One Bad Apple: A Meditation on Organic Applesauce

I spent the week before Labor Day at my family farm in Michigan making applesauce. This has been a custom of mine for over 25 years. When the old Transparent apple tree was clearly in its last years, I had asked Dad to buy a new Transparent sapling to replace it. This tree’s apples are not quite the same as the old one but they still make nice applesauce. Last year there had been no apples on this tree. This year it was loaded.

I would go out every day with my dishpan to collect freshly fallen apples and a few from the tree that were ripe enough to come off with a gentle tug. Then I sat down on the front porch, shadowed by the lilac tree, with apples, a bowl of water, and the pot to receive the apple slices. Fresh breezes, bird song, and sometimes the distant sound of farming activity surrounded me. My arthritic joints limited me to processing about 40 to 50 apples per day: enough to make two batches of applesauce.

On the third day, about apple number 118, I reflected that I was making organic applesauce. Our family has never sprayed our fruit trees. Neither do any of our relatives or friends among the farming community of Huron County. Homemade applesauce has always been organic applesauce.

A few of my apples looked as smooth and unblemished as anyone would buy in a chain grocery store but most of them did not present such artificial perfection. Many had streaks, bumps, or blotches—the response of the apple to heal itself from abrasions caused by the rubbing of a leaf or twig beside it. Many had little holes indicating that something had tried to bore inside. Sometimes there would be a black spot—indicating perhaps the apple’s effort to seal off such a hole, or the attempt to create such a hole.

Taking my paring knife, I would cut the apple in half, starting at the stem and carrying through the bottom back to the stem. Sometimes the result was clear, white interior. Sometimes it revealed the ravages of the creature who had invaded, and occasionally the worm or bug itself. Then, quarter the apple, cut out the core, and with three or four strokes, remove the peel. The streaks, bumps, and blemishes disappeared with the skin. Sometimes the black spots were equally superficial. Some of the holes were merely subcutaneous and easily removed with a small nick of the knife. Sometimes, even the smallest holes were the ones that went deep into the core. It was hard to tell from looking at the skin.

I recalled my son Chris’ indignation at an FGC Gathering many years ago over an encounter he had with an older woman attender. They had met in the long underpass connecting the two parts of the campus where FGC was being held.

The woman had stopped on seeing him and sputtered, "You—you terrorist!"

He came up to our room hurt and indignant. "How could she say that? She didn’t know me at all!"

He was in his teenage, rebellious stage; sporting leather jacket, lots of silver chains, and a mohawk haircut.

"Chris," I said, "Look at yourself in the mirror. What do you think a little old lady, meeting you in a dark tunnel, is likely to think?"

It can be hard to tell from looking at the surface.

I would carefully pare away the tunnels made by worm or bug. Always what I had left to put in the cooking pot was far more than what I had discarded. One bad apple—we all know the saying—can spoil the whole barrel. True enough if all you do is pick apples and just put them all in a barrel. That’s the way it is with natural apples. The worms or bugs will gladly spread from one apple to another, enjoying the feast you intended for your family and friends. But with time and careful attention, those same apples make delicious organic applesauce, or a pie, or dried apple slices.

Friends speak about "that of God in every one." I reflected as I pared that there is also much more good than bad in people. However, it requires time and careful attention to free it for the feast God intends us to be for each other.