Amid life's crazy times, working with food can be a nice escape

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By: Rachel Shenk

Rachel Shenk/La Bonne Vie

The last couple of weeks, I have been off of the writing grid. Not from lack of things to write about, but because sometimes life takes its own path and all you can do is hang on and ride with it. Most days, baking is my focus but of late, being a daughter has taken a forefront as I help my 91-year-old mother navigate a knee replacement. During the day, my muscle memory carries me through while at night, I turn my attention to care taking.

As the summer waned and the autumn waxed, I missed some of my seasonal deadlines. I did not can peaches in August, though I did get my fill of them fresh or baked in pies and crumbles.

I also missed salsa and tomato sauce canning. With my time at a premium, it was all I could do to get a daily run or walk in to clear my mind before crashing on the couch. But since I had ordered my favorite McIntosh apples from Creekside Farm, I found myself, after a long day of baking and mixing at work, at home one Friday night, chopping a bushel of apples. Jim was away at a music gig so I did not have the usual help and companionship to get the job done. But I knew if I didn’t get to them, I would be left with a crate full of rotten apples.

Determined and focused, I set into them. The canner came up from the basement, the jars from the pantry. I washed the apples in the sink, used my sharp paring knife to chop them into all available eight quart cooking pots, added a teeny bit of water and started them cooking on a low flame.

As the apples started to simmer, I caught a whiff of that old familiar smell. The steam rose as I stirred them frequently, making sure they were not sticking to the bottom of the pans. Softened, I put them through the Foley food mill and now it’s time to can. Here, my muscle memory carries me. But as I work, something comes over me. I forget the long days and nights. I let go of worries and pain. I allow my body to follow the familiar motions and I own this moment for what it is. This comforting ritual brings me back to life, as I am living it right now, late at night, in this kitchen. It’s these seasonal rituals that keep me grounded in the now.

Later, when the jars come out of the canner and I hear those pinging sounds that indicate success, I sit back on the couch, exhausted but happy, knowing that life goes on amidst the hurdles. Working with food is like that!

Here is an apple recipe my mother used to make for our family. I love it’s chewy texture and caramelly flavor. It came in handy when I shared tea with her and my sister recently.

Apple nut sponge

Ingredients

  • ½ cup flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 cup chopped apples

Directions

Mix flour, baking powder and salt. In a mixing bowl, beat eggs well, add sugar and beat with a mixer until creamy. Stir in the dry ingredients and mix. Add vanilla, nuts and apples. Pour this mixture into a well-greased 10 -inch pie pan and bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes. Serve warm with whipped cream. Serves six.

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