Married to Cinnamon and Sugar Happily Ever After

The kitchen is sweet with the smell of apples,
big yellow pie apples, light in the hand,
their skins freckled, the stems knobby
and thick with bark, as if the tree
could not bear to let the apple go.
Baskets of apples circle the back door,
fill the porch, cover the kitchen table.

My mother and my grandmother are
running the apple brigade. My mother,
always better with machines, is standing
at the apple peeler; my grandmother,
more at home with a paring knife,
faces her across the breadboard.
My mother takes an apple in her hand,

She pushes it neatly onto the sharp
prong and turns the handle that turns
the apple that swivels the blade pressed
tight against the apple’s side and peels
the skin away in long curling strips that
twist and fall to a bucket on the floor.
The apples, coming off the peeler,

Are winding staircases, little accordions,
slinky toys, jack-in-the-box fruit, until
my grandmother’s paring knife goes slicing
through the rings and they become apple
pies, apple cakes, apple crisp. Soon
they will be married to butter and live with
cinnamon and sugar, happily ever after.
~Joyce Sutphen, “Apple Season” from Coming Back to the Body.

I liked how the starry blue lid
of that saucepan lifted and puffed,
then settled back on a thin
hotpad of steam, and the way
her kitchen filled with the warm,
wet breath of apples, as if all
the apples were talking at once,
as if they’d come cold and sour
from chores in the orchard,
and were trying to shoulder in
close to the fire. She was too busy
to put in her two cents’ worth
talking to apples. Squeezing
her dentures with wrinkly lips,
she had to jingle and stack
the bright brass coins of the lids
and thoughtfully count out
the red rubber rings, then hold
each jar, to see if it was clean,
to a window that looked out
through her back yard into Iowa.
And with every third or fourth jar
she wiped steam from her glasses,
using the hem of her apron,
printed with tiny red sailboats
that dipped along with leaf-green
banners snapping, under puffs
of pale applesauce clouds
scented with cinnamon and cloves,
the only boats under sail
for at least two thousand miles.
~Ted Kooser “Applesauce”

Politics is applesauce.
~Will Rogers

Yesterday was applesauce-making day on our farm. The number of windfall apples lying on the ground is exponentially increasing, so I could put off the task no longer. The apple trees in our orchard are primarily antique varieties rarely grown any longer. I selected Spitzenburgs, a favorite apple of Thomas Jefferson, a Baldwin or two, some Pippins, a few Kings, and some Dutch Mignons, a russet apple undistinguished in appearance, not at all pretty, and easy to pass by for something more showy.

It took no time at all to fill several large boxes. Sadly, some apples were beyond hope; they lay rotting, half consumed by hornets, slugs, deer, raccoons and other critters so I let them be.

The task of washing, peeling and coring organic apples is time consuming. They require a fair amount of preparation: the bruised spots must be cut out, as well as the worm holes and tracks. The apples are cut to the core and sliced into the simmering pot to be stirred and slowly cooked down to sauce. Before long, before my eyes, together they become a pale yellow mash, blending their varied flavors together. However the smooth sweetness of this wonderful sauce is owed to the Dutch Mignon. It is a sublime sauce apple despite its humble unassuming appearance. Used alone, it would lack the “stand out” flavors of the other apple varieties, but as it cooks down, it becomes a foundation allowing the other apples to blend their unique qualities.

If I’m feeling really homespun, I marry the sublime with cinnamon and sugar, to create something happily ever after.

So it should be with the fellowship of diverse people and so should it be after a painful political season. We are bruised, wormy, but salvageable. We are far better together than we are separate. And through the process, with perhaps a sprinkle of cinnamon and sweetness, we are transformed into something far better than how we began.

A Plethora of Worminess

If even the moon is not bright
    and the stars are not pure in his eyes,
how much less a mortal, who is but a maggot—
    a human being, who is only a worm!” Job 25:5-6

 

A sunny spring day lured us outside for yard and garden prep for the anticipated grass and weed explosion in a few short weeks. We’ve been carefully composting horse manure for years behind the barn, and it was time to dig in to the 10 foot tall pile to spread it on our garden plots. As Dan pushed the tractor’s front loader into the pile, steam rose from its compost innards. As the rich soil was scooped, thousands of newly exposed red wiggler worms immediately dove for cover. Within seconds, thousands of naked little creatures had, well, …wormed their way back into the security of warm dirt, rudely interrupted from their routine. I can’t say I blamed them.

Hundreds of thousands of wigglers ended up being forced to adapt to new quarters, leaving the security of the manure mountain behind. As I smoothed the topping of compost over the garden plot, the worms–gracious creatures that they are–tolerated being rolled and raked and lifted and turned over, waving their little bodies expectantly in the cool air before slipping back down into the dark. There they will begin their work of digesting and aerating the tired soil of the garden, reproducing in their unique hermaphroditic way, leaving voluminous castings behind to further feed the seedlings to be planted.

Worms are unjustly denigrated by humans primarily because we don’t like to be surprised by them. We don’t like to see one in our food, especially only part of one, and are particularly distressed to see them after we’ve digested our food. Once we get past that bit of squeamishness, we can greatly appreciate their role as the ultimate recyclers, leaving the earth a lot better off once they are finished with their work. We humans actually suffer by comparison, so to be called “a worm” is really not as bad as it sounds at first. The worm may be offended by the association.

I hope to prove a worthy innkeeper for these new tenants.
May they live long and prosper.
May the worm forgive my rake and shovel.
May I smile appreciatively the next time someone calls me a mere worm.

Plenty Messy and Mushy

Politics is applesauce.
~Will Rogers
Our transparent apple trees are heavily burdened with fruit this time of year, to the point of breaking branches crashing to the ground with the weight. There have been few windfalls.

There is a short span for this variety between fruit too green and sour becoming too mealy and mushy.  With the hot weather, the thin-skinned apples will start to crack and turn to mush right on the tree without even letting go first.  So the window for applesauce is now, this week, ready or not.

Applesauce-making is one of my more satisfying domestic activities.  Peeling and coring apples can be tedious, there are always a few bad spots to cut out, and though rare with the organic transparents, there is the occasional wiggling worm to dispose of before cooking.  They make a tart sauce, need no sugar;  but with all the careful preparation before the cooking, the result is smooth to the tongue and a lovely creamy light color, with all blemishes removed, extra unwanted wormy protein deposited in the compost bucket along with mountains of peel, cores and seeds.

Would that I could similarly pare out, peel off, dispose in the compost all the political flyers flooding our mailbox, the automated telephone voter polls coming into our “unlisted” number, the radio, TV and internet ads that burden us all until we crack and break under the weight.  Actually most of the election fruit is already rotting on the tree, turning us to mush in the process.  I’m weary just thinking about the millions of dollars spent in advertising candidates that could be used for far greater good and benefit for the citizenry.

The process of selecting a president and members of Congress, a governor and voting on controversial initiatives can be so vile and mean-spirited that the whole kettle of sauce is spoiled.   I could cook it all day long and there still will be worms waving in the air, rotten cores festering, scabby peels floating on top, the bottom scalding with the heat of the cook stove.  How does a reasonable person decide what is best for the country when nothing is transparent at all in what politicians say versus what they do?

And how palatable will the political flavors be when all is said and done?   I guess we’ll need to wait until November to know how the messy mush of elections will taste.

Thankfully I will have stored up plenty of the real stuff in the freezer so we can drown our misery in the creaminess of summer apples prepared and cooked to perfection: no blemishes, no scabs, no rot, and no worms waving back.

What a world.

Hostelry of Worms

a cross section of 30 months of composted manure

a plethora of red wigglers

A sunny spring day lured us outside for yard and garden prep for the anticipated grass and weed explosion in a few short weeks. We’ve been carefully composting horse manure for over two years behind the barn, and it was time to dig in to the 10 foot tall pile to spread it on our garden plots. As Dan pushed the tractor’s front loader into the pile, steam rose from its compost innards. As the rich soil was scooped, thousands of newly exposed red wiggler worms immediately dove for cover. Within seconds, thousands of naked little creatures had, well, …wormed their way back into the security of warm dirt, rudely interrupted from their routine. I can’t say I blamed them.

Hundreds of thousands of wigglers ended up being forced to adapt to new quarters today, leaving the security of the manure mountain behind. As I smoothed the topping of compost over the garden plot, the worms–gracious creatures that they are–tolerated being rolled and raked and lifted and turned over, waving their little bodies expectantly in the cool air before slipping back down into the dark. There they will begin their work of digesting and aerating the tired soil of the garden, reproducing in their unique hermaphroditic way, leaving voluminous castings behind to further feed the seedlings to be planted.

Worms are unjustly denigrated by humans primarily because we don’t like to be surprised by them. We don’t like to see one in our food, especially only part of one, and are particularly distressed to see them after we’ve digested our food. Once we get past that bit of squeamishness, we can greatly appreciate their role as the ultimate recyclers, leaving the earth a lot better off once they are finished with their work. We humans actually suffer by comparison, so to be called “a worm” is really not as bad as it sounds at first. The worm may not think so.

I hope to prove a worthy innkeeper for these new tenants. May they live long and prosper. May worms be forgiving for the continual disruption of their routine. May I smile the next time someone calls me a worm.

The garden is covered with rich composted manure