Peeling apples

Apples at the Union Square Greenmarket, courtesy of Dr. V.

Saturday night, I had a little dough left over from the quiche I was preparing, and I used it to make a small pie for Dr. V and myself. We had picked up some apples from the Union Square Greenmarket, ones that were clinging onto last season due to the help of cold storage. As I began with my paring knife at the top of the apple, creating that long curly strip immortalized in the film Sleepless in Seattle, I remembered how I had learned to peel apples.

I had just stood up from sitting over coals, stirring the large pot of apple butter at the end of Caroline’s spoon. Heritage Hill State Park, Green Bay, WI, 1988.




I was thirteen. One can learn a lot of bad lessons when one is thirteen: smoking, shooting up, etc. Women generally look back on that age with a wince. It’s a time fraught with risky transition, embarrassment, and emotion, and I’m thankful I had my interest in history and museums to distract me from more dangerous pursuits. I was working as a historical interpreter at Heritage Hill State Park. My first lesson in open hearth cooking was to bake an apple crisp. We were representing 1830, so this meant in a Dutch oven, set over coals, on a brick hearth, in front of a small wood fire.

A modern Dutch oven. Coals would be loaded on the top to bake the contents within. Photo credit: boeke via VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-SA

A modern Dutch oven. Coals would be loaded on the top to bake the contents within. Photo credit: boeke via VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-SA

I peeled a small basket of apples that day, probably about twelve of them. It was a game, sliding that not-so-sharp knife far enough into the flesh to keep the skin strip from breaking, but not so far in as to waste the nourishment of the apple. Then I kneaded butter, sugar, flour, and cinnamon into a crumb, and whipped cream by hand.

To this day, I’ve never made a better apple crisp than in those Dutch ovens. And perhaps I do have a bit of peeling pride.

About Becky Fifield

Becky Fifield is a cultural heritage professional with 25 years experience in institutions large and small. She is currently Head of Collection Management for the Special Collections of the New York Public Library. An advocate for preventive conservation, Ms. Fifield is a Professional Associate of the American Institute for Conservation, Chair of the AIC Collection Care Network, and former Chair of Alliance for Response NYC. She is also a scholar of 18th century female unfree labor and dress. There's a bit of pun in the title The Still Room, delineating a quiet space brimming with the ingredients of memory, where consideration, analysis, and wordcraft can take place. Ms. Fifield’s interests include museum practice, dress history, historic preservation, transit, social and women’s history, food, current events, geneaology, roadtrips, and considerations on general sense of place. Becky and her husband, Dr. V, live in the Hudson Valley.

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