Thursday, November 13, 2008

From Start to Finish

I'm done. We're done. With the apple sauce, that is. It has been an almost two-week journey, but I've finally put away the canner tonight and the pile of equipment on the drying rack will be returned to the dark corners of the storage room tomorrow. As a result, we have five gallons of apple sauce put up, canned, put away, stored with a zealous locavore sense of satisfaction.

A few weeks ago we were at a birthday party for my Mom's cousin Chuck and noted that their apple tree in the back yard was heavily laden with fruit. Of course my Dad, ever the resourceful one (read: scrounger extraordinaire) brought me over a sample. The taste was delightful, crisp, sweet, a high pitched flavor. The mug on the apple? No thanks. I'd like to say I've never met an uglier apple, but then I remembered the worm-filled nasties we picked from the farm's trees just a few weeks ago. (Some one needs to send me a tutorial on taking care of apples organically!) But the promise of free fruit was there and I had visions of Nora's pear and peach extravaganza earlier this fall. We cautiously inquired about the apples and soon we had a date to pick the beauties.

Sunday afternoon arrived and my parents picked me, Carl and Gus up, ladder loaded atop the vehicle and boxes stacked tightly in the back end. Off to the urban apple orchard, or tree, that is... we go. The boys had already been apple picking this fall and remembered proper technique for removing the apples without disturbing the tree too much. Does that still matter when you're removing all the apples from a tree? We filled box upon box of apples, reddish and yellow, dented and bumped, beautiful and mangled, every kind of apple imaginable. Our thoughts of future bowls of warm apple sauce kept us going as the swarms of ladybugs almost made my stomach turn. It was a beautiful fall day, the best kind imaginable. Being outside with my parents and the boys, joining Chuck and Cyndi for a cup of coffee and dessert in their back yard... well, it was perfect. The apples were not. It didn't matter.

See what I mean about beauty? They sat on my porch for longer than I care to admit but their smell was lovely every time we passed through on our way to gather the mail or leave through the front door. Finally, a week ago tonight I began the arduous task of cutting, trimming and seeding the apples while I stared at the dinky tv that normally lives in my closet and had been dragged down to the kitchen. For three. and. a. half. hours. Yes, indeed. Two gallons of applesauce later, I had enough liquid gold for 8 quarts of apple sauce to make my pantry shelves happy. If you've ever canned before, you know what a mess it makes of your kitchen. I understand why some farm families had a separate kitchen in the basement or in the "summer kitchen" outside, to keep the mess out of the regular living space. It is messy and space consuming.
The two pots in this photo are my favorites for the process. The robin-egg's blue Martha Stewart pot is sturdy and heavy, the perfect pot to simmer the apple bits down to a deep golden sauce. The pot on the right is my canner, a black speckleware beauty that once belonged to the previous owner of this house. We bought Mrs. Carroll's canner at the estate sale held here before we closed on our house. I knew that I would become a canner someday and that the history of that pot needed to remain here. I'm glad I did. It holds 7 quarts and is reasonably safe in terms of my eternal worry of burning myself. It is big, sturdy and has begged for my trust. So far this year, I'm doing fine.
My Dad came over this week to help go through the other three boxes of apples from the porch. The boys played and munched on apple pieces while Louise napped and we pared apples. After two and a half hours, we had finished the rest--three more gallons. His specialty was "grinding the apples," as the boys called it.
Ben Ten and Vinny the monkey tried to hijack my canning tool.

So today, after almost a full two weeks, I'm done. The first batch is already on the shelves in the basement and here are the rest of the girls, waiting to join them. I love love love the blue glass jar, though Carl and Ron both asked me why some of the applesauce was green. Blue + yellow= green, of course.

Glinty and beautiful, here they are. These jars connect me to my ancestors and fellow farm-women at heart. They connect me and those who share the apple harvest to the earth and to our community. They keep me present in my daily life and grounded in my desire to slow down the pace of our generation. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to finish cleaning the kitchen.

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