Most of us my age (and younger) grew up with packages around the house. Everything arrived already processed and neatly labeled before we could shove spoons of that food into our mouths. And jars of applesauce tasted pleasing — and always the same. Every single jar tasted exactly like every other jar. I guess that was the point.
But, since I went gluten-free, I have found an unexpected joy, one I never could have predicted would be waiting for me: making all my food from scratch. Oh sure, there are times that the Chef and I stop at the grocery store around midnight, after he is done with the restaurant for the night, and I have finished pounding out another part of a chapter. We wander the empty aisles together, kissing by the toothpaste, then search for food readily available. (Normally, I make food for him, ready as we walk in the door, but on some tough writing days…) He finds a pesto and mozzarella sandwich, I buy my favorite hummus and some carrots, and then he grabs a bag of potato chips. They’re okay. I’ve checked them for me. We go home and watch South Park and eat our packaged food. But that’s only occasionally, when I’m pushing a deadline. And there’s no way that those potato chips taste anything as imperfect and indelible as the potato chips we can make at home.
Homemade, touched by human hands, simple and free — that food always tastes better than what is in packages.
So, I’ve gone crazy this autumn, buying apples. Pippin Cox, Honeycrisp, Gala, Fuji — they have all been offered at the farmers’ market, and I have been buying them all. As fast as I can eat them (and apples are excellent distractor foods while writing), I just can’t eat them all. The other day, I looked at the piles of pink-tinged apples, the red splotches, the green bits and the stems poking up, and I panicked. How could I let these apples, grown east of the mountains and handed to me by the men and women who grew them, go to waste?
“Pumpkin, what should I do with all these apples?” I asked the Chef.
“Make applesauce,” he suggested.
Well, I didn’t know how to do that yet. Of course, the Chef did. And he told me. And now, I can tell you.
Of course, grandmothers across this country have known how to make this for generations. Everyone has a slightly different recipe. This one works for me. I’d love to hear your variations, if you have them.
Plump and slightly tart, lovely mush with bites of slightly crisp apple bits — this is my imagined ideal of applesauce.
I’m never going back to a jar again.
8 apples, peeled and sliced thick (this works better if you have a few varieties)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 nub of fresh ginger, sliced thin
1 vanilla bean, snipped into tiny pieces
1/2 teaspoon Saigon cinnamon (if you are using traditional cinnamon, make this 1 t)
Bring the sugar and water to a boil in a large saucepan. After it has boiled, allow it to go for a few more moments, then add the ginger, vanilla bean, and cinnamon. Let them bubble and mingle for a minute or two.
Add the sliced apples to the pan, stirring to coat all the slices with the sugary-spice syrup. Lower the heat to medium and continue to cook, stirring occasionally.
When is it done? “When it looks like applesauce,” the Chef told me. Hm, helpful. But actually, he’s right. It will probably take about fifteen minutes for the apples to break down and begin to mush. Before that, you may wonder if this is ever going to work out right. Have patience. It will.
Continue to cook until you have reached your desired consistency.