I had just driven downstate from Up North, and my nephew came in the door from school. I started pinging him with my usual questions, had it been a music day or phys ed, Spanish or library? Any field trips coming up? Yes, tomorrow! he said. The apple orchard!
I launched into how I’d just been out in the orchards up north, on a field trip of my own, but that wasn’t so much of interest to him. I wish I was coming on your field trip, I said. Me too, he said.
Next morning when I dropped him off at school, we discovered that he’d grown so much over the summer that his boots from last year didn’t fit. And Mrs. McFee said the second graders should all wear boots to the apple orchard because it was supposed to rain. Once the boot issue came up, and he discovered he didn’t have any to wear, the whole idea of the field trip tanked and he didn’t much want to go anymore.
I wish you were coming, he said. Me too, I said, while I rattled off to myself all of the reasons why I couldn’t possibly go to an apple orchard twice in one week. I had deadlines. I had luggage that had not been unpacked, and laundry to do. I hadn’t exercised yet and certainly hadn’t showered.
I felt a mess, and a mess was not cool-aunt field trip material.
I’d go get him some boots, that’s what I can do, I thought. Two Meijer stores later and a bunch of calls to my brother to figure out size and style (I’d have gone with the brown, but Chris said the black with orange would rule), I was back at school delivering boots to a happy nephew (the orange on black ruled) just in time for him to board the field trip bus.
I know myself well enough by now to pay attention when something keeps nagging and I can’t let it go. Or, I should say, my mother knows me well enough even if I don’t, because when I walked in her door that morning and told her about the field trip, and that I wished I was going, she said, “Get going!”
It was the same tone she used when I started talking about culinary school.Or writing a book. Or living Up North. She could have written the Nike ads long before they did. Just do it.
Without even washing my face, I pulled on my own pair of boots and made the drive out to the orchard. The kids were just gathering out front to start their tour. I felt a little nervous, a little awkward, walking up to where the moms were. Just as I was about to explain my unplanned presence to Mrs. McFee, she took self-conscious right out of it by saying hi with a big smile, slapping a class tour sticker on me, and asking if I got a good shot of everyone with my fancy camera.
If that wasn’t enough, my nephew ran my way and gave me a fast and furious hug before grabbing my arm, which he didn’t much let go of all morning.
Except, that is, to run out into the pumpkin patch to pick out a pumpkin, or to squeeze into the front row to watch the apples being sorted and then made into cider. We picked out a big bag of Honeycrisp and another of Spy to take home, and recited the long list of what we’d do with them: apple butter, apple cake, caramel apples, apple cider; I didn’t let on that we couldn’t really make the cider at home. I threw in there “apple chips,” to which he did let on that apple chips sounded like an odd addition to our treats. I promised he’d love them as much as I do.
One of the tour guides launched into the story of how cider is made, noting the way the apples are rolled out kind of like cookie dough. John’s hand shot up and he kept it there a long while, until she finished and called on him. Do you have a question? she asked.
You mentioned cookies, he said. My aunt makes the BEST cookies. She’s FAMOUS for her cookies.
John’s favorite is chocolate chip, I said to everyone there, feeling like the very furthest thing an aunt could be from a mess.
Addictive…that’s the best word to describe these crunchy chips, so make lots of them. Their flavor intensifies as the apples lose their moisture over the three hours they’re in the oven. Use any variety of apples, but larger apples work best since the slices shrink. Dipping the apple slices in lemon juice helps keep them from browning. The chips are just as good without the cinnamon sugar, or try just the cinnamon.
2 large apples
Juice of 1 lemon
2 teaspoons cinnamon, optional
2 tablespoons sugar, optional
Squeeze the lemon into a small bowl and dilute with a teaspoon or so of water. Slice the apples very thinly using a mandoline (about .75 mm; if yours are thicker, increase the baking time to get a crunchy result); discard any seeds. Dip the slices in the lemon juice and place on the parchment in a single layer, giving them a quick wipe with a paper towel to soak up the dampness. Combine the cinnamon and sugar in a small bowl if using. Sprinkle the mixture over the apples (just one side).
Bake for one hour, rotating the pans to different racks halfway through if baking more than one at a time. Flip the apples over and bake for 90 minutes. Turn off the oven and let the apples rest there for another hour. Remove from the oven and serve; store immediately in an airtight container.
Print this recipe here.
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