Growing up, I got to spend extended time in the summers with my grandparents in Tennessee. Life in Tennessee was very different from life in Chicago. Even as a child, I was very aware of the cultural distinctions.
One of many differences was the fact that my grandparents had a garden and numerous fruit trees. I didn’t know anyone with a fruit tree beyond the ornamental crab apple. Northern winters are a little too cold for fragile trees. There were pears, peaches, plums and apples, golden delicious, to be exact. Oh, and grapes too! Each summer, at just the right time, my cousins, who were older, and better acquainted with tree climbing, were summoned to climb and shake the tree, thereby extracting the fruit so that I could gather it in large five gallon buckets. The fruit was sweet and ripe and wonderful. The rotten ones? Well, we just threw those down the hill to the compost pile where, apparently,they magically became “compost”.
Compost was an oddity to me. We didn’t have a compost “heap” and I certainly didn’t know anyone else with one. However, I gathered that it was somehow intricately tied to a good garden, or fruit crop, or , well, . . . I wasn’t quite sure. I just knew that we put all the scraps (well most of them anyway) on the compost “pile” each day. I’m not sure how some items were deemed unacceptable or inappropriate for the “heap”, but they were. It all looked like a pile of trash to me. At home, it all went in a bag and was taken to the curb.
Anyway, we would lug the buckets up the hill. I would drag one and my grandparents each took two. Once we were in the house, we had to “look them” for bugs, or worms, or whatever gets into apples. I usually tried to avoid this part. Being from Northern Illinois, I wasn’t very schooled in “bugs”, nor for that matter, did I really WANT to be. And, besides, at home, we never “looked” anything. If you put the suffix “ed” on the end of look, that meant the event had already happened. It was not an activity you were currently completing, nor was it something you would soon be doing. It was done. You see my confusion.
Once the “looking” was done, it was time to peel. I wasn’t very good at that either. I was of absolutely no use with a knife and only somewhat useful with a vegetable peeler. Once the peeling was done, I could chop. Chopping made the coming cook time less. So, I was Head Chopper. I was so young that the complete process escapes me, I just know that by the end of a very long cook and process time, there was applesauce and apple butter or jelly, depending on the whim of the day. At the end of the season, there was enough for a small army to make it through the winter. I loved to hear the pop of the cans when they sealed. It meant they were done and the best part was next! It was then that I got to write on the top of each one with a Sharpie. This was SO worth waiting for! Sharpies were contraband at my house- something about it bleeding through to a relatively new counter top in the days before the Magic Eraser Sponge. I take the Fifth.
In the years since, I have canned my own jams and jellies. I have never made applesauce or apple butter. I think that I could never “get it right”, in much the same way that some other recipes that belonged to my Mamaw are irreplicable. She had a special touch. I miss those times in her kitchen. I was frequently “bored” and wanted to go play or create a grand outdoor adventure, but I learned so much. It was really important to her that I be there and take it all in. I wish she was still here to see all that I learned when she thought I wasn’t paying attention.