Mother never got a bad apple

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IN the morality tales of the long ago, there was the old lady who never ate a good apple. She would pick over the supply down cellar, taking apples that were bruised and beginning to show spoilage, and she'd take them up into the kitchen and trim them. Cutting away the bad spots, she would make her pies and strudels, tarts and cobblers, and her ``appysoss'' from the salvaged parts. This left the good apples down cellar to begin to spoil and get ready for her next baking day. The moral is to use good apples while you can, and then make do. Somewhere along the line this moral had gained notice at our house, and about this time of year would begin the daily chore of picking out bad apples and offering them to the animals. Bad apples we had, a casualty of winter storage, but they didn't come up to the kitchen to be redeemed in part. We knew nothing about controlled atmosphere then; the gauge of a fine home was a cellar that didn't freeze.

Every time I stroll the aisles in the markets of this later day, I see something that takes me back, and this time it was the counter of magnificent apples wrapped in their transparent filaments, burnished and gleaming, and attracting the willing customers at prices we, in our long ago, could not have afforded. But we never bought an apple anyway, so why haggle now? We picked apples from our own trees, and we had an apple corner in the cellar (never a basement, mind you!) that was bigger than the display in today's supermarket which serves a community of 10,000. And we had more varieties to choose from.

It would likely be along in February that we started ``picking over'' apples. In the fall, we'd pick the Baldwins, Spies, Belleflowers, Tompkins, Twenty Ounces, Russets, Greenings, Fallawaters -- maybe some more -- and while we sold apples if we could we carried much more than a household sufficiency down cellar to be stored in bins, boxes, barrels, and baskets against the needs of a long winter. We stored enough so we could sell some during the winter, but we never sold enough to run the family short. These were all ``winter'' apples, as against varieties that kept us happy in summer and fall -- Astrachans, Porters, Fameuses. And we knew which winter apples would winter better than others -- the Spies would last into March, but the Fallawater was never known to show a soft spot and we'd take out the last Fallawater in October when we were taking the new batch down.

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A pie made from Fallawaters had much the same flavor and texture as a hemlock board and needed a heavy larding of molasses, nutmeg, ginger, a good tablespoon of sharp vinegar, and maybe the juice off some strawberry preserves to render it palatable. But the Fallawater was still an apple, and an apple pie in May was otherwise unlikely.

So the usual program was to bake on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and apples had to be fetched up for three pies each baking day. I don't mean we didn't have other pies -- of course we did. We had mince, and squash, and pumpkin, and raisin, and custard, and so on. But you can't beat apple, so we didn't try. The best apple pies were, and are, made from Northern Spies, but all the back-up kinds had their season. And there would come a day when Mother would announce, ``Time to start picking over apples -- I got a couple of clinkers today.'' From then until the big cellar bulkhead door was opened to let in a breath of May, there was the daily chore of picking out bad, and partly bad, apples and taking them to the barn for the beasties. Keeping ahead of the kitchen was urgent, and Mother wanted no clinkers.

A pail of apples to the pig promotes a gladsome thank-you. There is no other aspect of rejoicing that matches the effusively offered gratitude of a pig admiring a dollop of seasoned Belleflowers. It is a resounding ovation. One of the great pleasures of farming is to hear a pig eating apples. Cows can choke on whole apples, so we quartered what we gave Bossy, and after that we'd throw apples to the hens. The hens would peck and chase them all around the henpen until all the meat had been cleaned out of the skins. The rooster would superintend this and be so intent on bossing the job that he wouldn't get an apple.

So there would be this regular afternoon chore of keeping the apply supply unbruised and unblemished for Mother. She never got a bad apple.

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