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Keep Your Palm Flat

A mangle of uneaten apples
underneath the McIntosh tree,
the most we’ve ever grown.

Too many to enjoy, despite my pleas
to come pick. We have thousands,
when a few would do.

Cobblers, pies, sauce, never enough
time to roll the dough, pick a hoof,
bake, sit, marvel.

The daily stroll with my mending horse,
who spends his idle time longing
for this small red planet, balanced on my palm.


 

An apple orchard swooped up the hill to our house in the Alleghenies, hidden behind massive, annually re-sculpted Norwegians and Hemlocks. The apple trees were ancient and gnarly, planted in the 30’s by my grandfather when he built Restalrig Farm. Some of those trees were menopausal, so old they had stopped producing apples. Maybe thirty trees were left standing, when I was growing up, each with a shape and personality of its own. They weren’t sprayed or fertilized or taken care of in any way, so the apples they produced were small and bruised and very wormy. But if you were patient enough to cut around all the dents and brown spots and wiggly creatures, their distinctive tartness was unbeatable for the makings of my grandmother’s applesauce.

My mother used to say that you could identify apples by the sauce they made: Restalrig applesauce could only be made with Restalrig apples. And that was true of my grandmother’s apples as well, made with apples from her Applebrook Farm, located just outside of Pottstown, Pennsylvania, where my father grew up. My mother swore she could tell the difference between hers and “In-Law” applesauce.

When we built our farm in Maryland twenty years ago, we planted a lot of trees, some to shield us from the wicked winds that blew across our high-ground pastures, some as landscaping around our stark old farmhouse and other barren spots around the farm, and some for eating, including persimmon trees that lined a paddock or two. And of course, apple trees for the horses.

The best apples are produced by the tree just outside the mare barn, which is reliably overburdened with its fruit every year. Not so, says my husband, who prefers the Macs leaning over the above ground diesel tank beside the round pen. We’ve started spraying the trees so the bugs and worms won’t ruin the apples, and every summer I watch and wait as the little green peas and then golf balls grow and change color and ripen with the season. It’s one thing to look forward to at summer’s end.

This year, however, something got to the apple blossoms. The trees pushed a lot of leaves from the wet season. I don’t know whether it was the unseasonably hard winter last year, or a cold nipping early spring frost, or the record wet summer.  Maybe it was the lack of a new foal this Spring to stir the pollen with its gawky bursts of gallop.Though we had a modest production from the other trees, my favorite mare barn apple tree, always laden with fruit, produced nothing.

Even now, with the colder days coming on, brown leaves piling up on the ground, the light shortening its breath each day, I long for next year’s tartness, leading Calvin or Huey or Shiva over to the tree to take our pick. In the meantime, if I want to taste my grandmother’s applesauce, or should I say An Otherwise Perfect Farm’s Applesauce, I’ll have to wait.


Applebrook Applesauce

Ingredients:
7-10 apples (or more! Adjust remaining ingredients accordingly). Peeled, cored, quartered. Use tart apples such as Granny Smith, Pippin, Gravenstein, Mcintosh, Jonathan.
1 cup water (or apple juice)
4 strips lemon peel
3-4 T lemon juice (more or less to taste)
3 inches cinnamon stick, or ¼ t. ground cinnamon
1/8 t. ground nutmeg
¼ cup dark brown sugar
Up to ¼ cup of granulated sugar
½ t. salt

In a large saucepan, heat apples, water, lemon peel , lemon, cinnamon, sugars, water and salt. You might want to start with half the sugar at this point and add more to taste later. Bring to boil on high heat, then lower the temperature , cover the pot, and maintain a low simmer for 20-30 minutes, until the apples are tender.

Once the apples are cooked through, remove the pot from the heat. Remove the lemon peels and cinnamon stick. Use a potato masher to mash the cooked apples in the pot to make chunky applesauce. If you want smoother, run the applesauce through a blender or food processor.

Add more sugar to taste. If too sweet, add more lemon juice. Cover and refrigerate until serving.

Freeze in large quart-sized mason jars or sealed Tupperware containers to enjoy all year long.

The amount of sugar you will want to add will depend on how sweet your apples are, and how sweet you would like your applesauce to be. Adjust the sugar amounts to your taste. If you use less sugar, you will likely want to reduce the amount of lemon juice as well.

If you want to use a crock pot, decrease water to ½ cup. In a slow cooker, mix all ingredients. Cover and cook on High heat 1 hour 30 minutes to 2 hours or until apples are tender; stir.

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