As a child, one of my favorite things was the sticky, late summer days when my aunt and my mother would join forces for a day in the kitchen making pickles and applesauce. The kitchen would fill with steam from big pots on the stove and the smell of spices hung in the air. Brining, chopping, stirring, concocting–each step was more like play than work (at least for an eight-year-old). The screen door was covered with wasps drunkenly seeking entrance to the sweet cinnamon-spiced apple-y steam within. By day’s end, a shiny row of mason jars lined the shelf along the basementstairs, the crisp green spears within slumbering their way to vinegary bliss; and for dinner, we would feast on warm applesauce: tangy, sweet, and spicy with cinnamon.
But most of the year, we ate store-bought applesauce most of the year, usually as a side dish for french toast or pancakes at dinner–occasionally sprinkled with cinnamon and warmed, but most often straight from the fridge, icy cold. I liked this applesauce too, which seemed almost a different food entirely (pale yellow, and much more watery) in comparison to the thick, reddish-brown version we made.
In college, the same pale yellow watery applesauce again made an appearance–this time, most often sprinkled liberally with cinnamon sugar and eaten alongside toast and salad when nothing else in the line looked appealing. The bowl into which I scooped (slopped?) the sauce was Fiestaware, and stood in mixed stacks of three colors–dull orange, dustymauve, and mint green. The sauce was likely the same brand we purchased when I was a child, but something about vast quantities and tepid temperatures seemed to reincarnate it into something different. Edible, but not particularly tasty. Most often, a lesser of evils.
I avoided applesauce for several years post-graduation. Eventually, however, likely prompted by a trip to the apple orchard, it re-entered my life. Here was a return to the sticky, tangy, spicy taste of those summer afternoons. This time, the sugar was lessened and pinches of cayenne and ginger added to better suit my grown-up palate. And I fell in love all over again.
I don’t make it often, but on fall days aftertrips to the orchard, or winter days, happening upon suddenly over-ripening specimens in the fruit drawer, I peel, chop, and fill a shiny pot, and once again my kitchen fills with the winey scent of apples and spice. A lazy hour; I taste and I add–a spoonful of sugar, a dash more ginger–then let it simmer, slowly burbling its way to sweet and spicy warm perfection.