A recipe for Old Fashioned Oat Nut Apple Crisp
and the story of Johnny Appleseed on The History Kitchen
In 1801 John Chapman, the man we’ve come to know as Johnny Appleseed, began his barefoot westward journey from Massachusetts. A tall man with pioneering aspirations, John set out for western Pennsylvania at age 23 to stake his claim on land by planting apple seedlings. In popular culture John is often depicted as an eccentric man in threadbare clothes and a soup pot hat, wandering and leaving a random trail of apple trees in his wake. He is said to have preferred sleeping outside and never owned a home. While there is likely some truth to his eccentricities, there was also an economic strategy to his seed-sowing method. He would plant nurseries and return a few years later to sell off the orchards, which helped him to establish claimed land along the frontier. Along the way he spread the word of his Christian Swedenborg faith (inspired by Swedish scientist and philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg); he considered himself a missionary, and would often preach in the areas where he was planting.
Johnny planted and sold apple seeds and started tree seedling nurseries in areas of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and parts of what is now considered West Virginia. By the time of his death circa 1845 (the exact year is a common topic of dispute), Johnny had covered an area of about ten thousand square miles, all the while promoting his beloved apples. Many of his original apple trees still grow in the orchards he planted. His birthday, September 26, 1774, is now celebrated each year as Johnny Appleseed Day.
Because Johnny’s apple trees were grown from seeds (rather than grafted), their fruit was quite tart and only suitable for making applejack and hard cider. This sweetly spiced Old Fashioned Oat Nut Apple Crisp is the opposite of tart; I can just imagine Johnny in his soup pot hat sitting down to a warm serving topped with cool, rich vanilla ice cream. Apple season is in full swing now, which means it’s a great time to find affordable, quality fruit at your local grocery store or farmer’s market. For the filling I use green apples, which hold up well to baking. I also use minute tapioca as a thickener for a better texture and to soak up the excess liquid that collects in the bottom of the baking dish. The tapioca is optional, but I do recommend it for best results. The topping is hearty with a light crunch thanks to the addition of oats and nuts. It can be made gluten free by omitting the flour and using gluten free certified oats. This old fashioned dessert is so easy to make and extremely satisfying.
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- 2 1/2 lbs. green apples (6-7 medium or 5 large), peeled and cut into wedges
- 3 tbsp white sugar
- 1/2 cup + 3 tbsp brown sugar, divided
- 1 tsp cinnamon, divided
- 1/4 tsp allspice
- 1/8 tsp nutmeg
- Pinch of ground cloves
- 1 tbsp minute tapioca (optional, but recommended)
- 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 cup rolled oats
- 1 cup shelled walnuts or pecans (or a mix), whole or chopped
- 1/4 cup all purpose flour (to make gluten free, you may omit)
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 5 tbsp chilled unsalted butter (or non-dairy vegan butter) cut into chunks
- Nonstick cooking oil spray
You will also need
- large mixing bowl, 8x8 or 9x9 baking dish or 9" pie dish
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place the apple slices in a large mixing bowl. Add 3 tbsp white sugar, 3 tbsp brown sugar, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, cloves, minute tapioca and vanilla.
- Stir the apples with the spices, tapioca and vanilla until they are fully and evenly coated. Let the apples stand for 15 minutes. Note: the tapioca is a thickener; you can make the crumble without it, but juices will collect at the bottom of the baking dish and the texture won't be as nice. If you are skipping the tapioca there is no need to wait 15 minutes, you may proceed with the recipe.
- Meanwhile, fit your food processor with a blade attachment. Add the oats, nuts, remaining 1/2 cup brown sugar and 1/2 tsp cinnamon, flour, salt and butter chunks. Pulse the ingredients together until the butter is broken up and coarse crumbles form. If you don't have a food processor, you may cut the butter into the dry ingredients with a pastry cutter or two knives. In this case, use chopped nuts rather than whole.
- Spray your baking dish with nonstick oil. Pour in the spiced apples along with any excess liquid from the bowl. Spread the apples out into an even layer in the dish.
- Cover the top of the apple layer with an even layer of the oat mixture, making sure all of the apples are covered.
- Bake on the middle rack of the oven at 350 degrees F for 1 hour until the apples are baked through, the top is nicely browned and the edges are bubbly. Let the crisp stand for at least 10 minutes after you bake it to allow the juices to settle before serving.
- Mound each warm serving onto a dessert plate topped with ice cream or whipped cream.
Means, Howard B. Johnny Appleseed: The Man, the Myth, the American Story. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011. Print.
Rich, Chris. In Praise of Apples: A Harvest of History, Horticulture and Recipes. Asheville, North Carolina: Lark Books, 1996.