Johnny Appleseed and Apple Dumplings

Johnny Appleseed tree?

Photo by Dan Iggers

Never mind famous Ohioans like Thomas Edison, the Wright Brothers, literary figures– like my favorite James Thurber–, not to mention the eight Presidents who came from Ohio– I nominate  Johnny Appleseed as the Favorite Son of Ohio. After all my ancestors in aprons could not get along without apples!

When it comes to Johnny Appleseed, nee John Chapman, myth mixes with reality. His life was so odd and so many tales grew up around him, that he reached legendary stature.  I would like to think that one of my Ohio ancestors might have met up with Johnny Appleseed, who was roaming through Northern Ohio from about 1792 until he died in 1845 (or maybe 1848).

However, only my maternal grandmother’s ancestors–the Bassetts (arrived in Ohio from New Hampshire in 1816), the Stouts (arrived from Pennsylvania in 1824) and particularly the Cochrans  ( from Pennsylvania – 1798) were in Ohio early enough. However the Stouts and Cochrans lived in Guernsey County a bit south of Johnny Appleseed’s territory. So we must hope that one of the Bassetts came across the mythical figure.

Family members wanted to believe that the old apple tree in my grandmother’s back yard in Killbuck Ohio was planted by Johnny, but my father said it wasn’t old enough. However, it could have been grown from the seeds or a start from an authentic Johnny Appleseed tree, couldn’t it?

Johnny Appleseed book
I don’t know if Johnny is still celebrated in schools in Ohio today, but we used to  study the deeds (real or imagined) of Johnny Appleseed and put on skits and draw pictures of the man with the saucepan on his head for a hat. I know they hold Johnny Appleseed Days in Apple Creek, not far from where I grew up, and I’ll bet they serve apple dumplings. But for the most part, he seems today to be relegated to children’s books. Dennis Day in the Story of Johnny Appleseed was made in 1964.  Garrison Keillor made another Johnny Appleseed movie last year.

Ohio author and early environmentalist Louis Bromfield wrote about Johnny Appleseed in his book Pleasant Valley.

“Some say that he was born in New England, others that he was born in Fort Duquesne, later to be called Pittsburgh. It is pretty well accepted he was a Swedenborgian by faith. It is also related that he died somewhere near the borders of Ohio and Indiana.”

He was most known for distributing apple seeds and shoots of apple trees to pioneers in the Ohio country wilderness.  When I was growing up, just about everyone would claim that Johnny Appleseed planted “that old apple tree over yonder” on their property.

The American Indians of Ohio revered Johnny because what the white population saw as “tetched“–his communication with animals and always sleeping in nature–the Indians saw as a sign that he was holy–in touch with nature– and they welcomed him into their camps.  Johnny not only was friendly with the animals, but he preached brotherhood and peace everywhere that he went.

Sometimes when he was hanging out around an Indian camp,  he overheard Indians planning an attack and he would slip away and warn the settlers, thus saving their lives.

Bromfield also claimed that Johnny scattered fennel seeds because early clearings caused swampy conditions, mosquitoes bred and malaria spread. Writing in the 1945, Bromfiled said:

“Johnny regarded a tea brewed with fennel leaves as a specific against what the settlers called “fever and ague” and he seeded the plant along trails and fence rows over all Ohio.  Some people said that he carried flower seeds with him to distribute among the lonely women who lived in cabins in clearings in the vast forest and that today the great red day lilies which grow along the roadsides or on the sites of old cabins, long disappeared, were spread by Johnny.”

Whatever the truth of Johnny Appleseed, I know how important apples were to Ohio pioneers and still are to cooks today. After all, I do have ancestors who had apple orchards on their farm.
Do you have any family stories about Johnny Appleseed?

My ancestors cooked endless varieties of apple desserts. My mother (Harriette Anderson Kaser) made the old favorite, apple dumplings, every once in a while as the main course of dinner.  We would have it in a bowl with some milk, and perhaps some bologna slices or cheese slice on the side. But apple dumplings were dinner.

Harriette’s Apple Dumplings

Serves 6
Prep time 20 minutes
Cook time 35 minutes
Total time 55 minutes
Allergy Milk, Wheat
Meal type Dessert
Misc Child Friendly, Freezable, Pre-preparable


  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 Cup butter
  • 1/2 Cup milk
  • 4 apples (pare, core, and slice in half or pieces)
  • 1/4lb sugar
  • 1 Teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 Teaspooon nutmeg or mace
  • 2 tablespoons butter


1. Sift or whisk together flour, baking powder and salt.
2. Apple dumpling mixture
Cut in butter.
3. apple dumpling dough
Add milk and stir until moistened (Don't over stir).
4. Apple Dumpling dough, cut in pieces
Roll out 1/4 inch thick and cut into 6"inch squares.
5. Mix apple slices with sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg to taste.
6. Pile slices in center of pastry square and dot with butter. Fold pastry corners up around apples and pinch together in center.
7. Brush pastry with milk and sprinkle with a little sugar.
8. apple dumplings before baking
Place one inch apart in greased baking pan. Bake at 375 degrees 35 minutes, or until nicely browned.


Although I combined recipes from various sources, the fact is that my mother generally used Bisquick to make the crust for the apple dumplings. Dumplings also work with the Perfect Pie Crust recipe, if you have extra on hand.

The number of apples depends on size of apples and how large you want to make your dumplings. I could have made prettier dumplings by not putting so many apple slices in each one. As it was, I had left over apple slices that I scattered in the pan.

Likewise, the amount of sugar depends on the sweetness of the apples.

The Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook suggests making a sugar/water syrup with red food coloring which is poured over before baking. The old Buffalo Evening News Cook Book from the 20s has cooks pour boiling water half way up in the pan, which would result in a soggy dumpling more like the kind in Chicken and Dumplings. Mother's dumplings were crispier than a boiled dumpling, and that's the way we like them.

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8 thoughts on “Johnny Appleseed and Apple Dumplings

    1. Vera Marie BadertscherVera Marie Badertscher Post author

      Roxanne, I’m always curious as to whether people who grew up elsewhere knew about the Johnny Appleseed legend. It is a big deal in Ohio. But then people of the right age (which you are not) might have seen the Disney Movie.

  1. ruth pennebaker

    What a pleasure to read about Johnny Appleseed! I haven’t read about him since I was a kid, and plunged into books about American folklore. Thanks for reminding me – and everyone else – about all the good works he did.
    ruth pennebaker would like you to read..Doubling UpMy Profile


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