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  • I was spoiled. Some would argue my use of the past-tense, but I'm making a point here. Growing up I never had to eat store-bought applesauce. Although I'm sure Mott's and Musselman's and Gerber all make a fine product, for those people who don't know any better. But I was raised with homemade applesauce. My mom made it the way her mother made it. And probably her mother's mother before her. The process, I was sure, was terribly involved and intricate. I knew it involved the sink, knives, certain pots, the stove, and the coolest kitchen utensil in the whole world.

    The cool device probably has a real name, and I could take the trouble to look it up, but my brother and I always called it the witch's hat. When Jon and I got together we were shopping in an antique store and I saw a witch's hat. It had the old wood mallet, the circular stand perfect for fitting over a mixing bowl, and a sturdy plastic handle that marked it as a newer model than my mom's. We had no use for it, but Jon could tell it was important to me so we got it.

    For 18 years it has stood atop our refrigerator doing nothing more productive than gathering dust. Today its perfect record was shattered. Mom and I got up early to turn two boxes of green apples into 20 quarts of fresh, organic, delicious

    We filled one half of the kitchen sink with water and dumped in some apples. "First, you cut an apple in half," mom instructed. I reached for a knife. "Not that knife," she said, her voice like lightning. "That's my knife. Get another knife." I set down her knife and pulled another from the drawer. "That might be too dull," she said, but I was oddly fond of this knife and felt the need to defend its ability to the task. I placed the blade against the bottom of the apple and started to saw my way up through the middle. Mom finished her second apple as I was about to complete my first cut.

    "This may take a while," I heard mom mutter.

    "I'm trying," I said. "This is my first time."

    "Using a knife?" mom quipped. She's fun.

    The next step was to make little triangular cuts to remove the stem and bud. Watching my surgical skill, mom recalled a memory from her own childhood. "Momma used to say she could get another two or three quarts from my trimmings." Apparently grandma was fun, too.

    Eventually we had the first pot ready to go on the range. I was "promoted" from cutting to stirring. "You want to make sure the apple doesn't scorch to the bottom of the pot," mom said. Armed with a wooden spoon, I stirred. The apples bobbed in the warming water. And I stirred. I was amazed to watch the apples start to melt. I ran the wooden spoon along the bottom of the pot, keenly at watch for the beginnings of scorching. The thick mass in the pot started to bubble. Trapped bubbles of gas at the bottom of the pot burst when they reached the surface.

    "Ouch!"

    "Be careful, it burns," mom said without looking back.

    "Did grandma do this to you, too?" I whined.

    "All part of the learning process."

    And I did learn. If I stirred without pause there were no bubbles to burst and burn.

    Finally I was ready to use the witch's hat. This was the pinnacle moment of the day. I ladled some cooked apple into the cone, squished the wooden mallet into the mass, and started to roll it around the inside. Apple guts squeezed through the mesh of the sieve and ran down to fill the glass bowl.

    "I'm making applesauce!" I crowed. "This is awesome."

    Two hours later my enthusiasm had ... dimmed, somewhat. It was still really cool to be doing something with my mother that she had done with her mother, and so on back the line. But, golly, it's work. And it's tedious, and apple juice is kind of lemon juice in a shallow cut.

    One other thing: add sugar before eating the fresh applesauce.
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