I spent most of my childhood on a farm in Nebraska. When I was little, we had a man-made horseshoe-shaped lake in the middle of our 300+ acre property that was surrounded with apple trees. I couldn’t tell you what variety of apples were there, I don’t remember anyone referring to them by anything other than “apple trees.” The family (or maybe it was just my stepdad) preferred them green, so I don’t know if they were actually Granny Smith trees or if we just picked them when they were still green.
One particularly warm, early summer day following several days of rain, my stepdad decided we should all walk down to the lake as a family to pick apples, but we couldn’t drive down there as it would harm the crop that was just coming up. So we all trekked through the field barefoot. I loved the squishy mud, but then I would step on a sharp, stiff cornstalk or part of a dried corncob from the previous year’s crop and it would hurt like hell. The walk seemed like torture to me. After what seemed like forever, but was probably only 20 minutes, we were at the lake and walking in the soft grass that carpeted that little orchard of ours. For collecting the apples, we had carried empty seed sacks that had once held soybeans or seed corn. These were thick paper sacks, not as stiff as cardboard, but just as strong. Once the sacks were as full as we could carry, which in my case meant only ¼ full, we all trudged through the muddy rows of 6-inch tall soybean plants back to the home place to unload our hall. Before we could go into the house, however, my stepdad lined us all up, pulled out the hose and sprayed us all down to remove the mud. I quickly forgot about the painful walk down and back, caught up in the silliness of my parents and step-siblings running around and getting sprayed with the hose. It was one of those brief moments of perfection. It was a day when everyone was happy, when we were truly a family.
My stepdad’s favorite way to eat the apples was to quarter them, cut out the seeds and then salt them. I thought he was so weird eating them that way, but I tried it, and I ate my apples that way for a while, too. It had been years since I had done that. So, today I pulled out a Pippin, quartered it, seeded it, and salted it. There’s something really delicious about the salty, sour and sweet taste you get from salting a tart apple. My stepdad was a strictly “meat & potatoes” kind of guy. He hated anything with spice or anything that was outside of the norm. But I have learned as I have been exposed to world cuisine and fine dining, that there were moments when my stepdad had a sophisticated palate. As I child I assumed he salted his food because he liked salt so much. As a “foodie” I have discovered that salt can add a whole new dimension to what I am eating.
I spent the entire morning in my kitchen with over 20 pounds of apples that I was turning into applesauce. As I stood in my kitchen, peeling and slicing apples, I remembered that beautiful day when we went to the lake to pick apples. I remembered how funny I thought my stepdad looked when he rolled up his ubiquitous dark denim jeans to his knees so they wouldn’t get muddy. His legs were so white from never being exposed to the sun I couldn’t help but giggle at the contrast between his pale calves and the dark blue jeans. My stepdad was being silly and living in the moment. The worries of the farm and making ends meet dissipated in the beauty of the sunny day and playing with us kids. Every time I went to eat one of those apples we had picked I would relive the joy of that afternoon. I would frequently ask if we could do it again, but sadly we never did. A few years later, my stepdad bulldozed the lake because it would never hold water. The apple trees became compost for future soybean and corn crops.
Today, I was transported back to that lake. I felt the joy of that little girl, and I was inspired by my stepdad’s salted apples. Even though I have been alone in my kitchen all day, I have not been alone. I have been surrounded by happy memories and more importantly I have been surrounded by family. This is why food is so important to me; food connects me to the world.
Salty Applesauce (or not)
3.5 pounds mixed apples
Juice of ½ lemon
1- 1 ½ teaspoons fleur de sel (or more or less to taste)
Peel, core and cut apples into chunks and place them in a sauce pan. Cover and turn on low heat. Periodically stir the apples, making sure to scrape up any caramelization off the bottom of the pan. Continue to cook the apples, covered on low heat, until they are soft and turn to mush (approximately 1-1 ½ hours).
When the apples are mostly mush with just a few larger chunks, add juice from one-half lemon and 1 teaspoon fleur de sel. Stir very well to make sure the salt is fully incorporated. Taste and add more salt if you need it. Or forget the salt and just enjoy the apples themselves. But whatever you do, don’t skip the lemon juice. You need that acidity for the canning process. Plus, it adds a nice little punch to your applesauce.
Spoon applesauce into jars and can as you wish. I use the boiling method and put the jars in a canner with a rolling boil for 20 minutes. Makes three 10-0unce portions.