We've been making applesauce all weekend. This is one of my favorite fall traditions--one I carried with me from my early years of budding domesticity back in NC and GA. It has taken on a whole new shine in the NW, what with it actually looking like autumn outside rather than just smelling like it in my kitchen.
Jo was just a wee thing when I first started buying apples by the box. I would painstakingly core and peel and slice while she took turns making off with apple chunks, watching me work and cavorting in discarded peels. Oh, she was an absolute cherub back then. Cheeks stuffed full-to-bursting with apples. Big blue eyes peeking out under her favorite floppy hat. The constant barrage of requests to "Help yooooooo, Momma!" I remember it as a warm and fuzzy time--one of those seasons that comes back to you bathed in the glow of soft-focus lighting and set to the strains of Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."
As my family grew, the tradition changed. Sure, there was always applesauce. But a whole box of apples? The options were endless! Apple printing. Apple dolls. Dried apple rings. And, of course, more apple themed unit studies and worksheets than you can shake a depleted printer cartridge at. The entire process of making yummy applesauce was little more than garnish on the main dish of our apple-themed fun.
I am not sure when we left the crafty appling time behind. It wasn't conscious, I know that much. I'd still love to sneak in a few hours here and there to give Logan more time to explore the finer points of being six years old. To bask in in-depth studies that require field trips. Baking projects. Crafts that will litter my kitchen counters. But it never seems to happen--and it's not just apples. It's all of that fun, little guy stuff that requires glue, pipe cleaners and loads of time for set-up and clean-up.
Realizing that I've stepped out of the world of preschool fun can sadden me. Even knowing that I will doubtless find myself back on the 3 year-old Sunday School rotation before I know it does little to quell the mourning that washes over me from time to time as I ponder a life without Jo, Atticus and Logan poking black threads of licorice into the domes of apples that have been sliced to look like ladybugs. I am the mother of some older kids, I have to remind myself. I have to grow with them.
And grow we have.
This year's applesauce season has been remarkably different than those that have gone before. First and foremost is the fact that I have done very, very little of the actual making of the applesauce. My three older children have cheerily--chirpily, even--taken over the manning of our handy apple corer/peeler/slicer. Armed with the mental capacity to plan and execute such a task in logical increments, they have created an assembly line that begins at with a brisk scrub in the sink, advances with the peeler/slicer and ends with a quick chop that lands the apple in the crock pot. They've become so efficient that our crock pot has been grinding out three batches of sauce per day. I've taken over the canning end of the deal but have left the rest to the newly-minted experts.
Watching them work is nothing like those early days of sitting on a ladder-backed chair in my rented kitchen, holding a big metal bowl full of apples between my knees and watching Jo twirl fruit rings on her chubby fingers. This is something different. A silly, ribbing teamwork of siblings who know each other's habits and talents in greater detail than I ever hoped for. Seeing the stair-stepped heads of my older children at the counter, watching their shoulders bump and jostle, hearing them laugh ... my heart could burst. When this memory comes back to me, I hope it comes with a pink blush for lighting and "These Are Days" for a soundtrack. I hope it comes often.
No one has asked about apple blossoms, bees or the star inside the apple this year. No one has counted the number of twists to pop the stem. No one has asked to dry seeds. But, between giggles and bad jokes, they have asked about apple butter. What is it? What does it taste like? Can we make some?
Perhaps there is still something about my favorite fall fruit I can teach them ... like my Mamaw's indescribably good recipe for apple butter, which I've never had cause to pass on. I wonder what memories that could inspire?