Apple Upside Down Gingerbread

Heirloom Apples

Heirloom Apples

There’s a chill in the air, and it’s time to fill your kitchen with the warm smells of sweet and savory dishes.

This Apple Upside Down Gingerbread recipe appeared in the 1999 Seed Savers Exchange calendar, and was created by world-class chef Richard Palm. The ingredients and method follows. Enjoy!

4 Tbsp. melted butter ¾ cup brown sugar 3 tart baking apples, peeled, halved, cored and thinly sliced

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease or spray the bottom and sides of an 11 x 7 x 2” metal pan. Pour the melted butter into the pan and sprinkle the brown sugar evenly over it. Arrange the thinly sliced apples over the butter and brown sugar.

Mix the following batter and pour it over the apples:

2¼ cups sifted, unbleached all-purpose flower ½ tsp. baking soda ½ tsp. salt 2 tsp. ground ginger 1 tsp. ground cinnamon ½ tsp. ground cloves ½ tsp. ground nutmeg ½ tsp. ground allspice 1 tsp. Dutch processed cocoa ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter/melted and cooled to room temperature ¾ cup molasses ¾ cup granulated sugar ½ cup buttermilk ½ cup milk 1 large egg

Whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, spices and cocoa in a bowl. In a separate bowl, use an electric mixer to beat together the butter, molasses, sugar, buttermilk, milk, and egg. Add the dry ingredients and beat until the batter is smooth and thick (about a minute), scraping down often.  Pour the mixture over the top of the apple slices in the prepared pan. Bake on the middle oven rack for 50-60 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 5 minutes.


Seed Savers Exchange is a non-profit organization, with a mission to conserve and promote America's culturally diverse but endangered garden and food crop heritage for future generations by collecting, growing, and sharing heirloom seeds and plants.

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Forgotten Tastes

Heirloom Apple Tasting

Few people know that our garden heritage contains a rich diversity of thousands of apple varieties. The limited variety of modern commercial apples leaves little room to experience the diversity with which we were at one time endowed, with varieties grown for specific purposes like pressing cider, baking, storing, and making sauce. SSE has obtained a majority of the pre-1900 varieties still in existence for its orchards, where hundreds of different apple varieties that flourished in the 19th century and before are on display. Heirloom Apple TastingOn Sunday, October 6, Seed Savers Exchange (SSE) held Forgotten Tastes, An Heirloom Apple Event in Johnston, Iowa, at Grade A Gardens. Operated by Jordan Clasen and Thomas Burkhead, Grade A Gardens grows SSE vegetable varieties for a CSA and many progressive Des Moines restaurants.

Despite rain and cold weather, the event attracted 200 guests from Iowa, Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Minnesota. Forgotten Tastes provided a rare opportunity to taste and enjoy over 70 heirloom apple varieties from SSE’s historic apple orchards. Guests recorded their notes as they proceeded through the apple lineup, tasting apples with whimsical-sounding names and curious histories, including Northern Spy, Sops of Wine, and Zuccalmaglio’s Reinette. Wine, artisan cheeses from The Cheese Shop, heirloom apple tarts from Tami’s Tarts, South Union Bakery bread, and cured meats from La Quercia were specially selected to pair well with the apple varieties. Two delicious versions of hard cider were available for tasting, and guests enjoyed music by members of Cousin Eddy while they mingled. Meanwhile the lecture tent was packed with eager learners enjoying talks on heirloom apples, orchard management, grafting, and cider. Speakers included SSE’s Diane Ott Whealy, Dan Bussey and Steve Carlson.

Cheese DisplayHappily for Seed Savers Exchange, Kari and CJ Bienert organized a "Happy Apples" event at The Cheese Shop (Shops at Roosevelt) the following evening with SSE’s Orchard Manager Dan Bussey talking heirloom apples and CJ suggesting exquisite cheese pairings. What a perfect way to top off the apple weekend!

Slow Food Des Moines was instrumental in making the event a success, through help with planning, food, and enlisting some 30 volunteers. Also assisting were Paul and Lori Rottenberg, of Orchestrate Hospitality, the marketing partner for Gateway Market and other “fresh and local” restaurant businesses.

Forgotten Tastes was sponsored by Wells Fargo. Ticket sales provided much needed revenue to support the work of Seed Savers Exchange.

Seed Savers Exchange is a non-profit organization dedicated to conserving and promoting America’s culturally diverse but endangered garden and food crop heritage for future generations by collecting, growing, and sharing heirloom seeds and plants.

Apple Pie: One more reason to preserve heritage apples

Apple Pie

Seed Savers Exchange Orchard Manager Dan Bussey is known around Heritage Farm for a lot of things. Most obviously he’s known for a vast knowledge of heritage and heirloom apple diversity and his upcoming book documenting thousands of them. In fact, he’s known nationally for his knowledge on everything apples. Still, many staff members know him for his colorful comments on all-staff e-mail threads; a few lucky folks know him for his skills as a hard cider and apple brandy maker; if you’re in the right place at the right time, you know him for his fantastic apple pies. I recently caught up with Dan one morning and tagged along as he performed his magic, whipping up one of these famous pies.

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When you have an orchard like Seed Savers with 550 apple varieties, no two pies are the same (or at least they shouldn’t be—what’s the fun in that?). Knowing which varieties were ripe and ready this week, Dan led us through the orchard to collect apples from the Lewis Incomparable, Worchester Pearmain, and Summer Gold trees.  I asked Dan what the pros and cons were for using multiple varieties in one pie. The obvious answer was because of the complexity an assortment of apples will add to the flavor, but also that different textures can be complementary. Having one apple variety that cooks down and loses its form will give the pie an apple filling to supplement the other, firmer apple slices. Just remember to slice harder apples thinner and slice softer apples thicker. Dan also mentioned how Northerners have traditionally used tart apples for their pies, while Southerners prefer sweeter apples, so the level of sweetness for pie apples is a matter of preference.

After collecting the apples we headed inside to prepare the pie. Here’s what we used:

  • 6-10 baking apples (For apples that hold their shape, use less; for apples that cook down, use more)
  • Crust (make your own or buy pre-made)
  • 1 C sugar
  • 1 teaspoon rounded cinnamon
  • 1 Tablespoon rounded tapioca (for thickener)
  • 1 pinch ground ginger
  • 1 pinch ground cloves
  • 1 pinch allspice
  • 1 pinch ground nutmeg
  • 2 Tablespoons milk or cream
  • lemon juice

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Peel and slice apples, putting them in lemon water to prevent oxidization and to provide a little tartness. Slice thin for firmer apples that hold their shape when cooked, such as Lewis Incomparable, and slice thick for varieties that cook down, such as Worchester Pearmain or Summer Gold. Preheat oven to 375. Prepare crust and place bottom crust in pie pan, letting it hang over the edge. Remove apple slices from lemon water and toss in a bowl with sugar, cinnamon, tapioca, ginger, cloves, allspice, and nutmeg. Arrange apples slices so there are no gaps or empty spaces. Brush on milk or cream on bottom crust as glue, and place top crust over apples. Using a fork, apply pressure around the edge to seal. Fold bottom crust over top crust, and make your way around the edge, pinching to seal. Cut slits in the top crust to allow steam to vent out. Sprinkle pie with cinnamon, sugar, and Vietnamese cinnamon, to taste. Place in preheated oven for about 1 hour, or until bubbles and steam come out of the vents.

If you have tips, tricks, or suggestions for making a good apple pie, leave a comment below!

Help Seed Savers Exchange preserve our apple heritage by becoming a member or making a donation today.

About Seed Savers Exchange (SSE): Located six miles north of Decorah, Iowa, Seed Savers Exchange is a non-profit membership organization dedicated to the preservation and distribution of heirloom seeds.  Seed Savers maintains a collection of thousands of open-pollinated varieties, making it one of the largest non-governmental seed banks in the United States.

Apple Grafting to Preserve Diversity

Pewaukee apple

Pewaukee apple “This apple comes from an old tree at my grandmother’s home, and it is the best apple I have ever tasted.” We hear this story a lot around here, and usually, the story ends like this: “Now the tree is dying, and nobody in the family remembers what variety it is.”

Well, there is only one thing to do, graft! Apples are propagated by grafting a part of the old tree, called scionwood, onto a new rootstock. Grafting is necessary because apple seed produces offspring unlike the parent plant. This propagation technique allows you to determine how large the tree will eventually grow – choose dwarfing rootstocks for a small backyard or a large pot on a patio, or graft onto a standard rootstock to grow a full-sized tree that will survive generations.

Join us and learn this ancient skill by attending one of SSE’s bench grafting workshops held on April 5 and April 12, 2014 (editors note: registration is now closed). Attendees will go home with three heritage apple varieties and the skills to start their own orchard. Workshops are led by Seed Savers Exchange orchard manager and apple historian Dan Bussey, who is nearing completion of his book documenting all of the named apple varieties grown in North America since the 1600s.

Listen to Dan Bussey's talk, "Our Apple Heritage," here.

View a short video introduction to apple grafting from Dan:



View a past SSE webinar on apple grafting here:


Our Apple Heritage with Dan Bussey This past Friday, a dozen apple enthusiasts gathered at Heritage Farm for a heritage apple sampling and presentation by SSE's orchard manager Dan Bussey. Dan's encyclopedic knowledge of apple provenance and the historic culture surrounding the fruit was astounding - there wasn't a variety mentioned that Dan had not researched, tasted, or grafted himself.

Dan's expertise is largely founded on a lifelong curiosity regarding what he terms 'the lexicon of apple names', a journey that began with his first nursery catalog (a single-page typewritten catalog from Otto Baum's in Fairfield, Connecticut) and continues today as he finishes his forthcoming book (tentatively titled The Apple in North America), which describes 20,000 named apple varieties.

The following audio represents most of Dan's hour-long presentation. Beginning with his own pomological history, Dan describes cider-making and cider-sampling as a child in Wisconsin and the movement of apples out of Kazakhstan, into Europe and eventually North America. He talks about the merits of Johnny Appleseed, describes his role as the orchard manager for Seed Savers Exchange, and concludes his talk with a discussion of the best strategies for preserving heritage apple varieties.

Check back soon for other audio/video summaries of our Harvest Lecture Series.

Really Funky Names and Thousands of Gallons of Cider


Pomological Watercolors and Publications


Malus sieversii and the Stans


Ancient Apples and the Kandil Sinap


Apples Invade America on Three Fronts


Apple Diversity and Cider Blends


Early American Homesteading and an Eccentric Swedenborgian


Wild Crabs and other Malus


Ephemeral Peaks, Pocket Apples and Gene Splicing


Sampling Apples and a Gnarly-Lookin' Little Bugger


Orchard Management, Rehabilitation and Precociousness


Heritage Apples and the Fascinating Characters who Preserve Them


The Best Hope for Preservation


Our New Orchard and its Cheese Apples


An Orchard from a Single Apple and Cattle as Nurserymen


Lectures were supported by a grant from the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture