Simplest Applesauce

I was looking forward to the week after Christmas as a time to spend time with my younger sister Emma, work out, maybe make some treats, and generally take advantage of Jonji being on vacation for a week. But a few days after Christmas we both started getting COVID symptoms, though at first we were convinced it was just the cold my mom had gotten the week before. Lo and behold, Jonji and I tested positive, Phoebe staying strong for several days before finally coming down with a fever.

The illness itself wasn’t too bad for us, only about a day or so of uncomfortable aches and chills, plus the standard cold-style sore throat and cough a few days before that. The worst part (and I mean worst for us—of course I’m beyond relieved we’re recovering well otherwise) is the loss of taste and smell. Maybe it should have been obvious, but I didn’t fully realize the extent to which I use smell while cooking—whether something is burning, for instance—but the lack of taste is staggering. I get tantalizing hints of flavor, like the food died and came back as a ghost, the only clear elements being salty, sweet, spicy, or bitter. You can imagine I now punch up those tastes, rather like the ghosts in Harry Potter who let food rot so they get a more pungent hint of flavor. In this case, however, I add a little more salt rather than let the food go bad (although I honestly wouldn’t be able to tell you if something was a bit off, at this point). I even crave spicy food just so I can feel something, even if that sensation hurts a little bit.

Phoebe’s been a trouper while we’ve holed up at home, patiently allowing us to parade an endless cycle of toys in front of her in an attempt to entertain her while we convalesce. She’s still so young that she needs our full attention to keep her happy, so we’ve read a lot of books in the last week and helped her walk around the coffee table more times than I can count. Her naps have been our lifeline, though her little toothy smile when she wakes up is also an anecdote to the gloom. We’ve gone on a couple of bundled-up neighborhood walks to get a change of scenery, arriving back home exhausted from the short journeys. On New Year’s Eve (when I was just starting to lose my taste), I made brownies so we could feel like we were celebrating in some small way, and Phoebe got a kick out of the photo shoot. Maybe I just need to take more pictures of food to entertain her. (If you’re wondering, I could not taste the brownies the next day. Absolute tragedy. They are currently residing in the freezer, awaiting my taste buds’ triumphant return.)

And so, another year done, another just begun. I plan to work on a couple of creative projects this year, including posting more recipes. To start the year off with a bang (hint: that’s sarcasm), here’s a recipe to keep you warm and cozy, a basic building block to satisfy adults and kids alike. It may not look like much (in fact, it may be my least attractive recipe to date), but it’s wonderful spooned into oatmeal, in or on pancakes, spread on toast, or eaten by itself. You can add other flavors—vanilla, nutmeg, cloves, lemon juice, etc.—or leave it as is. Use pink-fleshed apples for a particularly joyful experience (this is what people mean by party hard, yes?). If you want the full Phoebe experience, mix a little puréed spinach and peanut butter into it and eat that for breakfast (she ate that for breakfast for at least two months straight). When you’re feeling low on energy, tired, or recovering from an obnoxious virus, or if you have young baby in need of sustenance, this applesauce is your friend.

Simplest Applesauce
makes approximately 3 cups

9 mid-sized apples, a variety of sweet and tart (Farmer’s Markets have the best-flavored, unique apples)
1 cinnamon stick
1 cup water

Rinse and peel your apples. Cut them in half and cut out the core, then cut each half into rough bite-sized chunks. Repeat with the remaining apples. Add the chunks to a large pot, then stir in your cinnamon stick and the 1 cup water. Place over medium heat.

Once the water comes to a boil, turn the temperature to low, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 45 minutes, or until the applesauce is only slightly chunky but mostly homogenous. Let cool, then discard the cinnamon stick (or rinse and save for a future batch).

Store the applesauce in tightly sealed containers in the fridge for 1-2 weeks, or freeze in jars with an inch or more of headspace (if you don’t, the jars will likely crack). Eat with oatmeal, pancakes, muffins, toast, by itself, or any other application you see fit.

Enjoy!

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