My family’s applesauce tradition started back when I was little, sitting on a kitchen stool, carefully turning the crank on my mother’s peeler/corer/slicer. I loved to watch the peel slide off, hoping for one long piece. And I loved the apple at the end, centerless, wound in a single spiraled ring.
Every fall it was apple season in my mother's kitchen, and there I sat, turning and watching.
We’ve taken what I learned on that kitchen stool and broadened it to match our own lives and children. Autumn in the Cascades is too lovely to miss, so we’ve emphasized the getting of the apples in addition to what happens to them next: weekend trips to pick our own or a quick day trip to buy boxes from a friendly farmer. And as lovely as those excursions are, there have been years when we couldn’t get out of town. No worries — we buy from a neighborhood market. There’s really no way to get it wrong, which makes it my kind of project.
As a family project, applesauce is incredibly forgiving. In a busy year, we get our apples as late as Halloween. If you come to our house during that time, be prepared for someone to put a peeler in your hand. We sit at the table or on the front porch, peeling and talking. During apple season, I stop griping about kids planting themselves in front of the television. Now, screen time brings us together. We find something easy to watch, grab peelers, knives and a box from the porch, and we’re off.
Our family does the peeling, slicing and coring by hand. I find it at least as easy, and I like that everyone has a job. Little hands can work on peeling a single apple for 15 minutes; since that apple is going to end up as sauce, how much damage can those little hands really do? Still, that nifty machine is a perfectly acceptable route.
In my mother’s kitchen, applesauce was a one-weekend production. In mine, large blocks of time are harder to come by. Our apple project pokes itself into crannies of time as we move through the fall, fitting in where it may. But I like it that, for about eight weeks every year, my house smells like cinnamon as often as not. After we peel, core and slice a box or two, we put the slices in our largest pot and put them in the fridge. When the weekend comes (or if I’m not too sleepy after an evening peeling), it’s sauce time. Like I said: very forgiving.
There are so many ways to get applesauce right that you can focus on enjoying yourselves. We like our sauce chunky and with cinnamon, but some like it smooth and just apples. We usually can ours, but it also freezes well.
By mid-November, quart jars of applesauce gleam on the shelf.
All year long, we pull them down. We put our applesauce on oven pancakes during weekend breakfasts or on pork chops at dinnertime. A teenage rower, just home from crew practice, can eat most of a quart. We pack a jar in bubble wrap and put it in a box with graham crackers to send to our eldest, at college in Vermont. Yes, there are plenty of apples in Vermont already, but chunky applesauce on graham crackers tastes like home to her. She was 11 months old when I looked back to admire her on the way back from Leavenworth. There she was in her car seat, surrounded by boxes of Jonagolds, tiny tooth marks on every apple she could reach.
Margot Page lives and works in Seattle. In whatever time she can find, she’s writing a full-length memoir of the year her family lived in Costa Rica. You can find more of her writing at margot-page.com.
Picking apples with your kids in Washington
Jones Creek Farms
If you want to head north instead of east to pick some apples, take a drive out to Jones Creek Farms in the Skagit Valley, which grows an astonishing 120-plus varieties in its orchard. The atmosphere at the family-run farm is relaxed and friendly, and if you’re lucky, farmer Talea Price will come out and tell you about the heirloom apples she grows — some of which came from orchards that have long been paved over. “A lot of the heirloom apples were discarded,” she says, because they don’t fit the current market’s demands. “But they have amazing quality.”
For applesauce, Price recommends Gravensteins, which she calls “the king of the kitchen here on the West Coast,” and the European heirloom apple Calville Blanc d’Hiver. “It usually comes in October,” she says. “And it’s just phenomenal for applesauce.” The farm’s U-pick apples — all varieties — are just $1 per pound, and Price encourages visitors to sample as many as they want as they pick. “We want people to go out and have a good time,” she says.
Visit on Oct. 14–16 for the annual harvest festival, when families can tour the farm, sample different varieties of apples and pick some to take home, visit the pumpkin patch, and enjoy hay rides, fresh hot cider, music and entertainment.
Other great places for apple picking in Washington
The Cascade Loop is a beautiful drive in the fall, and apples are plentiful at stands along the way.
If you want to get out and pick your own, find a farm at Puget Sound Fresh — be sure to call ahead to make sure the picking is on!
Cashmere and Leavenworth are full of fun events. Visit leavenworth.org for calendars, lodging and restaurant information.
Or just stop by one of the farmers’ markets all around the state; there’s sure to be one close to home.