A bounty year for applesauce
For reasons that remain a mystery, the backyard trees sprouted apples for the first time in 10 years. Homely and organic in appearance, homemade applesauce is a tasty solution for the bounty.
New England is awash in apples this year. Apple trees that had been dormant for years are suddenly dripping with fruit, thanks to the demise of the dreaded winter moth, which has eaten the blossoms and leaves of apple, maple, hawthorn, you name it, every spring for maybe the past 10 years – unless you spray for them, which we didn’t.Skip to next paragraph
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We did put strips of duck tape around the trees in our backyard, and slathered them with a sticky substance that would trap the adult moths as they climbed up the trees to lay their eggs. Each fall I’d rejoice at the number of insects we’d caught, and each spring it would be the same story. The valiant trees would sometimes have to put out a second set of leaves – but never blossoms or fruit.
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This year was different. Was it a late or deep frost? A damp spring? Whatever the cause, the five apple trees we inherited when we moved to our home on Boston’s North Shore bloomed and set fruit.
When I say “apples,” you probably picture those gleaming, unblemished, uniformly sized orbs you see in stores. That is not what untamed organic apples look like. Store apples, I’ve come to realize, are gigantic idealized freaks of nature. Most people – and I’m one of them – are appalled when they find a bruise or a tiny hole on an apple. Finding a worm in an apple is ample cause for a heated complaint to the produce manager. The apples in my yard are an education.
These must be the apples our pioneer forebears knew. Apples, it turns out – these apples, anyway – come in a wide variety of sizes, from tiny (golf-ball size) to about the size of a medium store-bought apple. They have mottled green skins, sometimes with a splash of red on them (Cortlands?). Some turn yellow (Golden Delicious?). They are mostly roundish. They have visible insect damage, and perhaps those are squirrel bites. Skunk bites? I hope not. Birds peck them occasionally.
But as our friend who grew up on an Oregon fruit farm said, as she picked up a fallen apple and carefully selected a place to bite into it, “There’s some good on this apple....” That’s all the encouragement I needed. I decided to make some homemade applesauce.
Here's what you need: a sharp knife, a sink or big bowl to wash the apples in, a pasta pot or kettle with a lid in which to heat the apples. A food mill (what a time-saver!) and a bowl to set it on, and a spatula. Brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg (if you like), and salt (if you want). I cannot say how many apples you will need. I start with a lot and and end up using bits from maybe half of them.
Here’s what to do: Assuming that you have access to some free, homely apples, go outside with a big plastic tub (bigger than a bushel basket, about half the height of a garbage can) and a sturdy basket. Toss most of the apples – you have to quickly spot the "worth it" from the "not worth it" – into the plastic tub. These bad apples will go to the town composting yard. It may seem like a lot, but you have to pick up all the apples anyway, in order to mow the lawn and to keep the critters in the fallen apples from climbing back into the tree. Every once in a while, you’ll spot apples that are large enough and unblemished enough (no visible bites or very many holes, or even none) worth putting in the basket. Most of these apples will be recent windfalls.