I have glowing memories of Rosh Hashanah as a child, the most powerful of which took place in the kitchen with my mother in anticipation of our extended family’s arrival. The oven stayed warm all day, onions simmered and the blended scent of chicken and apple crisp baking infused the air.
I remember waking up early to join my mother in the kitchen in our robes and finishing many hours later, platters arranged, the dining room table set, the house in company order. By mid-afternoon, we dressed to greet our family. I focused on my mother: her able hands, the clicking of her high heels as she went to open the door. Such graciousness!
But sadly, when it was time to celebrate with my own children, my mother wasn’t there to guide me. She died before they were born. Somehow, I wanted to protect my family from my sense of loss around the high holidays. I hadn’t realized it yet—I needed a new tradition.
A friend invited me to go apple picking at Homestead Farms in Poolesville, MD with our toddlers. Under a strong September sun, we plucked fruit off the branches and loaded oversized baskets with apples that would travel home to fill crisps and pies. Some would become our trademark applesauce. I needed to be at that orchard, away from the kitchen, embracing the holiday as my mother had, but in my own way. Here was a completely novel approach to restart our holiday.
Fifteen years later, we still pick our own apples to make applesauce for Rosh Hashanah. Going to the orchard represents a precious window of time to get away together for a few hours before our fall schedules scatter our focus. It is a chance to be outside in nature, to connect to the earth and to drive home replenished with a creative cooking mission. After all these years, I have come to realize how especially appropriate our tradition feels at this time in the Jewish year.
This fun and meaningful custom is the premise of my first children’s book, Apple Days. In it, five-year-old Katy and her mother plan an apple picking date each year. Katy tells her school community about their plan, broadly sharing her anticipation of her beloved Rosh Hashanah tradition. In Apple Days, I tried to capture a child’s view of making applesauce: watching a mother’s competent hands as she peels and chops, smelling the aroma of apples and cinnamon as it fills the kitchen and tasting the sweet, soft fruit sauce.