Cooking in a Pandemic – Roasted apple sauce

What a year this has been.  My sister past away in August last year so I thought that was going to be the defining event for the year. For months there was the bone crushing fatigue of grief, from September on I kept chanting to myself if I can just get through to the Christmas holidays I can rest and everything will be okay.  Then in mid November Sydney was encased in choking toxic bushfire smoke for weeks on end. Apocalyptic became the over worn buzzword of the moment. Stepping outside your door was like stepping into a war zone. Would we ever see blue sky again?

Driving home from work one day,  I stopped at the local Bunnings to buy P2 smoke masks and clustered in an aisle with a bunch of fellow climate refugees we chatted about which were the most effective masks for smoke.  A young couple from Marrickville were buying several kinds of masks one for inside their house and extravagant $95 masks that looked like World War 2 gas masks which, they said, were the best for outside. Can you imagine wearing that outside, I asked another young woman, as they walked off. She snorted with laughter, she was going to buy some cheap disposable building masks and buy a Cambridge mask online. Despite the lack of sunlight because of the smoke, I  had planted my apocalypse food garden in containers in my front yard – herbs, silverbeet, silverbeet and more silverbeet. Silverbeet will be the food of the apocalypse, you can grow it in pots it’s incredibly pest resistant, green and leafily nutritious.

In January the smoke miraculously cleared from Sydney but the city was ringed by megafires of unprecedented size and heat. Sydney was mirage-like island of safety in the firestorms. A friend who evacuated from her house in the Southern Highlands spent several nights in a hotel in the city. After weeks of prepping her house for ember attacks, the sense of relief was overwhelming, she wanted to lie down on the concrete because it felt so safe compared to the fragile, volatile bushland surrounding her home.

A couple of months before our summer of fires I at a party with a friend who had moved to a bush block south of Sydney, she talked of her citizen science project documenting the trapdoor spiders in the bush surrounding her house. There are hundreds of different species of trapdoor spiders, all with slightly different habits and ways of building their trapdoors. They are the artists of the spider world, she said. My friend’s home got hit by a fire storm just before Christmas, miraculously her house was saved but the surrounding bush, home to countless wildlife, insects and trapdoor spiders was razed to the bedrock. This is what everyone says when you go into the burnt bush after a firestorm, it’s the silence the heartbreaking silence of the mass death of the natural world.

During the summer of fires I would wake every night at 1 or 2 o’clock in the morning filled with the existential dread of the impending climate break down. Would it ever rain again would the fires ever go out.  I would think of all those dearly departed like my sister thanking God they didn’t have to witness this, the burning of our natural heritage. After the existential dread and anxiety of the summer’s fires that I feel like I’m taking the pandemic in my stride. There will be grief, more unbearable loss but I feel strangely hopeful, the world has slowed, economic collapse has nothing on climate collapse. My sister would have loved staying at home, cooking and watching her garden grow. During her last three months when she was dying she oversaw the last work on her garden – fruit trees planted, a vegetable bed raised (planted with loads of silverbeet!!) and a chook house with four resident chickens. She would have been completely in her element without the pressure of having to leave the house. For someone who struggled with fatigue and migraines for much of her life that in itself would have been a delight.

I don’t know whether the pandemic will give us some breathing space to bend the curve of climate catastrophe, but the world seems seems calmer, quieter, slower. The air in the city is cleaner and it has started to rain again. For decades we’ve been told we couldn’t afford to act on climate because… the economy. The same economy that is now in tatters, it’s hilarious in a dark tragic way.

A pandemic is a time for the homebodies to shine. People are sharing pictures of bread they’ve baked. I must admit, I was slightly annoyed when I discovered there was no flour at my local supermarket. Seriously who are these people who’ve suddenly discovered baking. I’ve been doing my small bit of panic buying so I really can’t judge. It’s strange what I you consider essential. Years ago I worked for a Syrian woman who lived in Lebanon during the war. She told me stories of running out of tahini. Imagine no tahini, she would say. Every time I pass some tahini in the shops I think I should grab another jar because seriously life without tahini, no humus, no babaganoush! Last week I picked up a packet of vineleaves thinking, I could make a batch over Easter for one of my nieces who adores them.  I hesitated guiltily then grabbed a second pack because who knew when we would get vineleaves in the shops again.

Last week my kitchen table was a messy mountain of last minute purchases. Hidden under the mess were several bags of apples and kilos of pomegranates. The panic buying of pomegranates was intentional because I wanted to make this pomegranate syrup, something I consider a pantry essential to have on hand during a pandemic lockdown. The abundance of apples was because my partner kept buying more apples thinking they’d been eaten but really they were hidden by chaos of pandemic prepping. The thing about lockdown is there is only so much food a small family of three can eat. This is why the roasted apple sauce is good it keeps for a decent amount of time in the fridge but it can also be frozen and used at a later date. It’s good used as a dollop in your muesli or porridge, but for me it’s all about having it on hand as an accompaniment to eat with potato latkes, something I consider essential comfort food for the weeks and months ahead.

Roasted apple sauce

Adapted from Leite’s Culinaria

  • 12 apples ( about 2 kilos)
  • 100 grams of butter
  • 2 tablespoons of lemon
  • 1/3 cup of honey (or maple syrup or brown sugar)
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  1. Preheat oven to Peel and quarter apples. Cut into 2 cm chunks sprinkle lemon juice over cut apple so it doesn’t brown.
  2. Melt butter in large dutch or oven proof skillet. Saute apple and salt until it starts to caramelise ( about 4 to 5 minutes) Add sugar or honey and roast in oven for about 20-30 minutes until apples are soft.
  3. Mash or puree to your desired consistency.  Sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for up to week or frozen.

*If you want a more traditional milder flavored sauce cover pan while roasting.






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