When I think of apples, I think of fall, and childhood, and school. I remember that when I was young I would buy a Red Delicious apple to eat after lunch, that I would think of Snow White and her poisoned apple which would send her off into a deep, deathlike sleep from which a prince's kiss would awaken her. Some days in the cafeteria there would be shallow dishes of applesauce, bland and comforting mounds of pale beige mush. (Once, in a childish attempt to make apple cider, I boiled the peeled apples stuck with cloves for so long they fell apart and dissolved into applesauce; delicious, to be sure, but not what I had hoped for).
In my soda-deprived home there would be dark green glass bottles of sparkling apple cider, saved for special occasions, or juice in a round bottle shaped like an apple, the clear glass imprinted with veined leaves. Much later there would be plastic jugs of organic apple juice, thick and unpasteurized, that left a trace of sludge at the bottom of the glass. From the Japanese supermarket there would be Fuji apples; from the farmer's market came pink-flushed heirloom apples. In our backyard forgotten fruits would fall from the tree, plip plop, to rot amongst the autumn leaves and fading grass.
Once I ate roast goose stuffed with apples in a cozy Moscow kitchen on the eve of my departure, the sweet acidity of the fruit cutting through the richness of the meat. In another country, another life, there was applesauce on pork chops in someone else's cozy kitchen. A chic, French-inflected restaurant served cubes of apples tossed with root vegetables, a bed for the melting fat of foie gras. There have been apple pies, à la mode with ice cream or drifts of whipped cream, apple tarts with buttery puff pastry crusts. Often there is a river of caramel across the perfectly arranged slices of apples. Apples are made for caramel, their crunchy sweetness tinged with a faint tartness, intensified by luscious caramel. At lunch last week, C. sliced crisp fall apples and set out a tub of caramel sauce; I could not stop eating them, until the apple slices were all gone and I resorted to dipping sweet dark grapes into the caramel.
As delightful as all the above-mentioned things are, there is nothing like an apple in its natural state, raw and crisp and sweet. When they flood the supermarkets and farmer's markets with their perfect pyramids of glossy fruit, in all colors, shades of red and gold and green, in all sizes, I know that fall is here. Summer has ended and autumn has flung its burning colors across the landscape. When I sit on the floor with my plate of apple slices, I see in my mind's eye my father's hands in the light of the kitchen, his hands holding the knife that peels the skin from an apple in one long, winding, endless spiral...