the apples of my eye

Josh and I have an ongoing debate over the relative merits of growing up (and, consequently, raising our own kids) in an urban versus rural area. We both come by our respective positions quite naturally, as he was raised in a number of cities around the world, while I spent my entire childhood in one small, rural central Maine town. The conversation is typically a less-eloquent version of the City Mouse-Country Mouse story. It goes something like this:

Josh: "A city can offer so much diversity! So much culture and exposure to new things! Art! Music! Architecture! And the food! Such amazing representations of the world's food! You can't help but raise a well-rounded child there!"

Me: "But . . . but . . . it's Maine! It's beautiful! It's The Way Life Should Be™!" (And I stammer and fumble into silence. Because really, haven't I just provided an irrefutable argument?)

Part of the problem lies in the fact that, despite my rural upbringing, I love cities. Especially New York City - it's one of my favorite places in the world. I love the energy, the height, the neighborhoods, the never-ending to-do-and-see lists. And of course, the food. For the year I lived there, even as poor and starving as we were, I still loved the place. So it's hard to argue with someone you agree with.

And yet.

And yet I know there's more to being a kid than gallery openings and restaurant trends and museum trips. Young children don't much care about the club downtown showcasing the hottest new jazz talents. Yes, the best cities tend to have the best parks, and while this is certainly a boon to them, I feel that their presence is a recognition of the inherent human need for open, green spaces in which to play and live and learn, spaces that are usually in short supply in traditional city planning. So they are intentionally created. But, from the child's perspective, isn't it better to intentionally live where open spaces are simply the natural landscape?

I don't have the benefit of a dual childhood from which to survey the issue objectively, or even better informed. I fully acknowledge that amazing, knock-your-socks-off people can be raised in mega-cities; I know some of the best of them. But I also know that I love how and where I was raised. I reminisce about my upbringing a lot, probably more than most do, and I credit at least part of that to this space, this land and its woods and fields and waters and mountains where so many of my childhood memories were formed. They have defined who I am in ways I am forever grateful for.

So yes, I absolutely believe that Josh and I could turn out great kids no matter where we live. And I do not judge anyone who chooses to do it in an urban setting. (Honestly, I feel a little jealous of them. But for purely personal, selfish, grown-up reasons.) I also believe that you can create in a city many of the same experiences that I treasure so much as a child of the country. You can head out of town one glorious Fall weekend and find an orchard and pick sackfuls of perfect apples. You can bring them home, munching on a couple off the top of the bag as you drive. (Although throwing the cores out the window 'for the deer' might not be encouraged in the suburbs.) And when you get home, you can pack your slow cooker with as many apple slices as will fit in there, add some sugar and cinnamon and pour in some orchard-fresh cider. Over the course of the next 24 hours or so, your house will be filled with the deliriously heady scent of spiced apples, and it won't matter where you live, so long as you don't stray too far from that smell. And when it's all done, you'll have a dark, rich batch of apple butter that blows away any you can buy at the grocery store, and if you want to you can get even more domestic and can the whole lot, saving it to slather on your toast on winter's darkest mornings. All this is possible.

And yet.

And yet when outings like these occur practically in your own backyard, with a sense of tradition and festivity but not necessarily out-of-the-ordinariness, it is better. To me. To the way I instinctively want to parent. Organically, consciously, naturally. I might not always feel this way. Certainly, I want to live in a city again someday. But for now, this is my truth. And so, we're staying put.

For now.

Apple Butter
yields approximately 1 quart

enough tart apples to fill your slow cooker (depending on their size, this is between 14 and 16 for me)
1 cup light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 liquid cup apple cider (you can use water if you don't have cider on hand. But it's Fall. You should always have cider on hand.)

Peel, core, and slice the apples. Place them in the bowl of a slow cooker. Add the two sugars, cinnamon, and apple cider (or water). Put the lid on, plug it in, and set the cooker to High. Cook for 24 hours, or until apple butter is as rich and intense as you like it, stirring occasionally. (I like mine very dark and thick.) For the overnight period, change your slow cooker setting to Warm, raising it back to High in the morning to finish cooking. When it's done, use a stick blender to purée the butter. Alternately, you can purée it in two batches in a regular blender or food processor. Refrigerate apple butter for up to 1 month, freeze, or can according to your preferred method.


  1. I often wonder if I prefer to be a city mouse or a country mouse, but there is no doubt in my mind that I want my children to experience childhood as I did: living in a rural environment with plenty of exciting trips to the city. I too cherish the way we were raised and look forward to sharing with my children the traditions I learned growing up in rural Maine. -Britta

  2. Yes, Britta, it's been interesting to realize how much the lifestyle I would love for myself has almost nothing to do with the lifestyle I want for Kalen and Wylie, at least while they're little. And how willing I am to do everything I can to make sure they get what I believe they need, even if it means keeping me away from cities indefinitely! Ah, parenting. It sure makes you do crazy stuff!

  3. What gorgeous pictures! thank you-a lovely Blog!

  4. Thank you, Scarlett! I'm so glad you enjoy it!

  5. It's so funny. Having never grown up in a city OR a country (I was a suburb brat) I yearned for either. Either the country to go do exactly what you talk about, enjoy the sprawling nature, the fields of grass and the apples to pick OR the city where I could pound the pavement with my friends and visit the art galleries (I was an art fag, I WOULD have visited the galleries, trust me I would have), poetry readings and hung out at the coffee shops and run around generally enjoy everything the big city had to offer.

    But I had neither. And when I think about it, growing up in the suburbs was fine too. Sure I was bored by the lack of stuff to do, but that just forced me to do more with myself. My imagination grew wild with the adventures I would come up with in my backyard or in my basement. I would run around catching fireflies and listening to crickets at night and i would grumble and complain that there was nothing to do except read books. Loads and loads of books. And bake. I baked a lot of chocolate chip cookies and snickerdoodles.

    What I learned is that no matter what your childhood is, you don't know anything different. You enjoy it and make the best of what you have. It's easy to envy someone else's life in retrospect, but while your living it, you just don't know any better.

    In the end, I ended up living in a hybrid city. San Francisco isn't a big city like New York, all pavement and asphalt. But it has some of the best culture, best food and best city living that I can think of. Nor is it is the rural country. But apple picking is a couple hours away (I'm going apple picking on Friday actually, and I'll probably use your recipe, because I have a habit of picking WAY too many apples when I go). The wine country is a couple hours away as well and Lake Tahoe with it hiking and it's amazing skiing is an easy weekend trip. You can drive over the bridge (or bike over the bridge) and be in Marin County cycling up a mountain, and you can go over the other bridge and eat at the world famous Chez Panisse (all in one day if you want) or visit all that Berkeley has to offer.

    And I'm lucky that I live a mere block away from a park that people come from all over the city to, that is adjacent to an ice cream parlor, pizzeria, italian restaurant and french bakery that people travel from around the country to visit - a block that the New York Times once called "The Gourmet Vatican."

    But sometimes, I do wish I had deciduous trees, I miss the changing leaves. I miss fireflies. I miss muggy nights and somehow, inexplicably, I miss the suburbs, a place I always wanted to escape from. It's mostly nostalgia. I know I'll never return to it. But it's part of me.

  6. Mr. Jackhonky - You're so right - you really DON'T know anything different when you're growing up. Or even if you do, you still have to live wherever you find yourself, and (children especially) are inclined to make the most of it. But I do remember being a kid, and loving going to the 'big city' of Portland to visit my grandparents. Here's a clue to how rural my upbringing was: pavement (on the road, on driveways, on sidewalks, etc.) seemed VERY fancy to me. I assumed it went hand-in-hand with wealth. ;) And then my cousins, who lived in a more urban (well, for Maine anyway) area, loved to come visit us in the summer because of the novelty of the country. I always found their enthusiasm amusing, and a bit mystifying. Ah, the perspective of childhood.

    And you're making a very strong case for SF, just so you know.


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