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This Week's Scuttlebutt

Johnny Appleseed

There are many famous John's in folklore, and one of America's favorite characters is Johnny Appleseed.

The real person behind the Johnny Appleseed folk story was named John Chapman. John was born somewhere near Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1775. Near the turn of the century, John moved with his brother, Nathanial, to north central Ohio. Within a couple of years, the Chapman's returned to Massachusetts and moved their father's family to Marietta, Ohio. John then traveled to Pennsylvania.

As he wandered through the Ohio Valley, John Chapman's eccentric appearance made him easily recognized. He was a tall man, with long hair and long beard. He wore a homemade pasteboard hat, and his pants were old, short, and tattered. He usually used rags or ropes for suspenders. He wore the front of his shirt loose so it could serve as a pouch to carry his books. (Chapman had strong religious beliefs and always carried a Testament inside his shirt.) His feet were usually bare, and his coat, when he wore one, was an old coffee sack with holes cut for his head and arms.

John Chapman traded apple seeds and apple trees for what he needed. Sometimes, other pioneers would see Chapman carrying bags of apple seeds on an old horse, but mostly, he would be seen walking with leather sacks of apple seeds on his back. Everywhere he walked, John Chapman would clear small patches of land, plant a few apple seeds, and surround the cleared land with a crude enclosure. It wasn't long until he became known as Johnny Appleseed.

Johnny Appleseed started many of these small apple orchards, especially in Ohio's Licking County and Richland County. Johnny also believed strongly in the medicinal value of fennel, and would scatter seeds from his pockets all along his route.

It's not surprising that many legends grew up around Johnny Appleseed. Most tales portray him as an honest but eccentric man who wouldn't hurt any living creature. In one story, a tired Johnny Appleseed crawls into a hollow log to sleep. When later asked if he wasn't afraid of the mother bear with cubs who was resting at the other end of the log, Johnny Appleseed replied, "I knew the bear wouldn't hurt me."

Sometime during the 1830s, Johnny bade farewell to his friends and headed further west, towards Indiana. The Ohio Valley was just becoming too crowded. In the spring of 1845, Johnny arrived at the home of a family in Allen County, Indiana. He was greeted warmly and spent the evening reading to the family from his religious books. At bedtime, he laid down on the floor in front of the fire, to sleep, as was his custom. But come morning, when the family went to start their day, they realized that Johnny Appleseed would wander no more.

To those who knew him, Johnny Appleseed was a prophet, herb doctor, and botanist, wandering the wilderness. He accepted almost anything as payment for his apple seeds. If a farmer couldn't pay, Johnny left his seeds behind on credit. His many apple orchards strengthened the burgeoning economy of the Ohio valley region. By the time he died, Johnny Appleseed had become a true American folk legend.

In honor of Johnny Appleseed, why not treat yourself to a special dessert?

Johnny Appleseed Cobbler


  • about 6 cups sliced cooking apples
  • ¾ cup flour
  • ¾ cup brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ cup butter or margarine
  • Preparation

    1. Lightly grease or butter your baking dish. (A 9 x 11 pan works fine.) Spread the apple slices in the greased pan.
    2. Hint: If the apples are fully ripe, or past their prime, sprinkle the apple slices with 1 tbs. lemon juice.
    3. In a bowl, mix together the flour, brown sugar, and cinnamon. Use a pastry cutter (a fork will work, too) to cut the butter into the flour mixture. Sprinkle the mixture evenly over the apple slices.
    4. Bake at 350° F for 30-45 minutes or until apples are tender.

    Option A

    Instead of using 1/2 cup butter or margarine, add 1/3 cup butter or margarine AND 1 cup grated cheddar cheese to the flour mixture.

    Option B

    Instead of using 1/2 cup butter or margarine, add 1/3 cup butter or margarine AND 3 oz. cream cheese to the flour mixture.

    Serving Suggestions

    Serve cobbler warm. Top with ice cream or whipped cream.

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    Monday, April 28, 2003 14:50

    © 1999 Anne Wallingford