Monday, September 6, 2010

Farmer's Market Applesauce

Confession: we hardly ever go to the farmer's market even though it's only eight blocks away and happens every Saturday, May through October. Our own backyard yields so much bounty there never seems to be a compelling reason to go and look at other people's produce.

Nonetheless, there we were on a beautiful, sun-drenched Labor Day weekend, wandering the length of the one-block row of pickup trucks backed in along one edge of the main downtown park. (At least that's what I was doing. B. was scouting out the shadiest bench he could find, avoiding the sun out of medical necessity.) In front of each truck were tents shading the tables heaped high with peak-of-the-harvest abundance.

I stopped at a popular table covered with numerous small piles of apples labeled with poetic and unfamiliar names: Honeycrisp, Ginger Gold, Jona Gold. After a brief discussion with the lady in charge about my desire to make some applesauce, I was suddenly the proud owner of a $10 bushel basket filled to the brim with a 30-pound mix of all the organic heirloom apples she was offering -- the rejects she didn't think would sell for the standard $2.50 a pound.

That works out to about 33 cents a pound! An unexpected windfall of apples. We had thought we might be bereft of applesauce this year because we missed the chance to get a box of our favorite Pomo Tierra Gravensteins.

B. and I slowly made our way through the park, carrying the heavy basket between us. When the wire handles started digging into our hands too painfully, we simply put our burden down for a bit and admired the festive scene of vegetables and fruits, bread and cheese, herbs and flowers, sweets and savories ready-to-eat, handicrafts and kids, music and . . .oh, hello! . . people we know.

I couldn't help thinking of one of my favorite lines from Dylan Thomas:

"Oh, I was prince of the apple towns and time let me run, golden in the heyday of his eyes."

At least that's the way I've always remembered it. Here's what it really is:

"Time let me hail and climb
Golden in the heydays of his eyes.
And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns."
(From Fern Hill)

A wagon would have been nice.

With the apples at hand, the prosaic business of making applesauce was simple. I washed them thoroughly, ignoring the blemishes, bruises, and sun scald while admiring how firm and fresh they felt (and only 33 cents a pound!).

Then they were chopped into quarters and all the damaged parts removed. As it turned out, only a very small proportion of the whole biomass had to be removed. There was no need to remove the peels as they would be strained out.

Next, they were cooked gently until soft in a very little bit of water -- as little as possible -- along with a whole cinnamon stick.

Then all the softened apples were run through the mighty Squeezo (aka Vittorio Strainer).

A bushel of apples almost filled this big pot. The task took me about two hours up to this point. The next-to-last step was to wrestle the pot into the refrigerator and let everything cool down for a day or so.

The last step was to spoon it all out into freezer containers and tuck most of it away in the freezer for future feasting, saving some for immediate gratification.

I hardly ever eat sweets, so fresh applesauce with yogurt seems like apple pie a la mode. Mmmmmmm. This farmer's market blend has a lovely mellow flavor, and throughout the year, whenever we enjoy it, it will evoke this golden week-end.

Did I mention the apples were only 33 cents a pound?

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