Apples and onions: a favorite early American treat
The air is chilly, the leaves are turning, the sun is shining, and skies are blue. Frost has visited and that “end of summer” feel is in the air.
Apples are in the air too — on trees, on the ground, falling down all around. They’re plentiful right now — at the market, at the orchard, in backyards and frontyards. Some were planted; others have grown wild from discarded cores. On a recent visit to the Almanzo Wilder Homestead, the ground was littered with apples. It was hard not to step on them.
And onions — those red, white, and yellow globes — are abundant at farmers’ markets right now. George Washington called onions the most favored food that grows. Robert Louis Stevenson referred to them as “the poetic soul of a capacious salad bowl.” Julia Child couldn’t imagine a culture without them.
Today, globe onions augment most national cuisines. Varieties of onions grow wild on almost every continent, but the globe onion — the most common member of the allium family — was first cultivated in Central Asia more than 5,000 years ago. Bread and onions were the foundation of the Mesopotamian diet. During the Middle Ages, onions, beans and cabbage were the main vegetables of the European diet. In 1648, right after clearing the land in the Massachusetts colony, the Pilgrims planted onion seeds.
Settlers from England also brought apples seeds with them to the New World in the 1600s. John Chapman (1774 -1845), known as Johnny Appleseed, traveled the countryside planting apple trees throughout the northeast and Appalachian regions.
With only 30 calories per serving, onions pack a nutritional punch. Antibiotic properties and vitamin C make them great infection fighters. Other nutrients include B vitamins, fiber, potassium, magnesium, iron, zinc and calcium.
Because they’re sodium-, fat- and cholesterol-free, but rich in potassium and magnesium, heart patients are advised to eat lots of onions. Organosulfur compounds, which are responsible for onions’ odor, flavor and tear-inducing ability, are touted as lowering blood pressure, cholesterol and cancer risk. The trace mineral selenium is a powerful cancer fighter.
Onions contain copious amounts of the flavonoid quercetin, which has been shown to protect against cataracts, cardiovascular disease and cancer. Eating onions may prevent gastric ulcers, act as a blood thinner and platelet inhibitor, and decrease the incidence of osteoporosis.
We don’t know the origin of the 19th century saying, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away,” but scientists have confirmed that apples are indeed good for you.
A medium apple contains about 80 calories and is an excellent source of fiber, vitamin C and vitamin K. It is as a diuretic and an astringent. Boron, an essential trace element found in apples, has been shown to strengthen bones. And fructose, the sugar in apples, breaks down slowly, helping to stabilize blood sugar levels. Phytochemicals in apples help prevent cancer and heart disease. Specifically, apples contain important antioxidants (such as quercetin and various flavonoids) that bolster the immune system and help control levels of LDL cholesterol.
Both apples and onions were popular among the pioneers because they could be stored for the long, cold winter. Spherical onions grow in many climates and soils, keep well without refrigeration, and are easy to transport on long voyages. In addition to cold storage, apples can be made into sauce and cider.
We most often associate apples with desserts – but they’re equally good in savory dishes! Almanzo Wilder knew what was good when he said his favorite dish was apples with onions! You can find the original recipe in “The Little House Cookbook” by Barbara M. Walker, illustrated by Garth Williams. The main ingredients are bacon, apples, and onions.
Here are other ways to combine onions and apples in one dish. The recipes are pretty easy, though they do require a bit of peeling and chopping — first the onions, then the apples.
To keep from crying while peeling the onions, cut in half and then place in the freezer for a few minutes before chopping. To keep the apples from turning brown, use a bowl of water with a little lemon juice or cider vinegar.
For modern-day cooks, you can reduce the amount of fat for frying substantially from what pioneer cooks would have used — but you do need a little to keep the onions and apples from sticking to the pan. If onions give you indigestion, you may find that caramelizing– cooking for a long time (20 – 30 minutes) over very low heat — may help with that.
Apples and Onion Casserole
3 medium onions (about 1/2 lb.)
3 medium apples (about 1/2 lb.)
1 tablespoon cooking oil or butter
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1 cup sharp or extra-sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1 cup diced cooked ham
2 tablespoons fresh minced parsley
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup additional shredded sharp cheddar cheese
2 – 3 tablespoons breadcrumbs
Peel onions and cut off root and stem. Slice in half lengthwise. Place on cutting board and slice thinly into half-rings.
Peel apples. Cut in quarters and remove core. (Or use an apple corer). Then cut into slices.
Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add onions; lower heat, cover, and cook about 5 minutes. Add the apples, half a teaspoon of salt and paprika, stir, and continue cooking about 10 more minutes, stirring occasionally.
While onions and apples are cooking, butter a casserole dish and preheat the oven. In a bowl, beat eggs with remaining half teaspoon of salt; beat in milk.
Transfer the onions and apples to the casserole. Sprinkle with parsley and ham. Pour egg-milk mixture over them. Sprinkle cheese and breadcrumbs over the top.
Bake at 350°F for 30 minutes, or until eggs are set and top is brown. Let rest 5-10 minutes before serving. Serve with mashed parslied potatoes and a tossed green salad. Serves about 3.
Sausage with Onions, Apples
I added beets because we have plenty in our garden now. They added great color and flavor to this dish.
1 or 2 strips bacon
2 medium onions (about 2 cups, diced)
1/4 pound Italian or breakfast sausage
1 large or 2 small beets
3 medium apples (2 – 3 cups, diced)
1/4 cup sharp or extra-sharp Cheddar cheese
In large skillet, fry bacon over low heat to crisp and render fat. Remove bacon to paper towels. You want 1 – 2 tablespoons of fat.
Peel and dice onions and add to skillet. Cook, covered, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Remove root ends from beets; scrub or peel and dice fine. Add to the onions.
Chop the stems into 1/2″ lengths and set aside. Chop greens coarsely and set aside.
Core, peel and chop the apples.
When onions have cooked about 10 minutes, slice the sausage and add. Add the diced beet roots. Sprinkle with salt and cook 3-5 minutes. Add beet stems and apples. Cook about 10 minutes until sausage is browned and cooked through, and vegetables and apples are done to your liking. Add beet greens and sharp cheddar cheese. Stir 1 – 2 minutes until greens wilt and cheese melts.
We served this with boiled new potatoes. You could also serve it over pasta.
Serves 2 – 3.
Author of the award-winning cookbook Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers’ Market, Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be reached at www.wordsaremyworld.com or on Facebook as Author Yvona Fast.