motherhood, baseball, and applesauce

IMG_1759A familiar scene in my kitchen, this time of year.

We live in the part of my hometown where all the old, tall, famous people live.  Or used to, more like.  Truth be told, there were only two people who ever legitimately filled that bill, but they were outsized doozies by any measure: Nobel laureate John Kenneth Galbraith, and French chef extraordinaire Julia Child.  It was a treat to have their six-foot-plus fame in our midst, amusing to run into them at the dry cleaners, fun to peek at what they had in their grocery carts.  Okay, that only happened once with Julia–who, for the record, wasn’t beneath stocking up on Pepperidge Farm goldfish.

Alas, they’re both long gone from this world, their houses now otherwise occupied.   But the memory of them always percolates up for me most vividly when October rolls around.  Because the Galbraiths were the most entertaining neighbors to visit with our boys at Halloween (think wooden Balinese masks and full-sized candy bars), while Julia inspired an October cooking obsession in me that lives on to this day.

IMG_1773Here’s where it all began.  Oh, and I got to visit that kitchen, before it moved to the Smithsonian Museum!

My annual cooking effort began just after Julia published The Way To Cook, her 1989 opus.  That cookbook included a drop-dead fantastic recipe for applesauce.  Having a local culinary legend provide me with the definitive how-to was all the coaxing I needed to do exactly what my mom had always done, every October.

 IMG_1781Here it is.   But the fact is, I don’t check the recipe anymore.  I know how many bags of apples fit into my blue pot, and how many Ball jars that will bubble down to.  No measurements required.

I’m sure that Julia’s applesauce recipe includes more ingredients than my mom’s ever did. Which, now that I think of it, presumes that my mom ever had a recipe to follow, which was probably never the case.  Making applesauce was simply what any mother with an obliging apple tree in the back yard did, back in Maine, back in the day.  It was something my mother probably learned from her mother, Mary Crie, who learned it from her mother, great-grandma Campbell.  Apples make landfall out by the clothesline, women gather them up and turn them into pies and applesauce, no cookbooks required.

IMG-20121030-00013The apples I had to pick up in my back yard were never this aesthetically pleasing.

I hated the job of collecting apples when I was young.  The swarms of yellow jackets that visited them on the ground were a source of nightmares.  None of the fruit I gathered looked like anything you’d find in the grocery store, and most looked like sad mistakes of nature, knobby and bruised and never particularly round.  They came, they fell, they couldn’t really be good for anything, could they?  Well, no, except for those who wielded Foley food mills.  Armed with that contraption, any mother could turn brownish backyard fallout into something worthwhile.

IMG_1765Tools of the trade.  And that’s not my mom’s Foley food mill, no siree.  That’s the Rolls Royce of food mills, courtesy of William-Sonoma.  Had to take out a mortgage on that baby, all but.  Worth every penny.

Fast forward a few decades, and there I was, with Julia Child’s recipe in my cookbook holder and a pair of applesauce-loving toddlers underfoot. I decided to yield to my maternal roots and create my own applesauce-making  tradition, minus the windfall fruit.

But absent an obliging tree, what’s the signal that applesauce-making time has come?  For me, it will always be the convergence of two autumnal events: the start of the post-season baseball schedule, and the moment that the local supermarkets advertise half-peck bags of Macintoshes and Cortlands and Empires at somewhere south of a dollar a pound.   You can set your watch to both these predictable events, always in early October.

IMG_1819The best of all convergences: Applesauce season, and the Sox still in the hunt.

Cheap raw material is an obvious reason to ramp up one’s applesauce production in October, but the baseball connection?  That turns out to be a grand intersection of October Things That Take Time.   Which goes like this: If you care about baseball, and if your team’s still in the hunt in October, there are sure to be lots of late nights spent watching TV, cheering for this year’s heroes, bemoaning the commentary on Fox, and, in our case, hoping for yet another Red Sox miracle.   The further into the post-season they make it, the later and longer the games go.  It’s just a baseball fact.

So while you’re watching and pacing and waiting for some baseball magic, making applesauce turns out to be a good thing to have going on, on the back burner.  And on the front burner, as well.  Turns out, it takes three burners: one for the apples to bubble away, one to sterilize the Ball jars beforehand, and seal the tops after they’re filled. And one more burner, for the pot that simmers the lids.  Which sounds like a lot of work, but it really isn’t.  It just takes time and space for things to come to a boil, to get to the right state of mushiness.  Nothing but time.  And baseball has all the time in the world.

 IMG_1768From crisp apples to warm mush to pure deliciousness. Just give it some time.

Over the years, I’ve discovered that there are other things that lend themselves to multi-tasking with my applesauce-making efforts. Observing presidential debates warrants an evening of chopping those Cortlands, squeezing those lemons.  (Yep, that’s the magic ingredient: lemon rind and lemon juice, along with cinnamon, a dash of sugar, and a touch of vanilla. Julia was a genius!)  Waiting for election returns is also a good excuse for having something else to show for your efforts at the end of the night.  I think I might have been making applesauce when our younger son was in the college application throes, and an early action deadline was looming upon us.  It’s always good to be the mom who’s got something else on the stove.  Literally.

IMG-20121024-02204Yeah, I probably did.  But only because the Red Sox weren’t in it.

One thing I wish I’d done over the years was to keep a sampling of all those lids, where I commemorated the nights when extraordinary things were happening as my applesauce bubbled away.  A friend who ran for Congress lost a close race in 2010, and came back two years later to take that seat—I commemorated both those late night vote counts with NH 2nd district  applesauce.  There was a batch of Joe Biden-Sarah Palin debate applesauce, but none for Amy Poeler-Tina Fey–much as I loved those SNL skits, they were too short, and started too late for my applesauce-making time frame.  In less than stellar Red Sox years, there have been  farewell applesauce batches, as careers came to a close: Bye bye, Mike Lowell.  Thanks for all you did for us, Tim Wakefield.

This year, I made a first batch of the season for my buddies in Whipple OH who are die-hard Pittsburgh Pirates fans, on the occasion of their team’s first post-season victory in decades.

IMG_1550This batch is for you, Bucco fans!

And this year as always, it seems that the label is as much about the people who might enjoy my efforts, and the things they care about, as it is about the event commemorated.   I love it when friends and family can both enjoy my applesauce and say to themselves, “Yeah, that was a good game, a good night.”


3 comments on “motherhood, baseball, and applesauce

  1. Sue says:

    I’ve always scoffed at those reviewers who call a book or movie “laugh out loud funny” — but a mortgage on a kitchen tool? I did indeed lol. My mother had an 8 1/2 x 3-inch rectangle on the bumper of our boatlike station wagon that read “Go Red Sox — this is our year!” If you’d peeled away the stickers to the “chrome” at the bottom of the stack, you would have found ‘1967.’ Then 1968 and so on. The top of the pile read ‘2003.’ Unfortunately she didn’t live to see the Sox win the Series in 2004. But how she would have cheered! I’m told that, when she was in labor with me, she waited to go to the hospital until the ninth inning ended. Last Sunday she would have been 85. Though baseball is not my spectator sport of choice, every October I’m reminded of how it wove through my life and my mother’s. So go Red Sox — go Mom.

    • khm says:

      I’m definitely not the funniest person in my family, so always happy when I can get a snort of amusement. And, oh, yes, those years between ’67 and ’04 were epic, though not in the good way. More in the ways that the Sox figured out ways to end up on the losing side. Somewhere, somehow, let’s hope your mom got to tune in when the curse of the Bambino was reversed!

  2. Ach du lieber how did I miss the Bucco applesauce?? Drooooling. Vanilla. Yes. She was a genius, and I will always treasure the peek I had into her kitchen one autumn evening as she and Paul bustled about making dinner. I had a friend in an apartment in the adjoining house. Ye Gods, to watch that from a couple of floors up. You have me wanting to buy cheap apples and start it simmering. Yum! I love situational cooking. We do it with chili on Sundays, stews in winter, and that all-important after-dinner popcorn when there’s something awesome on TV. Like watching the Pirates have a winning season for ONCE. Rooting for the Sox now, something awful.

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