When autumn comes to the great Northeast, apples come thundering off the trees, rolling out of the orchards and into farm stands and supermarkets in stupefying abundance. Responding to some primitive summons, I jump in the car and drive – drive south, where they ripen first — to do my part for the economy. I buy apples.
I begin cautiously — a peck, perhaps, of Macintosh, the earliest. I buy them at a farm stand somewhere in Columbia County. The sheer rusticity of the encounter with the actual orchard, with the grower, and with the wife and child who are manning the store, warms my heart and makes me feel close to the earth. That I have driven far to help the farmer, imparts a sense of rural participation and patriotic responsibility. I am quite proud of myself.
Bringing my apples home, I arrange them in a large white bowl on my white kitchen counter. It looks like a page from a Pottery Barn catalogue and I snap a photo with my phone. I can admire them for a few days before they must either go to the refrigerator or be eaten. Four days later, I make applesauce.
I used to make applesauce by running cooked apples through my Foley Food Mill, an old-timey device shaped like a large saucepan, with a crank-operated grinder in the bottom which pulverized the apples into applesauce. It was muscle work but it also removed skins and seeds. Now, a food processor does the pulverizing, which sounds easier, except that the apples have to be peeled and cored before cooking, which is as just as much work as cranking, but I didn’t think of that when I threw out the Foley in favor of the Cuisinart.
So now I use up the apples I have, which make only about two cups of applesauce; add brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg until it is wonderfully fragrant and as sweet as I like it. I cook a pork roast that evening and the applesauce is gone.
I love apples. We bought our home years ago because every time the realtor brought us here the whole house smelled like apple pie.
I go back to a closer farm stand the following weekend, with friends, making a day of it. We buy apples — Jonathans and Cortlands and Macintosh. We also buy pumpkins, fall flowers and honey. Someone buys a squash. The air is crisp, the sky is blue, there is a café at this location and we knock back some cider and cider donuts.
I arrive home with half a bushel of apples and make applesauce and apple crisp. The fall flowers are still fresh, but again, I am out of apples. Gas is pushing four dollars a gallon and I have had enough of farm stands, where I spend too much money for stuff I don’t need and eat donuts, which I also don’t need. I head for the supermarket.
The Internet tells me there are now some eighty modern varieties of apples available and from these, my market stocks the ubiquitous Macs, Jonathans and Cortlands as well as Galas, Fujis, Honeycrisps, Braeburns, Empires and Jazz; and don’t forget Cameos and the pink Pink Ladies. I read somewhere that one should use a mixture of apples for a deeper flavor experience, so I select a few of each, except for the Red Delicious, which are the runway models of apples and have about as much substance.
I have bags and bags of apples – surely, a bushel. I dump as many as will fit into the big white bowl and make the outliers into an apple cake and more applesauce.
I buy more sugar, flour, Crisco, and butter, planning to make apple pies, an apple tart, and some apple dumplings. My arthritis is killing me from all the peeling and quartering, .coring and slicing. I need some Advil.
At the moment, it seems much more rewarding to sit here writing about apples than it would be to be downstairs in the kitchen peeling them, or even admiring their redness in their beautiful white bowl. My kitchen has become an apple showroom and I am sick of apples.
Bring on the pumpkins.