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 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 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.
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.