PUTTIN’ UP APPLESAUCE

This story was really my sister Becky’s—I was too young to remember this annual event. This is exactly what Becky wrote about it:

Picking apples and making applesauce was a family affair. We’d climb the apple trees and shake the limbs with all our might, and then ran around under the trees gathering up the apples. From there they went into a big wash tub that also substituted for our swimming pool in the summer. The women cored and quartered the apples. Then they were put into a big pot to simmer. When softened, they were poured into a sieve to strain off the skins and seeds. The sauce was put into hot sterilized jars and processed. Sugar wasn’t added until the jars were opened. We had applesauce with every meal all year long.

My Grandma Schmidt had sour apple trees growing in her back yard. I don’t remember if there was one or several of these trees. I do remember Grandma filling a little red wagon with them and instructing me to “take these apples to the sisters”. “The sisters” were the Franciscan nuns who lived in a house behind St Leo’s school. There was St Leo’s church and behind it, the priests’ house, then St Leo’s school, and just behind it, the convent. It always seemed slightly naughty to see the kitchen or living room of the nuns’ home. I remember having my piano lessons in their living room a few times and a sister was always working in the kitchen. I think I may have been given a piece of candy for delivering apples to the sisters.
Grandma would instruct a grandson to climb the biggest apple tree and shake the branches, to get the apples to fall. Then, it seems, every able-bodied female participated in making apple sauce. First all of the apples had to be peeled, and cored. Then they were quartered. And possibly the apples WEREN’T peeled, as I originally thought. But I think Grandma would have wanted the peels to feed to her chickens or a nasty goose that she kept in the backyard one year.

Thinking back on all of this, it’s quite possible that three kitchen stoves were put to use making applesauce, because my aunt and uncle lived on the third floor; Grandma and Grandpa had the entire second floor, and my parents had part of the first floor while another aunt and uncle lived in the other part.

When I was five, my parents bought their first home of their own, so they lived in my grandparents 3-storied brick house for nine years. My Aunt Dolly & Uncle Hans lived on the third floor for much longer, until they bought a house on North Bend Road. Uncle Hans was in the navy in WW2 so that may be why it took them longer. My Aunt Annie & Uncle Al must have moved out of Grandma’s house when I was still very young; I can’t remember them ever living there. They bought a saloon in partnership with Uncle Al’s brother and had a place called “Shille’s Café” out on East Miami River road, across from the river.

But getting back to the applesauce making.

Dusty boxes of canning jars, that everyone called “Mason jars” even though the name “Ball” was engraved on the side of the jar, were brought up from the cellar and I wonder now where they were stored throughout the year—maybe in grandpa’s wine cellar that was under the front porch. All of the jars had to be washed in hot soapy water and then scalded in boiling water. Outside my mother and one of the aunts, and my sister Becky, were peeling apples, cutting away the bad spots. When enough apples had been peeled and cored and chopped, they were dumped into a big pot and rinsed off, then water was added and the apples were put on top of a stove to start cooking. Grandma had a long handled wooden spoon for stirring. She was in charge of everything, never mind that her daughter and two daughters in law were grown women. Grandma was always in charge—sort of like a drill sergeant.

From somewhere in the depths of the cellar a cone-shaped sieve with an odd shaped wooden thing that looked like a misshapen cone shaped rolling pin was brought up to the kitchen and they all took turns feeding the cooked apples into the sieve and pushing the misshapen rolling pin around so that all the sauce was forced through the sieve. When there was ENOUGH applesauce, it went back into a pot on top of the stove, to heat until it was boiling. The applesauce was poured into the hot jars, lids tightly screwed on and the jars put down in yet another pot of boiling water to cook, after coming back to a boil, a certain length of time – perhaps twenty minutes or half an hour.

During the war years, no sugar was added to the applesauce even though those apples were pretty sour. What I DO remember is that, for years after, my mother kept jars and jars of applesauce in a cupboard in our basement on Sutter Street. She would open a jar to go with supper and we’d be allowed to sprinkle a little sugar on the applesauce to make it sweeter. Sugar, you know, was rationed during the War years.

We always had applesauce…even if it wasn’t sweetened. And we all loved Grandma’s apple strudel. Ah, that’s another story.

–Sandra Lee Smith

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