Mom's Fall Meal: Simple, Hearty Fare
Central Illinois, where I grew up, is the land of cold, windy evenings that begin in October each year.
The Fall Meal -- consisting of sausage, potatoes, sauerkraut, fried apples and cheddar cheese – was a tradition at our house. The dish was a perfect mix of sweet and savory, crisp and creamy, hearty enough to stave off those cold, windy evenings.
Leave it to my mother, Enid McElroy, the one who hated to cook, to come up with this low-cost fare. She no doubt took a cue from her mother, who learned it from her mother who was the child of German-speaking settlers who trekked from Pennsylvania to Ohio to Shelby County, Illinois, where the wagons stopped in 1842. I’m sure that’s where the sausage came into the picture, not to mention sauerkraut.
Kraut, which provided the bed for the sausage on the platter, should have been the homemade variety, but without a ready source—and no interest in making it herself—Mom substituted the finely-shredded, canned variety—a la Stokely’s or Del Monte.
The sausage could be Kielbasa or ring bologna, the thinner cousin of standard bologna. Ring bologna was boiled whole with the kraut. Kielbasa was sliced and fried.
To my mother, the skillet was second nature. Like many American cooks of her era, she considered frying the prime function of any kitchen. Have Crisco, will fry. Whatever couldn’t be nailed down should be cooked in a skillet: Slice the sausage into thin discs; do the same with the potatoes; though on occasion she might have altered her course and prepared mashed potatoes.
A main feature of the Fall Meal was fried apples, invariably Jonathans. My mother insisted on them, no doubt a preference learned from her mother, who learned from hers, on down the line back to the days of stiff white bonnets and wooden shoes. My mother swore by Jonathan apples, the sweet and firm cooking variety. She would core and slice the apples 1/2-inch thick and fry them, covered until, the apple slices became tender and well, almost mushy. Add a dash of cinnamon, and they were good to go.
The cheese was Dad’s contribution. He couldn’t eat an apple in any form without slices of cheddar, preferably the kind with a red, wax rind.
One might assume that such a meal should be complemented with a coarse, brown bread or rye loaf, though no such bread existed on our table. Bring on the white Sunbeam sandwich bread, please and thank you.
If Jonathan apples are available in North Carolina, I haven’t seen them in great quantities. Maybe that’s why I haven’t been inspired to re-create my mother’s Fall Meal—that and the fact that my husband won’t eat sauerkraut.
I suppose a cook could get creative, improvise with home-made kraut, home-baked bread, substitute Staymans or Winesaps for Jonathans, wed the cheese and potatoes into a casserole, go fancy with the bread and so on, but the Fall Meal wouldn’t be the same. Mom seldom made casseroles, and her Fall Meal was a testament to that fact.
Keep it simple. Tradition is what this one’s all about.
Mom’s Fried Apples
8 Jonathan apples, unpeeled and sliced about 1/2” thick (or any good cooking apple)
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Melt the fat in a large skillet, taking care not to scorch. Add apples, sugar and cinnamon. Sauté about 20 minutes until apples are tender. Serves about six.