The weather is slowly but surely cooling down, I’ve just finished teaching my second week of the semester, and yet, it seems Groundhog Day is here again. It’s a professional form of Groundhog Day. By which I mean, adjunct instructors at my university (and if rumor holds true, many universities in the country) are looking to see if the adjunct groundhog will see his shadow: if he does, then we have the metaphorical six more weeks of winter – we won’t be paid until October. If he doesn’t see his shadow, well then zippity-doo-dah, we’re all going shopping (or breathing a prayer of thanks and paying our bills) on September 15.
I play this game every semester that I teach, and it’s always frustrating. Many people can count on their paycheck to come every two weeks; some of us wait two months for our first paycheck to come, regardless of bills (student loan, credit card, rent, utilities, food) to be paid in the meantime. This is the adjunct racket; we love what we do, we are passionate about teaching and dedicating our lives to academe, but damn, it’s hard out there for a poor adjunct.
As my colleagues and I have been posting to each other on Facebook, trying to find some confirmation of when that magical first payday will happen, I began thinking of that lovely tradition of bringing teachers apples. You always see it on movies or television shows or posters, usually representing a bygone era of chalkboards and recess.
Since I’m teaching a food-themed freshman composition course, I asked my students to complete a free write. The prompt was to take a creative guess at where the tradition of bringing apples to the teacher came from. They had some very logical responses, such as it being a way for poorer families to pay for schooling for their kids. Others reached a little further, like the one who guessed maybe it was a practice started by kids who didn’t like their teacher, so they employed the logic that if an apple a day kept the doctor away, maybe it kept the teacher away too. One girl guessed that it had something to do with Eve and the way that she’s always cast as a bit of a villain for eating the fruit, so giving apples was a way for the students to silently insult their teacher, by associating her with Eve. (Brilliant, these cherubs I’m teaching, truly!)
I found an article on the Gourmet archives (which is totally worth checking out if you haven’t already) that traces the tradition, and my students were all correct in their guesses. The tradition, though more a work of fiction these days (when was the last time you heard of a teacher receiving an apple or a child giving one?), the apple is a fruit associated with knowledge and wisdom, an association that comes from, yes, the Garden of Eden. In the 1700s, poor families in Denmark and Sweden, unable to pay for their children’s schooling, paid teachers in bushels of apples, but since the fruit spoiled quickly, they downsized it to one apple at a time. American families took up the practice during the Great Depression to keep teachers fed and hopefully looking a little more kindly upon the gradebook.
As the saying goes, ‘An apple for the teacher will always do the trick when you don’t know your lesson in arithmetic.’
This week, I got a little “mad scientist” in my endeavor to make my first zucchini bread. I fell for some really ridiculous hype about “healthy” recipes for zucchini bread, and I thought, well, we’re trying to be healthy, let me see about eliminating some calories by substituting the oil with pureed apples. Which led to me basically making apple sauce, but with pears in it as well (because we had them). This also worked in my favor because it made this a CSAcation recipe, which I needed to do. Win, win, win.
There are some foods I like to have control over. Bread is one of them; I just want bread, not 26 other chemicals to go along with it. Applesauce is the same way, and I found an incredibly satisfying level of control in making my own applesauce. I controlled sugar and acidity and texture, and it was just lovely. Below is the basic recipe for unsweetened apple sauce (it doesn’t need sugar, believe me), and you can tweak according to the suggestions below, or try blazing your own path into the wonderful world of pureed fruit.
1 large apple (I used Gala)
2 Asian pears
Pinch of kosher salt
1. Peel, slice, and core your apple and pears. (Also, feel free to use more apples and pears to make bigger recipes; switch up the ratio of pears to apples. Really, this a safe recipe for experimenting and playing.) Cut the fruit into small chunks, roughly bite-sized.
2. Place the fruit in a saucepan and add enough water just to cover the bottom of the pan. You’re aiming to steam them, and less water is better for that (so you don’t end up boiling them).
3. Add the juice of one lemon (might want to add the juice of two lemons if you double or triple the recipe) and a pinch of kosher salt. Stir and then place over high heat.
4. Bring water to a boil, and then reduce heat to medium low (or low, if your stove runs hot) and cover. Cook for 20-30 minutes, until the fruit is soft enough to be crushed with a fork.
5. Remove from heat and either crush with fork or potato masher, or if you like a smoother puree, blend with an immersion blender.
6. *Tweaks!* You could add: strawberry syrup, cinnamon, maple syrup, nutmeg, lemon zest, orange zest, cranberries, etc. The world is your applesauce oyster, the sky’s the limit, and I’ve just run out of metaphors.
So while I wait with crossed fingers to see if the groundhog will see his shadow, I can chow down on really delicious, super fresh, totally pure applesauce. Blending in pears adds a nice balance of other fruit flavors, but you can always be a purist and use just apples. ‘Tis the season for such things, after all.