Our old apple trees are gnarled and knobby, misshapen with missing limbs. Only a few remain. They produce a small green red-blushed apple. I line the most perfect of them up on the kitchen windowsill, enamored with their beauty in the splash of afternoon sun. Wealthy and McIntosh, the fruit has become smaller over time, though still crisp and tart, a treasure for baking. The worms find them since we don’t spray. If I have the energy to peel them—rather than cooking them in their skins and pushing the pulp through a hand mill for sauce or apple butter—I see that usually the worm is long gone having left only a tiny brown-speckled trail, like nutmeg, on his way out. However, if he settled in to feast in the core of the apple there will be a black, powdery mess . . . so I might as well toss that one or put in the pail with the peels for the neighbors’ chickens.
Despite years of practice and challenging myself to greater productivity, I’ve concluded that I can only peel an apple as fast as I can peel an apple. Even with the thinnest paring knife, and a steady pressure and turning of the apple with the opposite hand, it takes a given amount of time to circumnavigate its roundness from top to bottom. Complete spirals fall from expert hands into the sink. Nevertheless, it seems to be a process speeded up only marginally by the right tool and skillful technique. When it comes down to it, I can only peel an apple as fast as I can peel an apple. Somehow, that is a relief.
Actually, it is the coring of these little apples that frustrates me the most. Tiny and sharp, the crescents holding the seeds do not lift easily from the flesh. I remember biting into them occasionally in Grandma Edna’s legendary Apple Crisp or chunky applesauce. So I work diligently to remove all of these in each apple. I put on my reading glasses for the task, and my apron since my thoughts turn to Grandma. It would be easier to buy a box or two of local apples at the farm stand, but this tending and picking and peeling of the apples from Edna and Gideon’s old trees seems important somehow. It is teaching us about an older way of living . . . taking care of what you have, making do, and making use of it. Not as simple as it sounds, at least for me.
These fall days bring a return to familiar rituals and routines. As it has always been in a family of teachers, September feels like the beginning of the year, our real New Year. We resume a morning schedule of writing, study, and online teaching appointments. Afternoons are for wood splitting and stacking, cutting dead stalks in the flower beds, picking apples, making apple butter or baking apple cake. It’s still lovely outside, warm enough some days for morning coffee on the porch with a blanket, and a walk down the road in just a sweatshirt after tucking supper in the oven. A fire simmers in the woodstove again too, reminding us how much we’ve missed it. There is a comfort in having a schedule. I’ve begun looking back, taking stock . . .
I have an Apple Pie in the oven this afternoon. A new recipe that calls for cooking the butter, flour, sugars, cinnamon and water in a pan until thick, then pouring it over the raw apple slices in the unbaked crust. It has a fat lattice top—brushed with more of this cinnamon mixture—and it smells wonderful! Is there anything that smells better than apples and cinnamon baking? Thirty-eight minutes left, so I can take my walk and be back to lift it out of the oven. I’m sure it will be delicious, but I usually make a simple apple pie—apple slices tossed with a mixture of sugar, cinnamon, flour, and dash of nutmeg, dotted with butter, topped with a vented crust sprinkled generously with sugar. Or it’s twin, a crumb topping instead—brown sugar, butter, and flour—like apple crisp. A “gramma pie.” Our September Soup Supper is this weekend, a new tradition started the first fall we lived here full time, and our last hurrah before closing up the porch for winter. . .
“Old houses, I thought, do not belong to people ever, not really, people belong to them.”
~ Gladys Taber