We all have different ideas of what is comforting: familiar movies, certain songs, a big bed piled high with blankets. When I’m lonely, comfort might come through a friend dropping by. When I’m tired, an afternoon nap. But when it’s early October and I’m feeling overwhelmed or discouraged or just like I miss someone very much, point me to the kitchen.
Cooking is such a gift, you know? You can walk into the kitchen with a million things on your mind—the client you lost at work, the list of things you have to finish by Monday, the way that long phone call just ended—and grab something off the counter, say, five green apples, crisp and tart and beautifully tangible, able to be held in your hand in the way ideas and anxieties and conversations can’t. You can peel them, one long and curly strip after another, watching their bright skins fall into the trash even as your shoulders relax, focusing on your knife slicing the exposed flesh rather than focusing on whatever was on your mind a few minutes ago.
And you’ll find repetition can be wonderfully soothing: pour the ingredients, stir the apples with spices, take a minute or so to blend everything into a sauce. While you do these things, you can think, of course, or you can be quiet. You can sing, or pray, or pray out loud. I do those things when I drive or when I clean; I do those things when I cook. I feel the apples softening as I stir, and I tell God I love having afternoons like this one, good gifts from Him. I add extra cinnamon, and my mind shifts from conflict to the things that make peace.
Applesauce, in particular, is a kind of kitchen comfort: not only is it simple to make, with few steps and easy-to-find ingredients, but it’s delicious, like the inside of an apple pie or a more mashed version of Passover’s charoset. Warm and fragrant, this version shows something very important, that sometimes an hour in the kitchen is the very definition of comfort, especially when it ends with something good to eat, and you can follow its steps almost mindlessly—freeing you up to, you know, think, pray, sing or, do nothing else at all, while your hands lead your mind in the very important task of mixing together something sweet, spiced and, most importantly, able to be eaten with a big spoon.
Easy Homemade Chunky Applesauce
Makes about 2 1/3 cups
I still can’t believe how easy this was—no food mill, no intense mess, just 40 minutes of cooking the mixture over low heat, then blending it. Voila: delicious applesauce that defines comfort food.
5 medium-sized apples (mine were green, a little tart)
3 Tablespoons Sucanat (or some other sugar)
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup pure apple cider (I like Martinelli’s)
Juice of half a lemon (about 1 1/2 Tablespoons)
1 Tablespoon cinnamon
Pinch of ground cloves
Pinch of sea salt
Peel and core the apples, then dice them into small, similar-sized chunks. In a medium saucepan over low heat, combine the diced apples with all the other ingredients, and heat for 30 to 40 minutes, stirring every now and then. To speed things up, I covered the pot for a while, but if you do this, just remember to check on the apples—the mixture can start to bubble up if left in there too long. Taste and adjust seasonings as you like.
Use a blender, a food processor, a masher or an immersion blender (what I used) to blend the apple mixture thoroughly. I left mine pretty chunky, but you could definitely puree it until very smooth.