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That night at supper they ate the last of the applesauce. All her jars were empty, the boy?s mother said. It was time to make more.
But, she said, there didn?t seem to be any apples left on the tree out back. In the spring there had been a lot of little ones hanging on. She?d thought there would be plenty for applesauce. They must have fallen off, but she hadn?t seen any drops. How (and here the mother sounded bewildered) could they have just disappeared?
The boy said some had gotten knocked off from him working up in the treehouse. He hadn?t eaten too many, he said, and he?d only thrown a few. But his sister didn?t quite believe this.
The mother guessed they would find apples somewhere; they would just have to be on the lookout.
The very next evening, when they were all on the way home from town, going up Knobley Mountain, she told the father to stop the car, quick. Over there where she was pointing, in somebody?s yard, was a tree.
"Maybe they don?t want the apples," said the mother. "Go ask."
"Of course they want the apples," said the father.
"You don?t know," said the mother. "All those apples, and nobody?s even picked up the ones on the ground. Never mind. I?ll go ask."
And even before she got back in the car, the boy could tell they were going to make applesauce.
At home there were the groceries to help carry in while the father hauled out the ladder and tied it to the top of the car. The boy collected the empty baskets in the cellar, and his father stuck them in the trunk. The sister said she wanted to go along and help pick, too, and the mother came running out with some grocery bags for them to take along, even though the father was sure they wouldn?t need any bags.
And then they headed back over the mountain, just the father and the boy and the sister.
Up close, now, they could see that the apples on the ground were old and rotted and being eaten by bees. The best ones in the tree were way out on the ends of the branches where there were no good places for the father to prop the ladder, although he tried.
They would just have to shake the apples down.
They drove off the bees and heaped all the bad apples together, away from the tree. Then the boy and his sister climbed up high and sent the good ones all swishing down, and they rolled and bumped into each other and sometimes the father, too, chasing after them.
He filled up the baskets and the bags and put them in the trunk and in the back seat of the car, and some in the front seat, even, and then he tied the ladder up on top again.
The mother seemed pleased when they got back home with the car so loaded down. She said to put the apples on the porch for the night; they?d have to get started on the applesauce first thing in the morning.
There was hardly enough time for breakfast. The mother had washed some jars, and she was washing apples, and already there were some burbling and hissing in pots on the stove. She gave the boy and his sister each their own pan full of apples to cut up.
"But they look rotten," said the boy. "The ones up in the tree weren?t rotten."
"They?re just bruised from falling," said his mother. "Nobody will ever know, once they?re cooked."
The sister soon had a pile of cut-up pieces still with their seeds in and their skins on, but no tails and stems, and pretty much the right side. But the boy?s apples kept slipping and getting away from him and ending up on the floor.
So his mother said he could help with the smushing, instead.
She poured a potful of juicy hot apples into the three-legged strainer. And then, with the wooden stomper, the
boy poked and pushed the apples around and down, and the sauce came squishing out through all the little holes and into the old baby tub. (It could hold more than the dishpans.)
He thought the goggles might protect him from the squirting and the steam.
When he couldn?t get any more sauce to come out of the holes, the mother dumped the skins and seeds left in the strainer into the garbage bucket. Soon more apples would be ready to smush.
Whenever the baby tub filled up with applesauce, the mother lifted out the strainer and stirred in some sugar, and she tasted a spoonful to make sure it was the right sweetness.
Sometimes everybody tasted.
And then the sister poured cupfuls of the warm sauce into the jars. The mother screwed the lids on the jars and put them in the big canner to boil. After they cooked, the lids would seal tight, and the applesauce would stay good all through the winter.