After reading all the Michael Pollan books, finding a cute basket to take to the Saturday Farmer’s Market and spending a day attached to my iPhone researching the guidelines for certified organic, my mom blew into town from the Midwest to remind me how ridiculously-Californian I’d become.
I was in the kitchen making a big bowl of pasta. Pasta had become my fallback food since I gave up meat. I gave it up on the notion I could eat healthier by avoiding meat, but instead I had become a lazy vegetarian and was always substituting carbs for protein, defeating the purpose. Nonetheless, the pasta dish was going to be impressive—I had an artistic-looking jar of pesto from one of those upscale cooking stores that I was going to throw over top of it and then I was going to clip some basil from a flowerpot outside, showing off my homegrown gardening skills.
Then, out of nowhere, I was getting scolded for committing a transgression that I wasn’t yet able to identify, but it seemed to involve a half-rotten apple with a couple of wormholes in it.
“Why aren’t you using these apples that are falling off the tree in the back of the house?”
Besides the one she was holding, my mother had four or five apples in the bottom of her shirt, which she had conveniently converted into a bowl on the fly after she’d discovered the apples on the way to pass some time randomly pulling weeds in my backyard. The bowl-shirt tactic was a technique I had forgotten existed, but one I had to use frequently as a child when I was outside playing and was summoned from the kitchen window, “bring some tomatoes in from the garden,” or “pick those green beans that are out there.”
To say I didn’t know I had an apple tree in my yard would be inaccurate, but somehow, I’d forgotten it existed. It was nestled along the side of the house in an area that was almost impossible to find a use for, other than storing the garbage bins. The first few years we’d lived in the house, I was working long hours and juggling a difficult commute. The apples always seemed to be rotten by the time I noticed them, and I’d tried one of the apples, and they were tart, making me think it was an apple tree whose apples, inexplicably, weren’t meant for eating.
“There are all sorts of apples out there,” she said. “You don’t make applesauce out of them?”
Again, to say I didn’t realize that applesauce could be made from apples, was technically inaccurate, but I couldn’t recall a time I thought of applesauce as coming from anyplace other than a jar. Well, until I had kids, then I thought of it as coming from a little jar, and then a couple years later, thought of it as coming from individually-portioned plastic containers with peel-off foil lids.
After looking at the apples that were now on my newly-designed granite countertops, my instinct was to feel annoyed at having my healthy, homemade pasta dinner interrupted with what I viewed as yardwork. The apples needed to be thrown away. Or, to be precise, because, after all, I’m trying to do my part: they needed to be put into the green bin with other compostable materials and then dragged to the curb not more than the HOA-designated time frame of 12 hours prior to the start of Wednesday garbage pick-up.
Before I could say “pesto pasta” three times fast, she’d managed to find an old paring knife that I didn’t know existed and had begun working some sort of Ninja magic on the apples and was peeling off the skin, carving out the core and slicing it into pieces faster than I could reach for my ergonomically-designed black OXO potato peeler that I’d received as a wedding gift three months after spending an hour with a loaded UPC symbol scanning gun, which I’d pointed at every ridiculous thing a new bride has been convinced she’ll need after marriage.
It doesn’t get more organic than this tree: I do nothing to it. Not a thing. I don’t water it, I don’t fertilize it, I don’t spray it. It’s my own backyard Giving Tree, except in my version of the story, I’m a boy who pays no attention to the tree, but pays lots of money to drive across town to ask a farmer whether his apples are certified organic and then pays a premium for an apple that I bought next to a woman who has just explained to me the benefits of “suspended yoga.”
I haven’t abandoned using high-level internet research to impact my eating. Every year when autumn rolls around, I try to figure out what kind of apples I have. I think they’re Granny Smith, but Mom says no. Whatever they are, I’ve learned that it takes about seven apples to make a bowl of homemade applesauce (accounting for loss of apple due to rotted areas or wormy areas that need to be cut off), and the applesauce needs about a tablespoon of sugar to cut the tartness. I boil them, and put them in the blender with some of the water and the sugar, then I sprinkle on cinnamon at the end.
I use the same blender I packed in my hatchback over 20 years ago and hauled 3,000 miles with me across the country, all so that I could someday make organic applesauce, which, decades after my California conversion, I had forgotten was possible to make from apples, which come from trees that sometimes grow in the backs of yards and produce the most authentic category of organic applesauce possible—the kind that occurs from forgotten apples that have been rediscovered by Midwestern moms.