The tree stands lonely in the yard, though it didn’t start that way. It was planted with another apple tree. Two pluots were planted next to them. Four trees in all. Before long it was just one apple tree and the two others. But then one pluot got sick and never recovered, and the other never produced what we’d hoped. I’m sure it’s our fault. Our thumbs aren’t as green we’d hoped. I finally chopped the last pluot tree down this past spring.
The lonely apple perseveres. Maybe it’s in the perfect spot to get the water it needs and the sunlight it craves. Maybe it’s okay being alone.
In the spring, when the weather in southern California is perfect and beautiful and full of days that grow longer, the tree blooms with amazing little flowers. Its like watching Mother Nature show off her best dress. I take pictures every year that sometimes I share. Most of the time I keep to myself. It feels like I’m capturing a special moment in time. Within all of the flowers, tiny apples are budding.
In early July, Independence Day to be exact, I spent the morning picking mature apples from the limbs of the tree. It was a serene and calming exercise. My wife has done it countless times, choosing to use the harvest for apple crisps, applesauce or to share the fruit with friends. She makes the best applesauce I’ve ever had. Homemade. Fresh. Made with love.
It was my time to return the favor.
Our tree truly is the lonely apple tree, as we’ve forgotten its name. Sandra planted it many years ago, and we’ve since lost the tag that came with it. We do know that it is a summer harvest apple that grows mostly green, with some golden red coloring as it matures. For the most part it is a tart apple, but delicious right off the tree. I would say, though, it is best for making applesauce.
I picked enough apples to nearly fill two large paper bags. The largest of the two turned out to be five pounds. Our recipe aided in cooking for three pounds of apples, so I adjusted using the good ole “‘ballpark” measurement system. Here is the original recipe:
3 pounds apples (peeled, quartered, cored)
1 cup water
1/3 to 2/3 cup sugar, and if desired
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
I consider myself more of a colors and shapes guy, and needless to say didn’t break out the abacus on this one. I did weigh my lot, and knowing I had five pounds of apples, I was in the ballpark of the original recipe with these adjustments:
5 pounds apples (peeled, sort of quartered, cored)
2 cups water
1 cup sugar, and because I did desire
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon (or thereabouts)
First, though, I had to turn five pounds of beautiful, raw, straight from the lonely tree apples into five pounds of now my hands hurt, and I may have de-boned my knuckle, peeled apples. This is the worst part of having fun. You know, the work. I felt like I was Forest Gump who had said something stupid is as stupid does to Lieutenant Dan and was run Forest, run’d over to the mess hall for a little KP. Anyway, the work has to be done, and I done did it. But not before my wife reminded me to put a couple of paper towels down in the sink to help clean up when I was done.
I’ve found that singing Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” over and over for about twenty minutes does not make the time go any faster.
Once the apples had been through their paring party, it was off to the chopping block for a little coring and cubing. I’m sure this process could be made easier if one had a fancy corer, but I don’t. I broke ours years ago. And besides, I’ve found those corer’s leave too much apple on the core. All of this work in the kitchen gave me flashbacks to my first job out of high school, which was in a kitchen if you hadn’t put that one together, and so I resorted to the good ole stand-by…A kitchen knife.
More catchy, sugary-pop tunes sung in my head for another ten minutes and I was finally done. No real need to be exact on the quartering or cubing of the apples. They were going to get smushed anyhow. This wasn’t Chopped. Alex Guarnaschelli wasn’t going to criticize my knife skills.
Now everyone jumped into the pool – Peeled, cored and cubed apples, water, sugar and cinnamon. One big pot. I gave it a quick stir with a wooden spoon and then set the heat to high. The instructions read to bring the water to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and let simmer for 8-10 minutes. Since I had so many apples and what seemed like so little water, trying to determine if the water was boiling was a little challenging. But manageable.
Basically, I was the pot whisperer. Or listener, as it where. I gave the stove a few minutes to do its thing then listened for what sounded like a boiling cauldron of
eye of newt apples. I poked around a bit with my wooden spoon, and satisfied the water was basically boiling, I covered and reduced the heat to simmer.
What I discovered in this entire process is that it isn’t rocket science. The goal is to make raw, crunchy apples into smushy apples. It took 30 minutes on medium heat, covered. I was in no rush, so the extra time wasn’t a burden. I set a timer for 10 minutes, checked on the applesauce, stirred a little, cackled like a witch, then set my timer for another 10 minutes so I could repeat the process.
WARNING: During this time, the house will begin to smell amazing, your mouth will water, you will begin to have food fantasies, and you will have never loved having a nose so much as you do during this process. At least, that’s the way it was for me.
After 30 minutes on the fire, the apples broke down about 50%, with the other 50% being soft enough to smush with a smusher (or what adults will call a potato masher). I took it off the stove and set it on a heat pad on the counter so I could commence with the smushing. This was the fun, fun part, because now I was actually making applesauce. With each smush I could actually see the finished product taking shape. Since this was homemade applesauce, I preferred to keep it a little chunky. For me, it looks prettier with bits of apple.
While still warm, the obligation of the applesauce maker (and his beautiful wife) is to taste his creation. Honestly, it was the first time I’d had warm applesauce. Have you had warm applesauce? It opens up the possibilities…
I grew up with a Midwestern Mom who had been born and raised in rural Illinois. She was a meat and potatoes cook for a large portion of my childhood. And as such, I began eating pork chops and applesauce at an early age. But never homemade applesauce. At least, not that I know of.
And much to my wife’s chagrin (she wasn’t raised in pork chop/applesauce house) I find there is not much better in life than a good, seasoned and carmelized pork chop, hot from the grill with a heaping serving of homemade applesauce right on top. Makes my mouth water just thinking about it. Throw in some greens for good measure, and its the perfect meal.
I also learned that warm applesauce stands alone as well. I made five pounds worth, after all, and after gifting some to friends, we still had more than our fair share. There are only so many pork chops a man can eat in a week, so he’s left to improvise.
Like…Warm applesauce and vanilla frozen custard. Add a bit of ground clove sprinkled on top and a graham cracker. It’s like having an apple pie, without the fuss of making an apple pie. Quick. Easy. Delicious!
I wouldn’t lie to you. I chopped down an apple tree. And two pluot trees. Now we have one lonely apple tree left. And I could not be more thankful.