There’s something about cooking that can link you to your past. It doesn’t happen all the time, but every once in a while I get a hit of it and wonder, “Did my grandma (Grammy) or great-grandmother (Nana) ever do this exact thing?” I can assure you they never sat at their computers blogging about their recipe du jour. But as I scooped warm apples with a wooden spoon from a pot on the stove and plopped them into a food mill last night, I couldn’t help but wonder how many times they’d repeated that very same action in their lifetimes.
Perhaps that’s what I love most about cooking. It’s just so basic. You have to eat so you may as well cook good food. In this day and age where we bound from our iMacs, to our iPhones, to our iPods, to our iPads (guilty!) it becomes more and more difficult to feel connected to everything and everyone that came before us. While you can still get fancy in the kitchen and use these gadgets to find and follow recipes (lord knows I do it all the time) the simple act of cooking has changed very little since my Nana flipped her very first homemade pancake.
Last night I made applesauce with the remaining stash of apple-picking apples. I realize you can easily buy the stuff in jars at the grocery store, but if you’ve never made or tasted the homemade kind then you’re truly missing out. There’s a level of natural sweetness you’ll never find in a bottle. Lately, I’ve seen lots of recipes for applesauce that call for heaps of sugar and even (gasp!) butter (I love butter as much as the next gal, but wtf is it doing in applesauce?) My version—which comes from my Mom and may very well have been handed down from my Grammy and Nana—involves four ingredients: Fresh apples, water, cinnamon, and nutmeg. It needs absolutely nothing else. Unless you count love.
Apples (any kind, any amount)
Water (you could use apple juice or apple cider instead)
Cut apples into quarters and dump them into a heavy soup pot. (Keep the skin, stems, and seeds—these will be removed when you use the food mill.) Generously sprinkle with cinnamon (I’m not sure how much flavor this adds to the end product, but it will make your home smell incredible while they cook; you could also add 1 to 2 cinnamon sticks.) Fill the pot with about 1 inch of water. Put over a medium heat and allow to cook. When the fluid begins to boil, lower the heat, cover the pan, and check it every 5 to 10 minutes to see if you need to add a bit more fluid and stir the apples with a wooden spoon to cook them evenly. As the apples cook, their juices will naturally come out. Cook until the apples are fork tender—about 20 to 30 minutes total. In small batches, add the apples to a food mill and churn over a big bowl. Once you’re finished with the apples, add lots of cinnamon and nutmeg to taste.
Note: Instead of using ground nutmeg, I prefer using an actual nutmeg seed (I got a bottle of them at WF). It’s a trick I learned from my Mom and you’ll notice the nutmeg releases a much more powerful flavor than the pre-ground kind. Holding a cheese grater in one hand I grate the seed until I have the desired amount (I used about half a seed for the applesauce.) You can also use it while baking or sprinkle on top of oatmeal. Here’s what it looks like: