Good food preserves memories. It pins down moments. It brings comfort and cheer.
Several years ago, when I happened to be interviewing an Asian woman who worked at Chicago’s South-East Asia Center, she mentioned that one of the first things new Southeast Asian immigrants will usually do is find a restaurant that makes food like the food from their home country and region. Even if they have to travel far to get there, new immigrants will return to those restaurants with familiar food. In an unfamiliar country, I would enjoy doing the same. For those who have just arrived in a new place, food keeps memories of home, and of friends and loved ones, alive.
Whenever I make a recipe, I can’t help thinking of the people and moments that recipe connects me to. I often follow dessert recipes my mother-in-law has given me. After all, she makes the world’s best desserts! One that I especially love is chocolate zucchini cake. It’s absolutely delectable, and it also reminds me of the time that she brought it on a long road trip from Northwest Arkansas to Chicago one September when her son, my husband, was quite ill. That chocolate cake cheered us up. And since it a was the kind of cake you can make in a large 9-by-13 pan, it took us all several days to finish it. Since the zucchini kept it so moist, it improved with each passing day. (My husband, thankfully, was also making steady improvements.)
My mother-in-law knows her stuff. She knows that when you or people you know are in for a long haul, this is the kind of cake to give them. It’s a cake to bring to new parents who face long days and nights and may just need some midnight chocolate. When I brought it to my friend Erin after she and her husband had their first son, I didn’t realize how perfect it was for such occasions, but Erin is now this cake’s biggest fan.
Despite my long experience with the comfort and cheer that comes from sharing food, I don’t always think to give it as a gift. Sometimes I am tempted to think that what people want is not food, but stuff, since food (especially if it’s good) is quickly gone. And yet because of its connection to the world of our senses– not just the sense of taste, sight and smell but the tactile memories of working with the food– good food is not quickly forgotten.
Here’s a recipe for a sweet and tangy applesauce that is easy to make, preserve and give to friends this Christmas. It opts for sweet apples, Fuji and Golden Delicious, so that you can skip the sugar and make an all-natural applesauce that is sweet enough to serve for dessert. Although I love the rustic reddish brown color of homemade applesauce made with unpeeled apples, and also love that keeping them unpeeled speeds up the whole process, the Penn State Extension recommends peeling apples in applesauce to remove any potential source of mold or spoilage organisms.
- 6 pounds sweet apples such as Fuji and Golden Delicious
- 2 cups water
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- Wash apples well, peel them if you are canning, and chop them into 1-inch pieces.
- Combine apples and water and bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for 20-30 minutes, until apples are soft and mashable.
- Uncover and simmer about 12 minutes until liquid evaporates. Mash the apples well with a fork.
- Stir in cinnamon.
- Cool before serving; keep hot if canning.
Follow these steps or other canning guidelines that you trust. Nervous about canning? Read Penn State Extensions Secrets for Canning Applesauce.