Every year, when I make apple sauce, I think of two people. The first is a former coworker whom, upon being given a pint of my sauce, said, “Remember, the only thing worse than biting into an apple, and finding a worm, is biting into an apple, and finding half a worm.”
He said this after I told him how I have to carefully peel and chop a lot of apples just to make a pint of sauce because I don’t spray my tree, and most of the apples have something in them I must remove.
I have the one tree. Some years, such as last year, it gives me few apples, and I must race outside to get them before the squirrels do. (Being sloppy eaters, what squirrels drop often draw deer, which leave their unique calling cards behind, in bulk, under the tree.)
But this year I have a lot of apples, and that means I am standing at the counter, peeling and chopping, and making a lot of sauce.
I also do a lot of thinking.
That’s why, besides that former coworker, I think of my Gamma – which is how I pronounced grandma when I was a toddler, and the name stuck.
Gamma was not the easiest woman to live with. She was the only daughter in a large family. She lost her mother when she was a teenager, and was expected to take care of her father and brothers. She refused. Her younger brothers never forgave her. She got married, had two children, and threw out her husband. Those children spent a lot more time with their aunts and uncles than with her.
And yet, somewhere along the line, my grandmother learned how to cook the traditional Yiddish foods. She made a wonderful tsimmis of sweet potatoes and carrots and other seasonings. She made a great kugel. She made chicken soup by boiling a chicken, and adding vegetables and little bits of dough known as knadlach. Her matzo balls were airy and light, without using seltzer.
For some reason I got along with her much better than her children, my sister or my cousins. When she came over, I couldn’t wait for her to cook. My parents and sister couldn’t be bothered, but I would ask how she made it. She wouldn’t tell me, most likely because she didn’t know. She just did what she always did, a bit of this and that, nothing written down.
She also made applesauce. My mother would bring us over to her house, and she served the delicious applesauce she had made. Unlike me, she would go to the store for her apples.
Sometimes the sauce was red; other times it was yellow.
Her recipes died with her. I should’ve watched what she did more carefully.
So I have had to find my own way, and try to duplicate what she did. I’ve yet to do it. However, the applesauce I make, as I think of her, comes close.