Posts Tagged ‘Calhoun County’

The tree was situated toward the back of the lot. It wasn’t very tall, but it grew long and sideways. Its limbs stretched out like a dancer’s arms and the apples grew at the very ends, as if holding the fruit in its palms. ~ from Garden Spells, by Sarah Addison Allen

Our apple tree

The apple tree in Garden Spells grows apples that reveal the most significant event in one’s life. In September 2010 our apple tree offered us apples in its palms. I picked a large basketful of fruit that Labor Day weekend and made my own applesauce. It was a significant event in its own right.

I found that making applesauce is very much like writing—there are many different methods, and lots of ingredients you can add in, but you don’t know until it’s done how much it will resemble your mental image of True Applesauce. There’s a delicate balance between disappointment and delight.

The first draft of my applesauce involved cinnamon, sugar, lemon peel, lemon juice, and a dash of salt.  When it was all done I tried it, then added more cinnamon and a dash of nutmeg. Once it was cold I decided that perhaps it needed a bit more sugar and a dash of vanilla. The flavor still seemed dull to me. Disappointing.

The next day I made a batch of applesauce sweetened with sugar and Red Hots. I stirred the candies in while the apples were hot, and they melted beautifully. The applesauce tasted like a candied apple and was a pretty, glistening rose color, but I regretted the artificial ingredients—Red Hots are not organic.

On my third try at perfect applesauce, I called Mama to find out what recipe she used. “The one from the Betty Crocker cookbook,” she said. Good—I had a copy of the Betty Crocker cookbook. I looked it up, and found that I needed only five ingredients: apples, water, brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Nothing else.  And that was it: the True Applesauce I had been craving.

I’m obsessing about applesauce now because this year our apple tree failed to bloom, so of course there were no apples, either. I’m not sure why, but I’m hoping it’s a cyclical thing that will sort itself out naturally. I did make one batch this year, because Rachel gave me a dozen apples from her aunt’s orchard in Calhoun County. Here’s Betty Crocker’s recipe:


4 medium apples, sliced

1/2 cup of water

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Heat apples and water to boiling over medium heat. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered until the apples are tender, stirring occasionally. This will take about 10 minutes. Stir in remaining ingredients. Heat to boiling; boil and stir for one minute. You can use a potato masher to break the apples down more. If you prefer smooth applesauce, I pity you but you can put it in a blender after the mixture is cooled. Makes four 1-cup servings, 190 calories each.

Note: I used to make an applesauce cake from time to time using a recipe I pulled from a Martha Stewart Living magazine. I stopped making it because it was a lot of trouble and no one else seemed to like it. The batter was mostly butter and sugar, with a little flour, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg, 2 ½ cups of applesauce, toasted pecans, and a thinly sliced apple. That was topped with a streusel of brown sugar, cinnamon, butter, cloves, ginger, nutmeg, and a little flour. The final product, baked in a 10″ springform pan, baked for about 2 hours and filled the house with a heavenly aroma. It then had to be refrigerated overnight before it was just right—dense and sticky and thick with apples. It weighed about six pounds.

I am not making it again, though, because while it is fragrant and tasty and feels like a huge accomplishment, it is also scary-full of butter and sugar. Comparable to writing a sestina, I think.

From now on I will stick with homemade applesauce, plain and simple.


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Often referred to as the ‘Kingdom’, Calhoun County is sparsely populated with only 5 incorporated towns. … The lack of easy transportation into Calhoun County has meant that the county [retains] the feeling of a small but active agricultural community of the late 19th and early 20th century and has allowed four ferries to prosper. – “Visitors Guide to Calhoun County, Illinois

Calhoun County is practically an island. Bounded on the east by the Illinois River and on the west by the Mississippi, it is narrowly connected to the rest of the state at the north. From St. Louis we took the Winfield Ferry across the Mississippi. (The normal ferry, the Golden Eagle, closes when the river is high, and the Winfield Ferry opens.) Some of the houses on the Missouri side of the river were surrounded by water, and the owners’ cars were parked on high ground near the ferry dock. Not that there was a dock; on both sides of the river the ferry simply nudges into the sandy, gravelly shoreline.

From the ferry we drove about a mile through the woods on a single-lane dirt road lined with the prettiest Queen Anne’s Lace I’ve ever seen. The landscape is charming, with quirky sights around every corner, like a barn with a quilt pattern painted on the side. Road signs are scarce, and we nearly ran a stop sign because it was so faded and askew.

We were only able to navigate this route at all because of my friend Rachel. Most of her family lives in Batchtown, where her uncle presides as mayor. Rachel’s parents lost their home in the 1993 Mississippi flood. Rachel said that for some time after the flood they could fish in her father’s fields for catfish; they were pulling them in as fast as they could cast a line. Rachel’s parents rebuilt on higher land across from the house where Rachel’s father was born, so we drove from there to a flooded field by the Mississippi to do a little field-fishing of our own.

What I didn’t know is that you apparently fish for catfish with something called  “stinkbait.” It came in a white bucket and looked like dark brown mud (to be nice about it). And it stinks. So what happens is you tie a little old artificial worm onto your line and then you have Rachel’s brother-in-law mold a glob of stinkbait around it. The difficulty is that if you pull your worm through the water too much the stinkbait comes off, so it has to be reapplied fairly frequently.

Alex, the brother-in-law, got his children set up first. His 7-year-old daughter, Lexie, and the 3-year-old twins, Layla and Levi, were pretty revved up about the whole idea of stinkbait. They were less interested in keeping their bobbers still in the water, though, and they were constantly trolling their lines and then getting hung up on plants that in normal times would not have been in the water. This led to an unusually high rate of stinkbait loss. In fact, Alex never did get his own line in the water.

I did my part by helping unsnag lines and re-cast tiny plastic fishing rods. In the process I accidentally got stinkbait on my right thumbnail. Throwing up seemed like a reasonable response, but instead I closed my eyes and wished for a 55-gallon drum of Purel. Finally I wiped the stinkbait off with a leaf.

Late in the afternoon we had a cookout—barbecued pork chops on the grill, fried chicken, Justine’s grilled cabbage, Suzanne’s corn pudding, bratwurst, potato salad, beets, cole slaw, Aunt Jane’s Italian cream cake, my pound cake, and brownies. Aunt Jane and Uncle B’s home is on a hill with peach orchards beyond and a wonderful view of the countryside from every angle. (Note: Calhoun County is famous for its peaches. I had no idea.)

Near sunset, we headed out to take the ferry back to Missouri. Layla (the 3-year old twin) waved good-bye. Her mouth was full.

“What are you eating, Layla?” I asked her.

“Brownie.” She opened her mouth to show me.

“Looks like stinkbait to me,” I told her.

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