Sunday, September 21, 2014

An Apple A Day

I have written before about my childhood chores during the summer. It was always my job to gather the windfall apples from our small farm's 60 year old apple trees to make apple sauce every summer day before I could go ride my horse. Certainly not my favorite thing to do, but the family did love the apple sauce. I never could decide if I liked it best steaming hot freshly reamed or well chilled on breakfast toast. I'd add lots of sugar and cinnamon. It was a messy, hot chore with small, wormy apples that I had to chop and carve and cut around blemishes and worms.

Thus when I found myself at ACE Hardware the other day looking to buy what I called a reamer, I was chuckling to myself. As a child, I swore that I would never make apple sauce when I grew up. But there I was asking the clerk for assistance in finding one. I learned, too, that the contraption isn't a reamer, it is a chinois. It's fancy name doesn't make the chore any more pleasant. I know that I had my mother's, but it is one of those items that has disappeared over the years.

With the apples we picked Sunday still on the patio, I decided that I should do something with them and not let them go to waste. Echos of my parents' harsh lessons linger in my own psyche. The apples don't look very good do they? As a kid not realizing that we were poor, I helped with food preparation and preserving, accepting the work as a way of life. My mother pickled, roasted, stewed, steamed, and canned the food that dad grew. She worked so hard preserving everything from pickling cucumbers and beets to making jellies and jams from wild plums, crab apples, even service berries that she gathered in the mountains. She canned tomatoes by the gallons, making juices and preserves, and butters from tomatoes. She baked green tomato pie to use up green tomatoes. Along with the smells of cooking food and hot steam from the caner, there was that silent whisper in the kitchen:  Let nothing go to waste. 
I spent the better part of the day hearing that whisper,  reflecting and remembering and thinking about how today's homemakers manage their food preparation. I remembered how hard our parents worked to put food on our table that was natural, safe, tasty (for the most part), and healthy. I had remarked to my brother once the Dad either grew our food or hunted it. There was never a question about what was in our food or where it came from. The only pre packaged foods in mamma's kitchen were Betty Crocker Cake mixes, Bisquick, Koolade, and Jell-O. A doctor had told dad way back in the 1950s that commercially grown beef and pork were the cause of his gout, so he provided his family with elk and deer meat. I spent the day making apple sauce from the pathetic apples that we gathered and salsa from the few tomatoes that we salvaged after the frost, appreciating that I was able to store some food for the winter, thankful that I knew how to do it, and amazed that I wanted to. 

I had other thoughts, too, as I worked. 

I caught the tail end of a documentary on GMOs on a public TV station. Now, I don't want to enter into a discussion on GMO food, but I did spent considerable time thinking about one of the speakers who urged her audience to grow their own food because it would be safer and better than commercially grown food.  Grow heirloom varieties, she said. Use no pesticides or commercial fertilizers, she advised. I got caught up in analyzing what she was asking and wondering if she gardened. 

Wouldn't be nice if everyone grew their own food? I thought of all of the benefits that we as gardeners enjoy when we grow our own food:

*Home grown fruits and vegetables taste better
*Home grown fruits and vegetables are probably healthier especially if the gardener doesn't use chemicals in the garden or with careful application of chemicals.
*Home grown fruits and vegetables are fresh, tree ripened, vine ripened, picked just before or at their prime
*And there is great satisfaction in growing our own food
*Gardening is fun, noble, spiritual

On the negative side:

*Food grown without some chemical treatment will not be perfect such as the apples that I had to work with today. I had to do a lot cutting around bad spots. These apples were not wormy, but they had been hail damaged and bird pecked and had plenty of rough spots. I know for certain that there would be homemakers grossed out at such produce. As for tomatoes, fortunately we have never had a horned tomato worm infestation. My dad did. His solution was to simply plant one for the worms because they become the beautiful humming bird moth. Nor do we treat for any diseases or vermin in the garden with any short of chemical. 
*Growing our own food is hard work. Fun, but hard. The process begins by crawling through gardening magazines and catalogs, tiling the the garden in the spring, planting, weeding, watering, weeding, watering, weeding. . . . Then figuring out what to do with infestations, molds, wilts, black leaves, yellow leaves, turned down leaves, yada, yada, yada.

*Then there is the weather. Drought. Wind. Hail. Heat. And frost at the end of the growing season 
when  the tomatoes have been slow to ripen and we just need a few more days of sunshine. Or hoping for a wonderful peach crop this season, a late killing freeze wipes out our dreams of fresh peaches from our back yard. Or the robins striping the cherry tree the day before we plan to make the one and only cherry pie from our prized little tree.

*Once we get the crop harvested, then we have to figure out what we will do with it.
Canning is a lot of work, hot, messy, time consuming, even stressful. Will it turn out? Will the lids seal? Will the family like what I have spent hours preparing? 

*And then there is the expense. Buying seedlings at the nursery is not cheap. Starting seeds at home seems to be a smart way to save money, but once again seeds and baby plants need care and nurturing and the right growing conditions. And gardeners have to buy compost, manure, hoes, shovels, gardening gloves and hats, rototillers, sun screen, hoses, fertilizers. What have I left out?                                                                                                                                                                                        After harvest: jars, lids, a caner, tongs and the list goes on.

Preparing the apples today wasn't all that bad and I got to have fresh apple sauce for lunch, the house smelled nice, and I put some in the freezer. And there is still a bucket full of apples on the patio that I should do something with.

Daddy would be proud of me. Momma would be smiling. I rested for a while, had some lunch and started in again to make salsa.

At the end of a long day of standing, sweating, and crying (those onions were stout) and reflecting on gardening and food preparation, I thought again wouldn't it be nice if everyone grew their own garden and put up their own food, assuring themselves of providing fresh, pure, nutritious food for their family?

I don't see that happening. Today's family is a busy family. Mom works, Dad works, the kids play soccer, take ballet lessons, play the piano, do homework. Given today's lifestyle, when are families supposed to grow and preserve their own food? Supermarkets have the consumer spoiled providing perfect fresh fruits and vegetables, worm and blemish free shipped in from exotic places like Florida, California, and Columbia(?).  How many food DYIers would see the good parts of naturally grown apples, over looking the worm holes, bird bites, and bug nibbles? I am afraid that the documentary's speaker is daydreaming as she  encourages her audience to become food independent. Perhaps the closest homemakers can come to that  is visit the farmer's markets in their area, to buy locally, buying in enough quantity to can and freeze enough for a long winter. Sorry kids, no soccer today. The apples are ready and we gotta can green beans for the winter before that ballet lesson. 

Oh, then there is the mess. What a mess. I didn't have a fancy cook top or dishwasher as a kid or a big kitchen where I could sprawl out or air conditioning. But what delicious memories of working in the small steam filled farmhouse kitchen elbow deep in apple pulp trying to finish my chore so that I go be a kid and ride with the wind.

Not to end a negative note, I do encourage grow your own, pick your own, preserve your own. My go to website is Pick Your Own. Org where you will learn everything you need to need to know about canning pretty much anything you want. The site is thorough including recipes, tips and hints, do's and don'ts, and equipment, even state by state.

So grow your own on a patio in a pot or hanging basket, on a porch, or in a side garden. Replace your dangling petunias and potato vines in hanging baskets with strawberries. Hide some cucumbers in with your geraniums. Use zucchini as vines in pots instead of expense trailing sweet potato vines. Pick you own  food for a fresh salad, a few strawberries on your morning cereal, or some cold refrigerator  pickles. Preserve your own by freezing, canning, dehydrating. 

Today I have to clean the kitchen and I will start all over. I want to make jalapeno jelly and apple jelly. I'd better get to work. 

I am linking with Judith for Mosaic Monday. Be sure to visit

Have a wonderful week end. I do enjoy your visits and love your comments. Thank you for taking the time to read this very long post. 


  1. Wonderful post, homemade applesauce sounds delicious. And I love cinnamon in my applesauce..It would nice if some of the items we bought in the stores did not contain the chemicals. It makes me sick just thinking about all that we are consuming.. Thanks for sharing, enjoy your new week!

  2. We have had a pesticide ban for home use in Ontario for a number of years now and one learns to create an ecological balance within their gardens. I didn't use much of anything before the ban so it doesn't bother me and you just have to accept that vegetables from the garden, let alone a front lawn does not have to look perfect.We have no grass, took it out close to 10 years ago and planting food crops amongst the shrubs and flowers is becoming a fanciful idea.
    There is nothing healthier than food from your own garden to your table. Good for you to make applesauce again, it's more fun when you can do it because you want to.
    An interesting post Ann, thanks for linking it to Mosaic Monday.

  3. I enjoyed your post. My hubby and I used to take Mother Earth News. Do you remember that magazine? I think it's still around but it's probably changed. It's wonderful to be able to grow and eat fresh fruits and veggies. It makes a big difference in our overall health. Enjoy your week! Save an apple for me! Hugs, Diane

  4. Even on a very small scale, I'm so glad we grew food this summer. Your applesauce looks wonderful!

  5. Lots of food for thought (pun intended) in this post. It's true that growing one's own produce requires hard work and perhaps not perfect results. But the efforts are so worth it. I grow what I can and we make salsa, can tomatoes, peaches, jams, pickles and freeze berries. And I'm happy to say that my children, young adults, are doing the same with their families. My son borrowed my canner and chinois to make applesauce from the apples on the trees on their new property.
    Your applesauce will be a welcome treat in winter.

  6. I really enjoyed this 'long' post Ann - I have a basket of windfalls on the counter ready to make into apple sauce today - as you say - not a nice job - but worth it. It pays to be resourceful even though it is time-consuming and messy - thank goodness it isn't a lost art quite yet.

  7. Hello,Ann.
    Your Mosaic is so pretty. I like the white bowl with the red edge. Lovely kitchen tool.

    Thank you for your visit.The tea fields have been producing green tea for 800 years, handed on from farmers' hands to hands, make me think of farmers’ hard and diligent work.

    Have a good week!

  8. Ann I would also encourage folks to grow their own...even if it is just lettuce leaves in a pot...certainly simple and cheap and oh the rewards of eating freshly grown lettuces. I won't get on my soapbox, but I do believe if families grew some food, prepped it and cooked as a family they would find the many more benefits.

    Both my parents worked and we were involved in clubs and sports (4 children) and still my parents had a veg garden and preserved the food. We learned to cook and then eat the food we grew...some processed food...yep more as we got older because the convenience was there...I take the time now to cook my food from only whole organic foods as I really don't want or need the chemicals our food has body doesn't like it either

    Oops I did slip up on that soapbox...sorry...wonderful post and collage. And I really love applesauce freshly made....yum!!

  9. It sure can be alot of work harvesting, cleaning and using everything so it doesn't go to waste. It does seem to be time consuming work at times, but it's a great sense of achievement. And I imagine you felt good after your lovely homemade apple sauce that can be frozen and used through the winter!

  10. This is a very insightful and thought-provoking post, Ann. I really enjoyed reading it. You made a lot of good points about today's families. I think most families are so busy, not only do they not have time to grow and preserve their own produce, they often don't even have time to cook their own meals at home. It's a shame, really. It sounds like your parents made the very most of what they had in order to provide good, nutritious meals for their family, and you learned some valuable skills in the process.

    You're so right about nature being a huge factor in growing your own food. My in-laws have had gardens for years, and they've had a constant (and often losing) battle with the deer, rabbits, chipmunks, and groundhogs to keep what they've planted and cared for from being eaten by these animals. But home grown food does indeed taste so much better than what we buy in the supermarket.

    I think my MIL uses a chinois for persimmons to make homemade persimmon pudding -- one of the best desserts ever. :) Thanks for sharing, Ann, and have a great week!



  11. Wonderful post momma. It is A huge amount of work. Being a pesticide applicator I try to encourage my clients to try some other things besides pesticides. Sometimes it works and sometimes people just hate bugs. But we don't treat any edibles for clients. Too much work. Can't keep up with those critters. But I find I start the season out with good intentions and by this time of the year the boys are back in school and I am too tired to deal with the veggies. I give some to the neighbors. And we eat some. And I spend weekends doing errands, cleaning and taking my weekly nap. I am thankful for the dry cleaners and the grocery store. If I didnt work I would be doing more of it. If people knew how much produce is wasted at grocery stores: both the organic and the regular stores try would be astonished. James used to be a produce buyer and it is pretty sad the amount thrown out. Funny how life comes in circles.

  12. A great post Ann and so true! In my childhood my mother pickled, canned and bottled everything from the garden, and I had to pick and break beans, picking buckets of currants and so on. Nowadays it is not realistic anymore, especially because also all women work too. But I am sure eating fresh from the garden is much more healthier and also when you have a tiny garden or only a balcony, it is so satisfying to grow some own herbs, veggies or fruit.
    It is raining here, but now I am off to the greenhouse to pick the last tomatoes to make our own tomatoe sauce.
    I read the comment of Heather and indeed here it is the same thing, so much is wasted, I hate it.

  13. I've been slow to return your kind visit, but I'm very glad I came to read your post. I can still picture my mom's bottles of stewed plums, peaches, chili sauce and such. My parents didn't grow the fruit, but gathered it at a farmers' market. I'll be heading to one of local orchards soon to pick some apples and will enjoy the same fragrance you had in your kitchen.


  14. Your posts are always so thoughtful. I have often reflected on the effort and cost of growing my own vs purchasing organic food - my husband thinks it works out more to grow food the way we have been, these months without a working garden has allowed us to analyse it a bit better. We will grow our own food again but not feel guilty about buying it in when it doesn't work out. How is Mr Chicken doing??