“A baked potato!” she yelled.
“Huh?” What was that about? Her face, illuminated by the fluorescent shimmer of the interior of the fridge, was filled with an expression of longing that I could not fathom.
The potato was a shriveled specimen, wrapped in foil, a few days old. My mother was an uninspired cook. Leftover meatloaf, stringy pot-roast, gray-green overcooked peas were standard icebox occupants. Yet a plain potato moved Julie to the edge of tears.
Julie’s family was what we now euphemistically label as dysfunctional. Back then, when we were in high school, we understood implicitly that the whole lot of them was not just eccentric, but crazy. Lord knows what that poor girl had in her fridge.
Oh, the normalcy of a leftover baked potato.
As I sat eating a baked apple the other morning the memory of Julie popped into my head. The apple, warmed in the microwave and then topped with cold, plain yogurt, smushed and swirled together in the bowl, made the most pleasant of breakfasts. Hot and cold, sweet and tart, nothing fancy. Yet I seem to be the only one in my family who appreciates that particular pleasure. Leftover baked apples are the wallflowers of our fridge, sadly rejected and abandoned by foragers. They’re just so ordinary. So very plain and brown.
It dawned on me at breakfast that applesauce might be looked upon with a little more respect by the men in the family than baked apples because of childhood associations. When apples are baked with cinnamon and cider, the sauce takes on deep roasted flavors and makes standard applesauce seem pallid and anemic. I was sure it would entice them, and it did.
With all the feasting and special foods of the season, I know that when the hoopla dies down we will be craving something to soothe our palates and our souls. Today, I think of Julie and the baked potato, and I am grateful for simple, everyday pleasures.
I confess that I don’t normally like cinnamon in applesauce, but here I concede that it adds a welcome, warming undertone if you don’t overdo it (plus it’s good for you!) The cider cooks down and sweetens the sauce, so you needn’t add sugar. Use any apples you happen to have on hand. Some apples will take longer to cook than others. Consider this “recipe” as a guideline.
Makes 4 cups
12 apples, cored
3/4 to 1 cup apple cider
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees.
2. In a 9- by 12-inch baking dish, arrange the apples. Fill the centers with cider, and sprinkle with cinnamon. Bake for one hour, or until the apples are very soft, almost bursting. Leave to cool briefly.
3. While the apples are warm, pass them through a food mill. Discard the skins and seeds.