You'll find this recipe in:
Nebraska Pioneer Cookbook
By: Kay Graber
University of Nebraska Press
This recipe is probably from the 1860s or 1870s
The Original Recipe:
Weigh out one pound of fresh, juicy apples; peel, core and stew them into a pulp, being careful to use a porcelain kettle or a stone jar placed in a kettle of boiling water. Mix the pulp with two pounds of the best flour; put in the same quantity of yeast you would use for common bread, and as much water as will make it a fine, smooth dough. Put it into a pan and place it in a warm place to rise, and let it remain for twelve hours at least. Form it into rather long-shaped loaves, and bake in a quick oven.
Roughly chop 4 cups (450 g) of peeled & cored apples. Simmer the apples & 1 ½ cups (375 mL) water over medium-low or low heat until mushy. Add a bit more water as it simmers if needed. In the end, you'll want an apple puree, the consistency of a thick apple sauce.
If you don't want to bother with this step, I think you could substitute already-prepared apple sauce. The 4 cups of chopped apples created about 2 cups of apple puree. Apple sauce will probably be runnier than the homemade puree, so you'll need to add less water when combining the ingredients to make the bread dough.
1 tbsp or 1 package active dry yeast
1 tsp white sugar
¼ cup warm water
In a small bowl, combine the active dry yeast, sugar and warm water. Let it sit and bubble for about 10 minutes before adding to the dough.
6 cups (900 g) flour
2 cups apple puree or apple sauce
2 cups water (use less if you are using apple sauce)
In a large container or mixing bowl, mix the flour and apple puree. After the yeast has been bubbling for 10 minutes, stir it into the flour & apple mixture, then add the water. Cover with the lid or with a tea towel and allow to rise. The historic recipe suggested to let it rise 12 hours, so I prepped the dough before bed and baked it after breakfast. If you have less time, you'll end up with a nice bread after letting the dough rise for a couple of hours.
Reading between the lines:
If you look at the original Apple Bread recipe, you'll notice that there's no mention of kneading the bread dough at all! Often in historic recipes, it was just assumed that the reader had a basic level of cooking & baking skills, so this recipe is an example of needing to read between the lines to get the full picture.
I took the suggestion to allow the dough to rise for at least 12 hours and the advice to add flour until it became "a fine, smooth dough" as clues that this bread recipe uses the sponge method. As well, when you make bread with yeast or sourdough, kneading your bread dough is really a non-negotiable step. If you don't knead, you'll be making a bread-like nonedible brick! So I assumed that the kneading the dough was just implied in the instructions to "form it into rather long-shaped loaves". I also referred to a favourite recipe of mine from The Female Emigrant's Guide (a.k.a. The Canadian Settler's Guide) for Potato Bread because Catharine Parr Traill explains the process in full detail.
A sponge is a prefermentation that produces a very flavourful bread. When you make a sponge, you add water, your yeast (or sourdough) and some of the flour and allow to ferment before adding the remaining flour and kneading the dough.
Have a look at my pictures below. I think my sponge is looking rather * ahem * soupy. It's definitely runnier than I would like. I added 3 cups of water (instead of the 2 cups I'm now suggesting) to the flour because that's about what I'd typically add to this amount of flour to create a sponge, but I didn't take into consideration that the apples would also be adding moisture. I had to add about 4 cups of flour to to the dough until I could begin kneading! The bread was still scrumptious, so it wasn't a crisis.
Adding the Remaining Flour, Kneading & Baking:
Before I begin, I like to pre-pour containers of flour so that I can easily add flour to my sponge without my goopy hands covering everything with slop. If you have enough space in your bowl to add more flour to the sponge, please do. Sprinkle a thin layer of flour on top of your sponge and stir in this a spatula or wooden spoon. Continue doing this until you either run out of room, or it becomes a bit difficult to stir. I didn't have extra space to add flour in my container, so I turned out the sponge directly onto my kneading surface and added the flour there.
Flour your kneading surface well. If you haven't already added flour to your sponge, do so by sprinkling flour on the top and keeping the surface well floured. Mix in the flour by using your hands to lightly fold and turn the dough. Use a dough scraper, knife or spatula to scrape off the dough that sticks to the surface. To remove the dough that will stick to your fingers, add flour to your hands and rub together. Keep adding flour to the sponge until it is begins to look like a dough. What I mean by that is...it will keep its shape and not spread when it sits. It will still be sticky, but it won't continually attach itself to your hands and the surface like slime.
Now you can begin kneading the bread, and you want to stop adding flour at this point. Use your dough scraper, knife or spatula to scrape the dough off the surface if it sticks. If you've never kneaded bread before, check out the videos below – they'll show you how it's done! I usually find that I need to knead for about 10 minutes.
Form your dough into loaves. You can use loaf pans if you'd like – just be sure to butter or oil the pan before putting in the dough. I baked my loaves on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper. I roughly formed them into the shapes I wanted while kneading the last few pushes.
Allow the loaves to rise for about an hour. I didn't have this extra time, so I just preheated my oven and popped my loaves in the oven when it came to temperature. I routinely have to skip this step at work because of the logistics of when I start work and when museum visitors arrive to the kitchen for a snack. The bread will be perfectly good if you don't rise it again, but it will be tastier if you do!
Bake. Preheat your oven to 375 F (190 C). I would normally bake bread at a higher temperature, but I went with this temperature because of the sugar content of the apples. Scoring the top of the loaves right before putting them in the oven allows the bread to continue to rise in the initial baking stages. I baked my Apple Bread for 55 minutes until it was golden. Pick up your bread and tap it on the bottom. If it sounds hollow, your bread is fully baked.
In my backyard is a giant apple tree, so for as long as I call this house my home, you'll find apple recipes on Cloud 9 Cookery this time of year. Apple Bread is surprisingly not sweet. This bread is very flavourful thanks to a longer prefermentation process and the apples add a little je ne sais quoi to the complex flavour of this moist bread. I took both the very large loaves this recipe yielded to a gathering along with some butter. I thought that there would be leftovers and there most definitely were not!
Apple Bread is from the historic recipe compilation called The Nebraska Pioneer Cookbook, which I picked up in the gift shop at Scotts Bluff National Monument in Nebraska about a year ago. I almost didn't buy this cookbook, actually, because the food history nerd in me wasn't satisfied with how the cookbook was referenced. But then I told myself to suck it up, because I didn't know when I'd ever find myself in Nebraska again and the book is an interesting snapshot of culinary history in another part of North America.
Unfortunately, I don't know where this recipe for Apple Bread was originally from. It is found in the chapter "The Sod-House Period" and it's not clearly stated in the chapter when this period occurs, although with some reading between the lines, I think the recipes in the chapter are probably circa the 1860s & 1870s. Kay Graber does note before the recipes in this chapter that "All of the following are taken from authentic Nebraska sources of the sod-house era; most appeared in the Nebraska Farmer or local newspapers, a few are from the cookbooks of homestead wives."
Scotts Bluff National Monument is gorgeous. As it always goes with a roadtrip, I wish we had more time to enjoy the scenery and soak in the atmosphere. When we were getting ready to leave, I started chatting with a woman in the parking lot. She asked me if I was British, which I thought was funny. I don't think I have a strong accent, but I suppose my Ontario accent stood out to her. She was from the area, but had never been to Scotts Bluff until the day before, and she was back because of the intense spiritual experience she had while hiking. I completely understood why she was drawn to return so soon and I wish I could go back, but that will wait for another trip.