Falling into a comfortable routine


Fran Ostendorf, EditorA walk in the woods. A stroll on an empty beach. A ride out of town to get pumpkins. An afternoon spent picking apples. The next afternoon making applesauce.

Fall has always been my favorite season.

I was the kid who always liked to go back to school (despite the sleepless nights before the first day).

And the tradition continued with our kids. The anticipation started when the class lists were posted on the front doors of the local elementary school several days before the start of classes. Discussions revolved around who was in which class and what the new teacher would be like.

At some point, several weeks into the school year, we started visiting an orchard somewhere in Rhode Island and spending a little time picking apples.

I can’t really explain why or how this happens, but the annual trek became a family tradition. So much so that it continues today, even though the kids have moved out. They come home just to go to a favorite orchard and then they leave again, taking only a few handfuls of our apple harvest. Of course, as the years have gone by, the number of apples filling the bags has grown and grown.

Like many family traditions, the apple-picking moments are, well, priceless.

We would always return home to bake muffins and make crisps (known as apple stuff in our family). And, of course, applesauce. Now, I sometimes find myself alone in the kitchen making sauce. But, the sauce is a labor of love – and it just tastes so much better than anything you buy in a store. The last of the homemade sauce always appears on the table at Hanukkah with the latkes: It’s another family tradition.

The kids (yes, they are grown, but they’ll always be kids, won’t they?) are sometimes upset that we continue this without them – as though family traditions don’t count if they aren’t involved. But my husband and I have enjoyed trying new orchards and new varieties of apples on our few outings to pick without an entourage.

This year, I bought fresh-picked apples at a farmers market a few weeks ago. Our apple picking, for the first time, threatens to be a victim of too much to do and too little time.

It seemed too early for apples, but the people at the farm stand said they’d been picking for several weeks. They say it’s a great year for apples in Rhode Island.

I felt badly about letting go of a tradition and missing out on part of the joy of the season. But the applesauce is still part of the picture. Did I mention I make sauce the old-fashioned way? I’ve got the food mill out, and soon I’ll be quartering the apples and cooking them with a little cider in the big pot. It makes a pretty pink applesauce, no need for color enhancement. There are already some apple muffins in the freezer. And I think a crisp will be on the menu soon.

Some traditions, I’ve learned, still work even after a few modifications to accommodate our always busy lifestyles. I’m trying to stick with as many traditions as I can. So, with or without the entire family, I’m always ready for the traditional ride to apple country!