“A seed hidden in the heart of an apple is an orchard invisible.” Welsh Proverb
Honeycrisp apples ping-pong across my granite counter on their way to a sink full of soapy water. Their fragrance gorges my senses as I guide them into the quick bath. They bob around the sides of the basin, bumping into each other like joyful children in a snowy field.
The apples will loose their sunny glow if not carefully attended. Like my houseful of boys, they roll happily through my life, leaving me unaware of the secrets they might harbor below their skin.
I scoop the apples, cradling them in the dish drainer for a splash rinse, and then move them, one by one, to the wooden cutting board.
My Amish-made cleaver dices the fruit, sometimes catching on a core. The juice of the apples pools on the board, and here and there I snatch up a piece to eat, pausing to enjoy the tart flavors. Slowly I chew and swallow and then return to my work of sorting, washing, and chopping.
In handfuls, I transfer the apple pieces into my pressure canner, a sturdy pot that has steamed through two marriages, many household moves, and gallons of applesauce.
The apples will soon be reduced to a sauce, a mush that’s not quite creamy, with a dusting of cinnamon and cloves, a dash of sour cherry juice, and maybe a dose of cranberry juice if it starts to cook up dry.
Once the cooking is done and the apples are milled to remove the skins and seeds from the sauce, all that is left to do is measure the silky pulp into sterile jars, and smile. The steam from the simmering pots is hot on my face, and comforting smells remind me of satisfying moments bathing and toweling off my babies.
“If you want apples you have to shake trees.” Johnny Appleseed
Applesauce is a longstanding dish dating at least to the 1700s, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. It’s been to outer space, too. John Glenn took it with him on his space missions, and it was served to the Gemini astronauts.
My children claim that my sauce has medicinal value. “When I feel sad or bad, I need, I NEED your applesauce,” I’ve been told. It’s nice to hear, though I’m not sure they know there is actual science behind the claim.
Apples, with pectin in the skins, are a common sense way to fight diarrhea in children or to soothe stomach troubles. So maybe it is not so far off to want applesauce if a patient is feeling out of sorts. And perhaps it is no surprise either that applesauce is almost always an early food for babies.
Applesauce for My Family
“You are the apple of my eye.” Shakespeare
The six of us gathered for a handful of Thanksgivings, often laughing about what food item each had selected to be part of the meal. This routine began on our oldest son, Richard’s, birthday each when he was a freshman in high school. I asked each of our four boys what he wanted for Thanksgiving dinner. Whatever each named, that is what I prepared, and I added applesauce as my choice.
There were challenges because Richard was vegan, and my youngest child, Jack, and I cannot eat gluten. The middle two boys were also as different as night and day. Todd loved gamey meat, and Chris preferred a Mediterranean diet. But I looked forward to figuring it out.
For their toddler years, we had gone to my parents for Thanksgiving, and the meals were traditional turkey, stuffing, beans, corn, pie, and way too much of everything. My homemade applesauce traveled well when the kids were little and filled in if tummies were upset.
During the boys’ pre-teen years, our six-of-us period, we started taking mini vacations to Washington D.C. Each could go to the Mall Museum of his choice, and we would meet at a cafeteria to choose an individual dinner. We had jars of applesauce in the hotel room, though, for snacks and breakfast, because growing boys seemed to be hungry all the time.
This day-of-choice-meal continued when the boys grew from teen to adulthood. I hosted the dinner at home, with girlfriends-turned-wives, and eventually the wonders of grandchildren who appeared after weddings and honeymoons.
One year Richard requested a vegetable casserole that included artichoke hearts, which I prepared. When Chris complimented the new selection and asked what exactly was in it, he nearly choked, initially believing that the hearts belonged to an animal. Richard laughed out loud, turned to his brother and said, “It was MY choice, so no worries!” We all laughed, and he added, to the rest of us, “Pass him the applesauce as a calming chaser.”
Three years ago, however, I couldn’t make the calls any more to solicit food choices for our Thanksgiving meal. Two months earlier, Richard was found at his home, dead from a self-administered drug overdose. We later learned that all the playful joy he had brought us, and there had been so much, was apparently not entirely his nature, but rather was induced by his drug habit.
The pain I feel from this, every day, is often inexpressible. My failure to move on is evident in my inability to host Thanksgiving since.
Quart jars of applesauce still arrive at their homes during the autumn and early winter season. And I know that sometime soon I need to again ask what each will want for Thanksgiving dinner. It is a family holiday, and we are still a family, just missing a member. My living children are still alive and hungry.
But so far, I’ve not been able to do Thanksgiving like we did, and I’m not yet sure what to do now. Luckily, all of the boys have in-laws more than happy to fill the gap. It’s just me and my husband left in the void of no Richard each September and November with a wound that won’t seem to heal, no matter how many apples I wash, dice, and process.
“Sleeping Beauty seems to have fallen prey to a bad apple.” Anonymous
Making applesauce can serve as a low cost distraction during periods of high anxiety like divorce, dissertation defense, and death of a loved one, because it is controllable, measurable, and containable. I know this because I’ve done it over a lifetime for just these reasons. The apple season is long in some places. This means that applesauce making can go on for months if the cook needs that kind of diversion.
Applesauce doesn’t require pretty apples, just tasty fruit that can be enhanced with a little lemon or cranberry juice. The apples can be the less expensive, second quality that the farmers are glad to sell in bulk.
Storing sauce in glass jars, so that they sit proudly on a shelf, is worth the effort of hot packing and processing. The swirl of Ball or staccato Kerr, raised on the surface of the glass, adds a graceful feature even to the empty jars.
It takes a little longer, but the payoff each time a jar is gifted is beyond measure.
Richard’s Kitchen Without Applesauce
“The insufferable arrogance of human beings is to think that Nature was made solely for their benefit, as if it were conceivable that the sun had been set afire merely to ripen men’s apples” Cyrano de Bergerac
The dog’s red leash and collar dangle from the wooden knob inside the kitchen closet. It is draped, midway, waiting for the next walk which will never happen because both master and companion will never again meet here.
Just beyond the slim closet is the white, tiled kitchen counter, open above to a vaulted ceiling. A single-spindle Hamilton-Beech milkshake machine, silver and steel, is nestled against the exterior closet wall. Too tall to fit under most kitchen cabinets, it had always needed open space.
The bumpy, rustic geode bowl, meant for grinding spices, that we had bought at a country antique store, sits just on the other side of the milkshake machine. It was used instead for his habit, tossed quickly onto the countertop, askew to everything else in neat order. Smudges and stain were rubbed into the shallow sides of the dish, and the syringe still rests across the gaping mouth of the crystal’s edge.
On the wall behind the milkshake machine, framed in wood that matches the warm oak flooring, is a piece of lined, grade school paper with Richard’s handwriting on it. It is a portion of a Mother’s Day card he made 35 years ago when he wrote in careful, measured script:“I wouldn’t trade my Mom for anything, except maybe some really funny jokes.”
Essential Applesauce Preparation Recipes
“Adam and Eve lost everything over the want of an apple.” Anon.
Applesauce: Quarter or dice unpeeled apples and place the fruit in a saucepan with a small amount of water or preferred fresh fruit juice. Cook the fruit until it falls apart. Then force it through a food mill. Add sugar and/or spices if desired.
Storage: The boiling water bath process is used only for acid fruits or salted/pickled vegetables. A hot-water canner with a tight-fitting lid and plenty of headroom is best. It is also important to have a rack in which the jars rest on the bottom of the canner so that they do not bounce around while the water is roiling.
Jars should be sterilized before use, and the applesauce should be straight from the milling bowl when put in the jars for processing in the boiling water bath. The water in the canner should be ready for boiling when the jars are immersed into the pot.
Hot packed jars (hot applesauce into hot jars) can be processed for 10 to 15 minutes at the pint size and 20 to 30 minutes for the quart size at most altitudes.
When processing is complete, let the jars cool completely before storing them on a shelf. Handle with care and pride!
Shannon E. Martin is the author of several non-fiction books published by Praeger and Peter Lang that focus on right-to-know laws and war reporting. For fiction writing subjects she explores the back corners of her home kitchen cabinets and rows of garden fruit trees, and is a participant at The Muse Writing Center in Norfolk, Virginia. With an earned M.L.S. in archive and record management and a Ph.D. in mass communication, she teaches part-time at the University of Southern Maine. She can be found at https://wordpress.com/view/watchnotice.wordpress.com, on Facebook, and at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fill your lungs with refrigerated air before you push open the truck door. The parking lot’s swelter grips your calf. You imagine the sizzle of your flipflop as it sinks into softened asphalt. Drag yourself through air as thick as molasses. The passenger door thuds shut.
The prize justifies the trek—an air-conditioned thriller-mystery that promises gooseflesh and a shared experience with the only boy you’ve ever truly loved. Hold that thought like an ice cube on your tongue. Your almost-twelve-year-old son, now beside you, makes a wisecrack about how it’s hotter than a pile of steaming poop out here. It’s not that funny, but you chuckle. Relish the company of someone with your sense of humour. Who has your smile and shadows your stride.
You’ve got to slow down. Because when did your little boy get so tall? A few days ago, when you put on his new-school-year shoes and they were a little loose on you, you both cracked up. But you cried after he went to hang with his friends. Says he’s too old for playing. In two weeks, school starts up again, and you’ll both be in Grade 7—him at his new school and you at yours. You want to stop moving and fold him into your arms like old times. Perhaps he senses your need. His fingers lace into yours and your heart soars. Then it sinks.
You’ve been preparing for the moment since he was five. Have always pictured it would be him breaking your heart. The past few years, he’s had it rough. Moving provinces, cities, schools, and at each junction, new taunts. In grade 4, a student in his class jeered “little chink”; in fifth grade, the boys at the next school mocked his allergies while he blew his nose raw; then in grade 6—the worst so far—a kid at his last schoolaccused him of “smelling Asian.” The others sneered that he was “the teacher’s kid.” And now, next week, both of you at new schools. Again. But separate schools. You pray that, this time, the transition is effortless.
So, you intervene by doing the thing you can’t bear to do. You exhale the last ration of cool air from your lungs, and, as you unlace your fingers from his, as you say, “We can’t hold hands in public anymore,” tears spring to your eyes.
He faces you, traps you in a freeze frame. Your flipflops fuse with asphalt. He asks, “Why not?”
You want to call your own bluff. Laugh it off. But, instead, you force your hand into your pocket, examine your toenails—the ones he painted electric blue before you left for the mall—and say, “Because you’re getting too old to be a mama’s boy.” You nudge him with your elbow, and the asphalt releases you. Long before reaching the air-conditioned entrance, you mourn the hand you’ve clutched for a dozen years. Already, you feel the chill of small gap between you.
Hailing from the Canadian prairies, Rachel Laverdiere tries to find the balance between writing, throwing pots and teaching. Her words are published in journals such as The Common, CutBank, The New Quarterly and Filling Station. Rachel’s flash CNF was shortlisted for CutBank’s 2019 Big Sky, Small Prose Flash Contest and made The Wigleaf Top 50 Very Short Fictions 2020. Her debut collection of essays is forthcoming. To learn more about Rachel or her courses, visit http://www.rachellaverdiere.com.
The day our 30-something daughter tells us that she can’t think of enough good reasons to choose motherhood, I don’t draw her attention to Reason
#12,229 which is for the autumn afternoon when she arrives at a national park in Nova Scotia and wants to take a canoe out but her partner rather sit on the pier
so her daughter rolls up jeans and straps on a life jacket
Author of five collections of poetry, Shoshauna Shy’s poems often deal with the exhilaration and challenges of parenting. They have been published in print and electronically; as videos, inside taxis, community cars, and on the hind quarters of Madison Metro buses. She usually gets ideas for new poems while stuck doing something else.
At primary school it had been okay to be brainy and bookish, but as puberty tightened its grip, everyone ruthlessly re-invented themselves, disowned their parents, ditched the homework and the neat haircuts, and scrabbled to join a clique. This new cool crew clutched fags, spliffs, and bottles of own-label cider, pinged invites to parent-free gatherings from one shiny iPhone to the next. No-one was interested in a geek with an Orwell novel tucked under his arm, a bad bout of acne, and an unbranded rucksack. Hell, my boy didn’t even have a partner for science practical’s.
I watched him every evening, curved over our kitchen table like a perfectly formed comma, glasses perched on the bump in his nose, mouth chock full of braces, another raw spot on his chin, slogging through the GCSE syllabus. Revision was his only buddy. I forced myself not to panic.
Then exams finished, and summer came. He turned sixteen, and I prayed for a miracle. He started a Facebook page, Maths with Matthew.
“I might as well max out my nerdiness mum, you can make good money tutoring.” I glimpsed a tiny spark. On June 30, he bagged his first client.
July sweltered. He got taller, the braces came off, he coaxed our GP into prescribing the strong acne pills he’d read about on the internet, and his Facebook page turned red-hot, swarming with helicopter mums hell-bent on A grades for their pre-pubescent darlings. He started smiling.
But it was clothes that sealed the deal. He followed me around the summer sales, flicking his fingers through the racks at H&M and Zara like a well-honed fashionista, finding the bargains and willing the prices to be squeezed again before he pounced.
There were skinny jeans, which made him look runway-thin and a teeny bit rock star, a stack of t-shirts in primary colours, and five check shirts which could double as jackets on in-between days. He found a vintage peacoat in the charity store, which hung on his bedroom door waiting patiently for the first spiky frost, and I spotted a pair of Converses sun-bathing on his windowsill.
“They need to be more faded,” he explained.
My boy and I had bonded. He was a fashion natural.
August slunk in, humid and sticky. On the twentieth, I drove him to school to pick up his GCSE results. He slammed the car door shut, leaving wet patches on the back of his seat. I shut my eyes and cranked the radio up. Five minutes later he thumped the window, waving yellow A4 sheets stamped with success. A dark haired girl hovered behind him.
He started sixth form on September 3. His tutoring list was full.
“I’m shortening my name to Matt,” he said at the breakfast table, clear-skinned, confident, poised. “It will make the others realise things have changed.”
His Converses crunched down our gravel drive that morning, his head up not down, shoulders taut, not sloping, his body no longer a comma, more an exclamation mark.
His next sentence would be unforgettable.
Theresa Sainsbury started tutoring English to teenagers after her eldest son was diagnosed with Dyslexia. She’s had short stories published by both Bradt Travel and Mslexia and is currently writing her first novel. This piece is inspired by her son’s transformation over one short summer from awkward to awe-inspiring.