November 26, 2014
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No such thing as a rotten apple
This Side Up

It was just as I expected; sour and mealy.

My father always said not to waste food, so I swallowed. It went down, but I needed a glass of water as a chaser. I don’t know what prompted me to think they would have changed after all these years.

Those tempting red apples from the tree in my father’s garden in upstate New York have always been just that – too good looking to pass up. I have never seen anything like them. They are jet red and, depending on the year, as big as tennis balls. They grow in clusters of three and four so they look like over-sized grapes. And they are abundant. The tree that stands about 25 feet high is so weighted down that its limbs look as if they could crack at any time.

In another couple of weeks, after the first frost, the apples will fall, bedding the ground, scarred and rotting, an instant attraction to yellow jackets lured by the fermentation. No one else goes for them, not even the deer that will stand on their hind legs to snag apples from two other trees nearby.

Some years ago I thought there had to be some use for these apples and returned to Rhode Island with a grocery bag filled with them.

For more than a week, they sat on the back porch until Carol noticed the yellow jackets.

“Maybe it’s time to get rid of those things,” she suggested.

But I wasn’t prepared to write them off. Maybe they could be used to make cider or wine. I wasn’t prepared to go to those extremes, so applesauce became the answer.

Applesauce was a stretch, but the peeling and a cup of sugar was all that would be invested. I went to work with a knife; a peeler couldn’t handle the thick skin.

Apart from being tart and mealy, they have little juice; the meat can range from white to gray and red. The seeds are red. Whatever I ended up with would be red. I was sure of that.

I dumped the chunks of apple into a pot, poured in water and brought the concoction to a boil. In went the sugar and a generous sprinkling of cinnamon. Carol watched my work and came over with a salt-shaker.

“My grandmother would always say to add salt,” she said.

In went the salt.

With the mass bubbling, I got out the masher and went to work. Sure enough, just as I suspected, I now had a red goopy mixture the consistency of mortar.

I turned it off and eyed my creation.

Carol handed me a wooden spoon. I dipped it and pulled out some glop.

It was hot, but it was the best applesauce I’d tasted and

Carol agreed. We didn’t bother waiting for dinner.

We got out a couple of dishes.

That was perhaps 15 years ago. We have been bringing home the apples ever since. Naturally, we shared our discovery with family members and locals and the red applesauce now has its devotees.

Over Labor Day weekend, I filled a bag with apples that were not completely ripe. The branches of the tree seemed to sigh in relief, although what I was harvesting was a fraction of their output.

On Sunday, I went to work on the sauce. Carol reminded me of the salt and soon we had the first of the 2013 red applesauce.

It started me thinking about apples. They’re a remarkable fruit. The varieties are seemingly endless, although Red Delicious, Cortland, Granny Smith, McIntosh and, if you are lucky, Macouns are what you’ll find at the market. Actually, according to the web, there are 7,500 varieties of apples worldwide. One site offered a listing of apples voted as favorites put the Rainier first, closely followed by Silken. They’re both apples I have never heard of. Granny Smith was only midway through.

Further digging online turned up an encyclopedia of apples that revealed several crab apples, including the Mulus Indian Magic, which came close to describing our New York reds.

Most intriguing is that the tree in my father’s garden was planted. My guess is that it has been there since the late 1920s, when the house was built and that the choice of apple wasn’t a mistake, although its delights were not rediscovered by us for some time.

It makes one wonder how much more we have to uncover from days gone by. There are treasurers. Just remember, when you’ve made that discovery, to add the salt.


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