Tom grew up in Milwaukee, bartended in Wauwatosa in the '70s and moved here in 1984.
Commentary, observations and musings about the outdoors, life in general and maybe Tosa politics and personalities will be the order of the day. He savors a lively debate as much as terrific cooking.
The ancestral apple trees on the farm are producing a bumper crop of fruit this year. The result of which is that I've been putting-up apple products for the winter. For starters there was a giant batch of pie filling. There is apple butter too.
This past weekend I got to thinking - Tom, you need to put-up a bunch of applesauce. There is nothing better than a pleasingly tart applesauce served with potato pancakes. Or better yet - as a side to a pork tenderloin stuffed with that wonderful cherry and raisin stuffing.
I have some rather fond memories as a youngster of making applesauce with mom and dad and my little brother. This was a major fall production. Dad's role was driving everyone on the trip to the farmer for apples. Mom's role was the kitchen part. I can still recall the smell of apples cooking. There was this food mill that my brother and I gleefully got to turn. That was our job. And it yielded pints and pints of sauce that mom froze in a giant Kenmore freezer.
With all of these sanguine childhood memories tumbling about in my head I was bound and determined to recreate the experience. So I picked a big canvas tote of apples, washed them and proceeded to cut them up for cooking.
As the pile of cut-up apples grew I began nosing-about for a pot to cook them. But my favorite Calphalon stock pot smelled just a little bit like the previous day's pickle brine. That simply wasn't going to do. No way was I going to chance the contamination of the apple sauce.
Ah ha! How about the giant stainless pressure cooker?
So I put it on the stove top and proceeded to fill it with my chopped apples - just about up to the top.
Stirring the stuff I got to thinking that my apples weren't cooking. Or at least cooking fast enough.
I glanced over at the pressure cooker's lid resting on the counter.
I'm thinking - Put the lid on Tom. What possible harm could come from locking the lid on and cooking the apples for just a minute. Maybe two. No more than that though. You know - just long enough to keep the process moving along at a brisk pace. It will save time.
A little voice in my head said - Bad idea. Never cook gloppy stuff in the pressure cooker.
I dismissed the voice.
It is the manifestation of spontaneous ideas like this that are evidence of pure brilliance that eventually lead to public adulation. Or are a sign of madness and result in mayhem and destruction.
In hindsight this was the start of the mayhem.
I call it - Mistake Number One.
Locking the lid down on the pot I cranked-up the gas.
About that time my wife and the dogs returned so there was talk of their trip to town and dogs to greet.
In the mean time the pot with the locked lid sat there over the high-output burner and its raging blue flame.
Neglecting the pot was Mistake Number Two.
Mind you the elapsed time so far did not amount to much. But apples do really cook rather quickly. And with the gas roaring like an afterburner it wasn't long before the pot began to whistle.
I'm thinking - Crap! The apples have been cooking for too long already.
Mistake Number Three was acting upon the next thought that entered my head - Pop the pressure relief valve on the cooker.
With that single flip of the toggle the pressure was relieved and apple juice and sludge immediately geysered onto the wall and the stove.
With an adrenalin rush I immediately switched into damage control mode and grabbed the pot from the stove top. Transferring it to the sink I directed a stream of cold water over the top. A rapid cooling of the pot should help relieve the pressure. With that there was hope for saving my batch of applesauce. And I was hopeful. The atmosphere in the kitchen was smelling pleasantly of cooked apples.
While the pot cooled in the sink under the tap I began sopping-up the slime and goo from the stove and the wall. Having gotten that mostly under control I redirected my attentions to the pot which had finally stopped sputtering.
Turning-off the water I began to twist the lid off the top off the pot.
I'm thinking - It's not coming-off very easily. But it's stopped hissing so the pressure must have been relieved. I wonder what could be the matter?
The Fourth (and final) Mistake was dismissing the passing notion that the gunk in the pot might have clogged the pressure relief valve.
Pish tosh - I think. Leaning-back - I murmur under my breath - Watch this...
And with a final effort the lid gives-way and the loud KER-POP was immediately followed by - SPLOOCH! SPLOTCH! OUCH! (Expletive deleted)!
Cooked apples were launched under pressure all over the sink, the kitchen counter, the phone, the floor beyond and my briefcase beyond that.
And both of my hands.
Quickly plunging my hands under cold running water I'm thinking - This is not good. The applesauce has gone horribly wrong. There is molten apple lava everywhere. I've burned myself in the process. But boy - it sure smells good around here.
My wife materializes.
What's-up hon? Whatever it is it sure smells good. Oh? Troubles in the kitchen? Have things gotten out-of-hand?
Sheepishly I reply - I've had a small mishap. Can you help me out?
She pitches-in by shoveling-up the stuff with a large spatula. And as the lava cooled the dogs do their part by scouring the floor.
The burns were another matter and after soaking in icy water my wife calmly administers the aloe vera.
My hand modeling days are over.
I know what you're thinking. You could have been seriously hurt. Applesauce is dangerous business. Quit, now man. Quit while you're ahead.
You would be correct. It could have been much worse.
But quiting is not an option so Girlfriend and I went back outside to pick another tote of ripe apples.
Only this time there were bees.
Technically they weren't bees. They were those angry German yellow jackets that get so aggressive this time of year. They had been feasting on the windfall apples and didn't appreciate the intrusion.
Dodging the wasps we rapidly fill our bag with apples and beat a hasty retreat to the shelter of the kitchen.
I'm thinking - Jeez Tom. That's a couple of close calls already today. That's something you definitely don't need. Bee stings. That could really ruin your day. Imagine the hilarity in the ER if you showed up with burned hands and bee stings. The only thing funnier would be if you presented yourself with a fishing lure hooked through your ear.
The risks of all of this effort begin to weigh-upon me and the sanguine memories began to evaporate.
Nonetheless, before supper time rolled-around a big batch of fresh apples was transformed into sauce which was canned for the winter larder.
Having survived this adventure I have some advice for the rest of you.
Do as I say - not as I do.
Purchase your applesauce at the store.
Slice a pile of apples off-of the cores (leave the skins on). Discard the cores.
Place in a pot over medium heat. Add a jug of unsweetened store-bought apple juice. Cook until soft. DO NOT pressure cook.
Spoon cooked apples into a Foley Food Mill and crank the stuff into a bowl or pot. You may have to periodically remove some of the skins but don't worry too much about it.
Add sugar (or Splenda) and cinnamon to taste.
Refrigerate for short term use or freeze. For a shelf-stable product pour into jars and cook in a boiling water bath - 20 minutes for pints and 30 minutes for quarts. If a lid doesn't pop - put the jar in the fridge for immediate use. The shelf-stable stuff will keep for a couple of years.