Autumn is here and it is time for raking leaves and winterizing our homes and cars and apple picking. I have spent the last couple of weekends on the winterization thing and was all psyched to go apple picking but was thwarted in my autumn desire by the fact that finding someplace to pick apples proved somewhat difficult. I was told by an orchard owner that due to kids climbing trees and damaging them or falling out and engaging in raucous and dangerous apple fights, it had become impossible for the orchard to continue allowing people to pick their own apples.
I have a serious problem with people behaving badly and ruining my good time. When I used to take my older two apple picking I never allowed them to climb into the trees and I can honestly say that they never threw apples at each other. What is the world coming to when the simple pleasure of seasonal rituals are lost to us because young people have no sense of decorum and parents cannot control their children to whom they have never taught what constitutes decorum or even what the word means? I despair for our culture.
When I was young my father used to make what we believed was indisputable the best applesauce in the entire universe. Applesauce making was a ritual in our house. My father would spread paper bags on the dining table and put another paper bag full of apples on the floor next to him. He would begin to peel the apples with a paring knife that he first sharpened on a stone. My father could peel apples with a precision that was beautiful to behold. He would begin at the top of the apple and we would hold our breath as we watched him remove the peel, turning the apple in his hand smoothly as the peel formed a perfect curling ribbon as it dangled below the fruit. He almost never broke the peels and they would form into lovely rose-like petaled circles on the paper bags. So seldom would he break the peel that when he did, we were always surprised and would be as shocked and disappointed as a crowd at a football game watching the kicker miss the easy goal.
My father was an artist with apples. After he had peeled them all he would cut the apple into quarters and then into eighths, removing the traces of core until they were perfect boat shaped wedges of white apple. Our job was to take the wedges and put them in the huge silver pot in which they would be boiled down into sauce. When all the apples were peeled and cut and bubbling on the stove the steam would float through the house, full of the fragrance of soothing memories and delights to come. Every so often I would go into the kitchen and climb on a chair to look into the big pot, checking on the metamorphosis that would change the wedges into smooth sauce. When they were all boiled down my father would add just the right amount of sugar and cinnamon to create the familiar aroma which signaled that the sauce was complete and utter perfection. He never made us wait but would give us our first bowl hot and fresh from the big silver pot. It was nothing less than ambrosia.
I made applesauce every autumn for my children. We would go and pick the apples ourselves and they would inspect each and every one for worthiness to become the sauce. When they were too little to handle a knife, they would sit around the table, just as I did, and watch me peel them. I never achieved anything approaching my father's record for unbroken peels, but when I managed it, they would be ridiculously pleased and my daughter and niece would take the curling apple skins and shape them into flowers. I bought a couple of handy apple corers and gave them the job of pressing them into the peeled apples, separating the wedges from the cores. They took this job very seriously and were careful to place the corer perfectly at the top of the apple to ensure perfect core-free wedges. Then they would take the apples and put them into a different but still big silver pot and when we were done I would fill the pot with water and set it on the stove to boil. The aroma was still divine and the anticipation sweet torment. I would let them taste-test the sauce and we all had to agree that it was perfect before we declared it done. Then I would spoon the steaming sauce into bowls and we would all sit together in autumnal communion, in perfect harmony with the season, the sauce, and each other. I don't know if an apple a day will truly keep the doctor away, but I do know that apples in autumn can make the sweetest of seasonal memories.