I wonder if this is what most apples used to look like. Back when all apples were wild, or if planted in one of Johnny’s orchards, unsprayed by chemicals that would conveniently kill the bugs and worms that leave their marks, providing our grocers with only unmarred, shiny, symmetrically-plump fruits.
I remember being a kid, and seeing drawings in books of an apple with a worm poking out its smiling green head. It was so horrifying and disgusting to me, and my thought was that it must be a really horrible thing, to bite into an apple and find a worm. But I also knew that it had never happened to me, and I also had never heard of it really happening to anyone I knew. I thought of that friendly worm as a freak, semi-fictional work of nature — good for the book illustrator, but not real.
Last summer, when I was first introduced to the apples at the market, I naively assumed that they weren’t sprayed. The farmer who sold them also sold other pesticide-free produce, and since so many of the vendors at the market advertise as organic, I thought surely these apples were the same. But when I finally asked, I was told that no, they spray them. That they have to — that you just can’t grow apples in Indiana and not spray them. I believe him, if for no other reason than the fact that he seems to have integrity in all other areas of his farming. And he knows what we (his customers) expect. We expect beautiful apples.
And I buy them, in great quantity. They are local, and the spraying occurs very early in the season, so they are a low-spray apple of sorts. And we eat them, skin and all, and they are delicious. But when it comes time for applesauce and apple butter, I peel them before I cook them, thinking that, since the skins won’t be a part of the final product, I might as well remove them to rid the sauce of as much pesticide residue as possible. I have no scientifically-based evidence that this is helpful for an apple sprayed in early-season, but it’s just a hunch. A hunch, and kind of a pain.
Last week, during my first apple-butter-canning adventure, I was reading some of the wonderful prose that precedes the recipes in The Yellow Farmhouse Cookbook (this cookbook is classic Kimball, friends — I love it):
Marie Briggs put up dozens of 1-quart Ball jars of apple butter every fall. Most of the apples were small wild apples with spots and not a few worms, but these were trimmed off or cut out before cooking. The apples were collected in large empty grain sacks, which were strong enough to hold more than one bushel at a time. When the bags got too heavy, the kids would drag them across the ground all the way to the side porch. We used to slather Marie’s apple butter on a thick slab of just-toasted anadama bread after a cold November afternoon spent grouse or deer hunting.
So this past Saturday, as I picked up my CSA box from the Homestead Growers stand at the Broad Ripple Farmer’s Market, my eyes landed on a few crates of apples that looked about like those Kimball described. The sign said they were certified organic, and the farmer said the trees were on their land, and they’d never thought about selling them before but thought they’d bring them to market to see how they’d do. I bought 10 pounds.
This week, for the first time, I’ll make applesauce without peeling (or even coring) the apples. Instead, I’ll chop them, looking closely for worms, cook them down with a little sugar and lemon juice, and run the whole sweet sloppy mess through a food mill, catching all the skins and seeds and tough spots. This will not only make my job a little easier, but will also give us our very first jars of homemade, certified-organic applesauce.
Sometimes, an ugly apple is a beautiful thing.