Mrs. Saunders who lived in the Ophir community near the Uwharrie Mountains. Williams noted that the Ophir apple made a “very good pie.”

Works Cited

[1] Hatch, Peter J. “The Royal Family of Our ‘Democratic’ Fruit: Thomas Jefferson’s Favorite Apple.” Thomas Jefferson Foundation, January 1995. https://www.monticello.org/house-gardens/center-for-historic-plants/twinleaf-journal-online/thomas-jefferson-s-favorite-apple/.

[2 ]Calhoun, Creighton Lee. Old Southern Apples: A Comprehensive History and Description of Varieties for Collectors, Growers, and Fruit Enthusiasts, 2nd Edition. Chelsea Green Publishing, 2011.

[3] Elliott, Sarah A. Mrs. Elliott’s Housewife: Containing Practical Receipts in Cookery. New York: Hurd & Houghton, 1870.

[4] McDermott, Nancie. Southern Pies: A Gracious Plenty of Pie Recipes, From Lemon Chess to Chocolate Pecan. Chronicle Books, 2010.