One thing I did when I was a kid was twist the stem of an apple while saying the ABCs. If the stem fell off when you got to a certain letter that was automatically the first letter in your boyfriend’s name. The girls at my school lunchroom table snickered when we asked each other what letter we were on when the stem fell off. Teasing each other about pretend boyfriends turned into an amusing game. I don’t remember the types of apples that were around then because I liked them all, just so long as they were crispy and didn’t have any worms living inside.
Now we have so many varieties of apples in Minnesota. Fireside, Honeycrisp, and Paula Red are my favorites from peeling to the edge of the core. Haralson apples are tart and work best for apple crisp. Over the years, Cortland apples have brought me the most memories because every fall our group of friends gets together to make applesauce. Kim organizes the event, and we use her grandmother’s recipe.
First, we decide when we can get together and how many bushels Kim should get. When we first started, we made five bushels. Now I think we are down to three. Next, we meet at Kim’s place and must remember to bring containers, pots, bowls, apple slicers, knives, and a snack to share because the event lasts for hours. After everyone arrives, we wash the apples. We slice them with apple slicers, remove any bruises or stem marks, and toss the slices into a pot. After the very large pot is full, about a quarter of a cup of water goes in too. That’s all it is: apples and water, plus a lot of love – sounds like a grandma sort of recipe!
My job has been pot stirrer even though I’m not one to “stir the pot!” If any burn marks end up on the bottom of the inside of the pot, I hear about it later in the day when we wash the dishes. There’s a secret method of knowing when the apples are ready to be sauced. I carefully squish a few against the inside of the pot. If it doesn’t squish easily, they need to remain where they are to be cooked a little longer. When the apples are ready, we transfer them into the strainer. Diane, Dianne, or Kim take turns squishing the apples by twirling the masher. The stuff that comes out goes into a bowl, and the other stuff that stayed inside the strainer gets tossed. Sheila works on dividing the portions equally into everyone’s containers, plus she figures out the cost per cup and how many cups are in each container. Since we all bring different sizes, this job can be tricky. Every year the cost can vary. We know this because Sheila keeps track! Something else varies each year too: the color.
Throughout the day we’ll talk about the happenings in our lives, but mostly we talk about the color of the applesauce. We usually compare it to the batch we made the previous year. Last year’s batch was very good, colorfully pink, and tasty. The year before, we thought the applesauce looked gray but tasted okay. In between those conversations, we reminisce about how long we’ve worked on this project together, when we did this before our children arrived on the scene, and how our children used to tag along to help. Last year, we were on our own and enjoyed delicious apple martinis, and the other sauce still turned out fine!
We’ve learned some tricks along the way. Now that we use the Victorio Food Strainer and Sauce Maker instead of the old-fashioned “squisher,” the process has become shorter which is good – then we might have time to sit down for a game of dice after we eat a delicious bowl of chili, spaghetti, or soup that Kim prepared before we arrived.
The sauce has been at most of our Thanksgiving dinners and fall birthday celebrations for over 25 years, and my family is always happy to help make it disappear. The times when we find an extra container hiding in our freezer makes us feel like our day has turned into a lucky one. It’s a blessing to be a part of such a grand tradition and to know how to do something besides twist the stem. I’ll always be happy to stir the pot whenever needed!
Constant use will not wear ragged the fabric of friendship. ~Dorothy Parker