When I was nine, My Grandma Jane brought me to visit her in Placerville California during the fall. The leaves were changing, the smell of pine and woodsmoke was heavy on the frisky South Sierra breeze and something about that time, the smells, the temperature, the place, imprinted a feeling of “home” on my brain forever. I’ve never lived there, but it’s still home to me.
As an inquisitive girl accustomed to frying eggs and melting flip flops on the streets of Phoenix Arizona, chasing the ice cream man was the closest we usually got to “cool” except when a thunderstorm would douse our neighborhood gang with unexpected rain during our latest reenactment of GI Joe. We all wanted to be Scarlett back then.
On my visit, Grandma took me every morning to a chicken coop up in the woods near Apple Hill, surrounded by tall pines. The morning sun would filter through the trees and dusty lines of light would radiate like prisms on the crunchy orange pine needles that blanketed the ground. The worlds most natural Christmas trees rose up around us, decorated with pine cones that dusted the air with fine green spores and sticky blossoms of amber sap sparkling like twinkling strands of lights on the bark.
We would enter the redwood coop, careful not to startle the chickens or scrape our arms on the wire…and search quietly and eagerly for eggs. Fresh laid eggs. These Bantam hens with their white and brown feathers would sit nobly and cluck, pecking at our hands hoping for feed, which we would give them anxiously, with slight fears of being beaked. We would cautiously keep a look out for Mr. rooster who was to a nine year old, an intimidating and imposing threat with his confident strut, tall posture and piercing red eyes.
The warm eggs, perfect and smooth would sit cozily in the cove of my small palm and before we would take them home to eat, we would rinse them off at the farm hand pump and place them gently in a cloth lined basket. I remember the first time Grandma made me scrambled eggs with these fresh eggs – how creamy and buttery the flavor was in my mouth. The chives she had sprinkled on top seemed to me like an undisguised attempt to force feed vegetables and I’m sure I must have rolled my eyes – but when I realized the flavor they added, my eyes lit up and curiosity overcame doubt. I was hooked.
Sometimes we would stop at Apple Hill and walk through the orchards of apples, the dew of the grass covering our shoes and making the bottom of our jeans wet. We would roll them up and keep walking, hand in hand. The smells of the cinnamon and apple cider on the crisp air, the taste of fresh pies and dumplings with crust as light as crumbly sugar clouds and feel of crisp caramel apples stuck on my teeth…it was a perfect sugar filled bliss, the kind to make a child fall wildly in love with a place.
One afternoon, after we had eaten our fresh eggs for breakfast, walked through the orchards, picked apples, eaten our dumplings and had a BLT sandwich and a cup of french onion soup at a local roadside farm stand, we took a break to read a book or two outside on the moss covered rocks while the birds sang overhead. Then with a stretch and a yawn, we rolled up our sleeves and got to work.
Carefully, she would show me with her soft, manicured hands, how to hold the peel and core the apples with the wind up device that clamped to the counter top. In the faded afternoon light of her cozy yellow kitchen, we hummed and cored and peeled and chatted. I would stand on a stool and happily make a nuisance of myself while she guided my hands and my peeled apples to a large pan on the stove top. In would go the brown sugar, molasses, water, cinnamon and nutmeg and I would watch eagerly as the watched pot would boil. Plump and puffy, the quartered apples would bob at the top of the cauldron and bounce against each other, cooking until their soft flesh was easily indented by the wooden spoon we baptised them with. I can still close my eyes and hear the pop and bubble of sugary syrup, the clank of wooden spoon against enameled pot and the song of distant wind chimes that lazily rode the breeze like a cowboy bell choir.
Before long, the apples would melt before our eyes, deflating as their tart juices were absorbed into the liquid and they tore into small fleshy bites of perfectly spiced applesauce.
Happily, we would smile at each other in camaraderie, then take warm bowl of applesauce and sit on the porch watching the sun set as we greedily spooned warm deliciousness into our mouths. No conversation was needed, just the warmth of friendship of a mentor and men-tee who had experienced a satisfying day of learning and created something beautiful together.
These memories, which are kindled every time I eat or make applesauce (my mom Heidi still makes the BEST apple sauce and pies yet), made me think about legacy today, and what it is we each leave in the world. What is following you? What is the trail you are leaving behind you? What will be remembered of you when you are gone? So many people these days are caught up in and paralyzed with the thought “will I get everything I want to have in life” when what we really should be asking is “will I be able to give the best of everything I have to give?”
Isn’t giving more fulfilling and rewarding after all? What is it you have to give? Whether it is time spent with a child or a grandparent, collecting eggs, picking apples, gardening, or cooking side by side, there are so many simple ways to give. What you get in return is the irreplaceable richness of satisfaction, peace and knowledge that you are capable of learning and teaching, of loving wildly and of being loved unconditionally.
My Grandma Jane passed away in 1998, my first year in college, but before she passed she left so much to our family. She nurtured us all in a gentle and kind way, always encouraging us to try new things, explore the world and not to be afraid. Her grace and generosity despite her disadvantaged economic situation always far exceeded any gifts that money could have provided. The legacy of richness I gained in these visits was far surpassed by anything anyone could have bought me. My joy was in learning to taste, to see, to be present, to feel and to hear what the earth had to offer us and to what it could say to us. Learning side by side with my Grandma Jane, whose presence is missed heartily every fall when the leaves are on the wind, is something I will always treasure and something I hope to replicate in the world.
Makes 4 cups
- 8 apples peeled, cored and quartered. (I like to use Granny Smith or Braeburn apples)
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 2 cups water
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp nutmeg
- 1 tsp cloves
- 1 tbsp honey
Core and peel your apples and quarter them. Toss them in a large pot with 2 cups of water and the remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil. Stir and allow to simmer for 20 minutes. Apples will puff up then deflate as they start to fall apart. Mash apples with a wooden spoon until sauce is chunky and recognizable as “sauce”. Cool and eat! Store in jars or in a covered container in the fridge.