A story told by Logan Soss
A burgundy minivan pulls into the driveway as my dog barks at the intruder. As soon as the worn work boots crunch on the icy pavement, the barks turn to yips as he recognizes my grandpa and rushes to grab a toy to play. My grandparents shuffle up the icy driveway and I meet them at the door.
“Hi Logan!” they say, giving me a hug. We head inside and, as I start to take my jacket off, my grandpa calls to me, “Hey Logan, there’s one more thing. Can you help me bring in some things from the trunk?”
I open the back hatch and am met with an accoutrement of cooking equipment: an enormous stock pot, a giant ladle, and an industrial-grade Kitchenaid stand mixer. What’s all this for? I wonder, hauling the materials inside. I heave as I lift the final item: a remarkably heavy bag. I peek inside, and my eyes light up with excitement as I eye the apples. We’re making applesauce.
My grandma’s applesauce is no joke. As far back as I can remember, most of my grandparents’ dinners had a large serving bowl of homemade applesauce, with glass dishes stacked on the side. Applesauce pairs with every meal. No matter how stuffed you are, the applesauce was a nice and light complement to the dinner. You’d serve it with fish, sandwiches, or steak, and top it on your latkes, pork chops, or yogurt. It is the best applesauce I’ve ever eaten. My grandma’s recipe always seemed mystical to me, as I never knew how it was made. Today, I’d be confronting this mystery and learning firsthand from the master.
After a light lunch, we go to work making the applesauce. “It’s an incredibly easy process,” my grandma explains. “You just have to find the right apples.” She points to the peck of Ida Red apples. For the last twenty years or so, my grandma has been outsourcing her apples from a local farm, Roe’s Orchard to be exact, which grows Ida Reds perfectly. Ironically enough, the whole time my grandparents had actually been growing the exact same kind in their own backyard on what they thought were crabapple trees. The fruits never bloomed thanks to the local deers. Talk about a coincidence. Now for the last couple of years, my grandparents have always made a batch using their backyard’s apples, but the yield is much smaller than needed, so they still shop at Roe’s Orchard.
The first step is to core the apples to make sure you don’t cook the seeds. With four chops of a knife, the apple is quartered and tossed in the 24-quart stock pot. The skins should stay on, as it helps give the sauce its signature pinkish hue. Once the final apple is cored, my grandma pours fresh apple cider into the pot, just so that it fills the bottom layer to prevent the apples from burning. Topped with a hefty dash of cinnamon, the pot is then transferred to the stove to cook.
We light the burner on medium heat and lid the pot, allowing the apples to fully cook down. My grandma only stirs the pot twice, once in the middle of cooking and once when they are finished. At this point she doesn’t add a timer, she can simply estimate the time off the top of her head. This skill comes with experience, I’ve learned, and I’m keen to learn this one day. Once the apples are of a mushy consistency, remove the pot from the heat and ready your Kitchenaid.
In order to process the apples down into applesauce, you have to use a foley food mill or some other kind of mechanical food strainer. My grandma has a Kitchenaid foley food mill attachment for her stand mixer that is one of a kind. She’s been using the same tool for decades now, and she tells me the story of how she went to a Kitchenaid store to replace her attachment with a new one and the workers at the store laughed and said they had never seen that product before. Turns out that the production of the attachment stopped shortly after it was released, and that there are roughly only a couple thousand of the Kitchenaid foley food mills in existence.
With this antique mixer, I scoop the melted apple pieces with a slotted spoon, being sure to fully drain its liquid before placing it into the machine. The foley food mill presses all the contents out of the apples, and after spoonful after spoonful, the bowl slowly rises with newly created applesauce. Once all of the apples are gone, we stand back and view the masterpiece we just created.
The magic of this applesauce is the simplicity of its ingredients. My grandma takes a spoon and tastes it, and adds some more dashes of cinnamon to bolster the flavor. After mixing the bowl and trying again, she is content with how it turned out. I give the applesauce a taste and I am transported back to old times. Even though it is only flavored by the puree of the apples and cinnamon, it tastes appropriately sweet, almost as if it was made of nectar infused with honey. The texture is perfect, light and soft. It is practically liquid gold, only with a rose gold tone. This batch of the apple sauce was not as pink as usual because the apples we used were not as fresh and in season. The best time to get Ida Red apples is November, where the flavor is naturally sweeter and the skins are reddest. Regardless of that fact, the applesauce was delicious and tasted exactly how I remembered.
Crafting applesauce is an artform in itself. Despite how easy it was to make it, I know I would mess it up if I didn’t have my grandmother’s guidance. After learning about the laborious process that goes into production, I have grown a deeper appreciation for my grandmother and her stamina and ability of mass-producing this applesauce, planning a weekend to turn enough apples into a year’s supply of applesauce. This batch of roughly 23 apples only yielded roughly four quarts of applesauce, and it took about 2 hours in total time to make. I estimate that they must produce about 10 gallons of applesauce a year, stored in individual vacuum sealed bags and placed in the freezer until needed.
This applesauce takes me back to my childhood and I always think about the dish when I’m away at school. After making this batch, I took two quarts of the applesauce back to school with me to share with my friends, and I’ve prolonged its presence as long as possible.
Cover photo courtesy of Logan Soss