Autumn conjures up fantasies of warm, cinnamon-spiced desserts made from crisp apples! And it just happens to be National Dessert Day.
Contemplating something tasty to share, I went to my standard go-to for historical inspiration: the collections of the North Carolina Museum of History. They are a true harvest of images to lend context and imagination to studying the many apples groves of North Carolina history.
And today I happened upon a photograph of an “Apple Paring Bee”, circa 1900-1915. A little searching back in time brought me to the American Agriculturalist, Volume 8, published in 1849. In a section near the back of the volume titled “Ladies Department” was printed a full-length entry on the “Apple-Paring Bee.” The anonymous author, nostalgic about the annual event, described it as social “frolics”, the “great apple-paring bee”. She noted that she wished to be “useful, as well as amusing” in her description. And although she had a lighthearted touch, I was immediately reminded of other “bees” — husking, threshing, quilting, among them — that centered around crowd-sourcing important and functional tasks that would otherwise be daunting for a single family. In this case, a critical step in the harvest and “putting up” process. Ladies assembled for an evening blitz effort to core and pare apples for the next day’s apple butter boiling. The writer — E. S. — also alluded an aspect of social class equalization in the effort, all were equals. She added: “While all are engaged in contributing to the happiness of others, the cheerful conversation, the merry laugh, and the comic song are unrepressed by chilling rebuke or morose looks.”
And, in 1849, she mentioned her preference for paring by hand instead of using the mechanical “patent” parer. If you’ve ever pared any number of apples by hand, you know how hard it can be on our modern, not-so-strong hands! It’s difficult enough to fill one pie dish, let alone paring for an entire evening!
And if you’re searching for a last minute dessert recipe to celebrate National Dessert Day, have a mini-paring bee and try your hand at this recipe for “Honey Apple Crisp.” It comes to us from Favorite Recipes of North Carolina, published in 1950 by the N.C. Department of Agriculture (available online at NC Digital Collections).
—Kelly Agan, N.C. Government & Heritage Library