Wake up and smell homemade applesauce


It was a sleepy Sunday, a good day to make applesauce. I had never made applesauce before, but after glancing at a "Joy of Cooking" recipe, it looked like an easy undertaking.

This has been a good year for apples. The combination of a dry summer, which concentrated the sugar in the fruit, and cool autumn nights, which let the fruit slowly ripen, have made this year's crop sweeter than those of previous autumns.

When I shop for apples at outdoor markets, such as the Sunday morning Farmers' Market in downtown Baltimore, I taste, then I buy and buy and buy.

Nowadays, you do not simply purchase a plain ol' apple. Instead, you choose from a variety of apple types: tart Granny Smiths, sweet Galas, crisp Mutsu or the elusive Black Twig.

As is true on many issues, my family cannot reach a consensus on its apple preferences. There is a contingent demanding Galas for snacks and school lunches. There is the Granny Smith faction, which likes to smear slices of these apples with peanut butter. There is the Golden Delicious, apples-should-taste-like-honey lobby.

I fall into the "bitter is better" camp, and when I go to the market, I end up buying immense amounts of Winesap and McIntosh. Then, attempting to be fair, I buy immense amounts of the other family favorites. That is how I ended up with too many Golden Delicious, which turned out to be a key ingredient in good applesauce.

The skilled sauce-maker uses a blend of apples. You start with tart Pippins or Gravensteins, add spicy McIntosh or Winesaps, and then use Golden Delicious for "sunny sweetness," according to the "Joy of Cooking."

So, last weekend, I bought Pippins and Winesaps at the Farmers' Market. When I got home, I peeled them along with the Golden Delicious I had left over from a previous market trip.

Peeling apples is one of those tasks you should do while sitting in the kitchen, having a heartfelt conversation with a family member. That is the theory. The reality was that last Sunday everyone else in the family had vamoosed, leaving me home alone. I had to carry on a heartfelt "conversation" with members of the Baltimore Ravens football team as I watched them play the Jacksonville Jaguars on television.

After peeling 3 pounds of apples, I cut them into slices 1/2 -inch thick, and then cooked them over low heat in a pot with 2 tablespoons of butter, 1/2 cup apple cider, 1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice and a stick of cinnamon. The mixture was supposed to simmer in a covered pot until the apples got tender, but not mushy. Then, I was supposed to take the pot off the heat, remove the cinnamon stick from the mixture, add 1 teaspoon of vanilla and stir with a wooden spoon. The apples were supposed to cook for about 20 minutes.

While the apples simmered on the stove, I went upstairs, stretched out on a sofa and continued to watch the football game. I fell asleep. When I awoke, the apples were beyond mushy, the cinnamon flavor had moved from subtle to boisterous, and the game was beyond hope.

Nonetheless, the homemade applesauce was pretty good. It turned out to be a successful side dish and a hit when spread on thick slices of bread.

All in all, I recommend making applesauce as a good way to spend a sleepy Sunday afternoon. Just don't nod off.

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