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The article below, by Rona Roberts, appeared in Nougat Magazine, August, 2006. That issue was devoted to education. (If you want to start cooking without reading another word, see the detailed instructions for making homemade applesauce.) Article updated, July, 2010.

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Instead of heading back to school this month after summer vacation, Kentucky's food growers have to learn new facts and pass hard tests all year long. To keep providing us with great local food, the growers face two demanding teachers daily: nature and markets. Tuition fees can be scary.

Consider what it cost Trudie and Dana Reed to learn whether one particular apple variety will thrive and sell in central Kentucky. A consortium of three midwestern universities developed Scarlett O'Hara, a flaming red beauty, to be disease resistant. The developers' website touts the apple's firm flesh, sweetness, and excellent keeping qualities. Several years ago, after considerable tasting and research, Trudie and Dana added 200 young Scarlett O'Hara trees to their orchard on the border of Bourbon and Harrison counties.

When the trees came into full production after five or six years of hard work, the apples looked lovely heaped in baskets at Reed Valley Orchard's store. Had Trudie not cut into hundreds of Scarletts to offer samples to eager customers at the Lexington Farmers Market, she might have missed this breed's guilty secret. Some of the Scarlett O'Hara apples harbor 'moldy core,' an unappealing condition that lurks in perfect-looking fresh fruit. Not every Scarlett had unwanted grey fuzz in her core; many were normal.

Only by growing the trees to full productivity on their own land could the Reeds learn enough to flunk Scarlett O'Hara. Trudie says, 'Dana is a perfectionist, obsessed with quality. We just couldn't have those apples going to our customers.'

Expelled! Down came all 200 trees. Trudie estimated Reed Valley Orchard lost at least $150 per tree, the cost of purchase, planting, and five years of cultivation and pest management.

Tuition cost: $30,000.

Mental cost: Disappointment and discouragement due to wasted effort.

Cost of losing customer trust by continuing to sell possibly flawed Scarlett O'Hara apples: Unthinkable.

I took apples for granted growing up. That changed when I spent two years in the apple-free, tropical Philippines. I missed apples, apple sauce, apple crisp, dried apples, and a family dessert we called 'Ecstavia:' homemade applesauce on a layer of crushed graham crackers, topped with homemade whipped cream.

As I traveled home, I broke my two year apple fast in Hong Kong with a wrinkly, faded fruit that smelled strongly of Old Refrigerator. Its faint taste reminded me of real apples, though, so I savored it.

Each year now, I look forward to August. Reed Valley Orchard's familiar tent appears at the Lexington Farmers Market, drawing customers six deep on all sides. Lucky us! I look forward to my favorite varieties ripening: Earligold - Honey Crisp - Stayman Winesap ' Mutsu ' Gold Rush.

Lucky you! Before the Earligold disappear, you just have time to buy a Foley Food Mill, a hand tool that produces perfect applesauce. Trust me on this: no blender, processor, or strainer can match the velvety texture the Foley Food Mill delivers. Order it online at www.thekitchenstore.com. Plan to bequeath it to your great-grandchildren. It will not wear out.

Homemade applesauce ' even without the graham crackers and whipped cream ' may make you the most popular person on your block. People of all ages know goodness when they taste it.

To make this wondrous food, wash any amount of apples and slice the fruit off the core in chunks. Cook the chunks with a little water over medium-low heat in a large covered pot until the apples are totally soft. With your Foley Food Mill, 'grind' them into a large bowl. Add a sweetener of your choice, ¼ cup at a time. Organic or white sugar produces the cleanest apple taste.

See applesauce instructions if you want more detail.

Read more Nougat articles by Rona.

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