The smell of freshly peeled apples filled my grandmother’s house. The permeating smell rose from the heap of Macintosh peelings that were heaped upon her pine kitchen table. My brother and I peeled while my grandmother would chop slices gingerly into a cast aluminum roaster. Each time, when one of these pots were filled with apples, she would add water just to the top of the slices and then quickly place the brew upon her stove on an already lit burner.
My grandmother began to feel hungry and began to push everything, peels and all, to the side of table. “Let’s have lunch,” she said as she began pulling cold cuts from the fridge. My grandfather was still outside raking leaves and my grandmother asked my brother to tell Grandpa that lunch had started. As my brother Jasper headed out the door, I began looking at the apples and a question popped in my mind: “Where did all of the apple trees of the valley come from, Grandma?” A smile grew across her face and, in that instant, she began to tell a story.
Many years before the towns were towns and the communities were communities, settlers were the farmers of the land, separated by distance with little contact between them. The occasional news would come from a passerby, but that was the most of it. As time pressed on, Donbridge became one of the first early gathering spots in the area and so it was no surprise that the town and the community formed there first. A misconception was that the town formed because William Donbridge was the first settler of the valley, but the truth is the town only goes by his name as his cabin was the oldest structure of the valley, so the town saw it fitting to name the town Donbridge. But this was not the reason the town started here. The reason was a mix of happenstance and invention.
Johnny Appleseed was known for spreading apples throughout the entire Northeast and Midwest by way of his travels. When Johnny decided to plant apple trees, he would always pick a spot where he felt folks would travel through and stop or settle. One of these such areas was the valley of Donbridge. For you see, Donbridge had the very first apple tree orchard planted by Johnny Appleseed. But even this significant event, which only drew people to stop, still was not the reason folks began to settle here. The reason started with Albert Langstan.
Albert was a bit of a machinist and inventor living in early New York City, working at a shipyard. He had quietly saved his money and over the course of 20 years saved enough that one day he disappeared. Some thought him dead and others thought he was robbed and taken as a servant. But the truth was Albert had taken off into the night and began following an old Lenape footpath out of the city toward the north. He traveled for days on end and then happened upon a group of people who were camping by their wagons in a great valley. Albert approached them cautiously and made himself known so none of them would be quick to pull a rifle on him. They invited him to their fire and began to speak of their journey and why they stopped. The group described the apple orchard to Albert and explained as nice as finding the apples was, the apples were too tart to eat and too hard to cook with. Albert was intrigued by the group’s comments and the next day he headed to the orchard to check out the trees for himself.
Albert had heard of these trees and knew that as great as it was that they were there, these fruits needed to be processed for eating. Albert, having tools he had purchased and brought along his journey, began to unpack and set to work on a plan. He had decided he would settle near the orchard and build a small cider house.
It took Albert nearly three weeks to build his apple cider house, but when it was finished, he began processing the apples from the orchard. He made jellies, apple cider and apple butter. He began to produce honey as well. People started to stop and purchase supplies from Albert, and soon others began to follow in Albert’s footsteps and they too began to settle in the valley. Years passed and the town grew and grew and Donbridge became a town not because just a seed was planted to make an apple orchard, but because someone saw something more.
When my grandmother finished her tale, we cleared the table and went back to work. Soon after a knock was heard at the door. My grandfather got up and made his way to the outside porch door.
“Well, hello Albert! Yup, they’re in there working on applesauce today,” my grandfather said. “What a fine jug of cider; I will be sure to let Jules know you stopped by!” My grandfather finished speaking and then walked inside with a gallon of cider in hand. “Look what Albert just left us,” my grandfather said, holding up the cider jug. “Wow, that’s a lot of cider!” my grandmother said as she took the jug from my grandfather and placed it on the table. Curious as to its origins, I turned the jug of cider and there sat a label: “Langstan Cider, Johnny Appleseed grown, pressed since 1795.”
I looked up from the table and my grandmother only smiled as she went about her work.
Grandma’s Apple Cider/Sauce Cake
3/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 cup apple cider
3/4 cup coconut or olive oil
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1 cup peeled, sliced apples
lemon glaze topping:
2 tablespoons mlk
1 cup confectionary sugar
1 tablespoon lemon extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a Bundt cake pan. Combine batter ingredients in a large bowl except for pecans and sliced apples, then fold in pecans, then apples. Pour batter into cake pan and bake for 45 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Place cake on a cooling rack. For glaze (apply once cake is cool): Place cake on a cake dish. Mix all glaze ingredients in a small mixing bowl, then drizzle over the cake. Place cake in the fridge for 1 hour, then serve.