It amazing how easily you can slip back into the rhythms of something you learned in childhood.
This particular trip down memory lane started when a neighbor gave me a couple of grocery sacks of apples. We love apples in my house - especially in applesauce, crisps, and dumplings. In fact, I have to make 2 kinds of applesauce because my husband loves the chunky stuff his grandma used to make and my son will only eat the smooth variety that my family made.
My husband peered in the bags. "Are you sure you have enough freezer containers? That's a lot of apples."
It was a lot of apples - but they were 'windfall' apples. Windfall apples aren't picked from a tree, they are picked up from the ground after the wind knocks them off. They aren't pretty - backyard apples are never as pretty as the apples from the store. In addition to the usual uneven shapes and blemishes, these apples were bruised. There wasn't as much there as my husband thought.
Still, it was a lot of work. I set up my apple chopping space and dug in.
Only a few apples in, and I picked up the rhythm of halving-quartering-coring-peeling I had learned in childhood. It had a meditative quality about it. Cut an apple in half, then quarter. Slice out the core. I marveled that I still could take the thin bite of peel leaving as much of the white fruit behind as possible - a skill I envied as I watched my mom or grandmother peel apples. I struggled to make my thick peels thinner and thinner until I finally matched the older women's skill.
I was delighted when Mom proclaimed me old enough to join the women in the kitchen during applesauce making days. It wasn't so much that I wanted to chop apples or hang out with my mom, grandmother or great-aunt. My promotion to the kitchen meant an end to my days under the apple trees picking up an endless supply of apples.
The women would chat as they processed the apples. Just stuff, nothing world shaking. Easy companionship. Mom would usually handle the apple cooking, and the rest of us would have dishpans in our laps full of apples. Half, quarter, core, peel. Half, quarter, core, peel. Hands would fly through the motions. Sometimes Grandma would switch jobs with Mom so she could rest her hands from the knife. Sometimes Mom would ask me to mash the cooked apples through the sieve - I was young enough to find the job fun.
I learned a lot sitting at that table. There's a difference between being bruised and rotten. There's still good stuff under the bruises, but rotten is rotten. I learned that you just can't tell by looking if an apple is good or not. An apple might look bad, covered in bruises that are only skin deep with lots of good fruit underneath. An apple could look beautiful, but when cut open be full of rot, bugs. or worms.
I learned that even a bad apple might have some usable fruit - we cut away bruises and blemishes, sometimes only keeping a quarter of the apple. I learned that even the leftover peels and cores had a use - I'd carry dish tubs of peels from the kitchen to the field, flinging the apple debris to return to the soil.
I learned that a task shared not only goes quicker, but is more enjoyable. I miss my mother's kitchen during apple putting-up days and the gathering of women intent on making use of every bit of harvest, putting up summery sweetness to brighten the winter, food to nourish their families.
My apple-ly endeavor was solitary. After 4 hours of work, I had 8 pints of applesauce - 4 of each kind. Perhaps that seems like a lot of work for such a small return. But for me, it's a labor of love, a kind of stewardship of the earth, and a little piece of home.