Applesauce

 

I was born in 1952 and spent a lot of my childhood with my maternal grandparents, who lived next door to us. I had no clue that Will Smith had over 50 patents to his name, owned the canning factory that was the major employer in my tiny hometown, and was an accomplished amateur scientist and photographer. To me, he was just Granddad.

To make applesauce the conventional way, you peel and core the apples, put ’em in a pot, add sugar and water, and cook. It takes a half hour or so and you get nice brown sauce, depending on the apple variety you put in. In the early Twenties, Granddad came up with the idea of pressure cooking the apples, hitting them with steam jets in a continuous process. It was fast, it was inexpensive, you needed less than half the sugar, and it poured out applesauce so fast that any other method became obsolete. Granddad and two friends bought a factory in Lyndonville and converted it to making sauce. They would start buying apples in September and pack sauce until February when the apples ran out. The rest of the year they would ship the stored sauce, mostly in private labels for A&P, Safeway, Loblaws, and other grocery chains, as well as their own brand, VB. (The name came from Vischer Brothers, the original owners of the plant, but rather than try to establish a new brand they just changed it to Very Best.)

The summer was when Granddad and his sons George, Clayton and sometimes Stan would build and test new machines, as well as building cookers to order for other companies. Stan was “sometimes” because his real job was in Niagara Falls at Bell Aircraft. He was the chief engineer on the X-1 and X-2. I’ve written elsewhere on Ricochet about how Stan quit rocket-powered planes when his friend Iven Kinchloe was killed in an X-2 crash, talked Larry Bell into giving him six months and a small budget, and Stan built the world’s first vertical takeoff jet.

In the Fifties and early Sixties, I spent some time at the factory. They tolerated me, and OSHA would have flipped out at me wandering around among trucks getting weighed, tractors with scoops picking up piles of apples, and all the machines on the factory floor.

Two things fascinated me. The first was the peeling and coring operation. The apples were put in a hopper, different varieties in different amounts depending on the sauce recipe. They were washed and floated out to the peeling machines. Workers on the peeling line picked the apples out of the floating conveyor, rejecting any bad ones. A holder, a sort of cup with no bottom on an arm, swung out from the lower part of the machine, and the apple was placed on it. It swung back inside and a clear plastic shield came down so the operator could watch the process and stop it if it went wrong. A sharpened tube descended and went through the apple, removing the core, which was then popped out of the tube into a separate wet conveyor by a blast of compressed air. The tube then rose about half an inch, taking the apple with it, and started to turn. A blade came out and removed the peel. Finally, the tube tilted a bit to the rear, and another larger tube pushed the peeled and cored apple off into another wet conveyor, headed for the cooker. The peels and cores went next door to a company that made vinegar.

Once the sauce came out of the cooker, it went to another fascinating gadget. Seeds and bits of stem and peel would make it through the cooker and need to be removed. Straining or filtering the sauce was impractical and reduced the quality and texture. Granddad came up with a clever setup for removing the bad bits. Picture a triangular table, with sloping sides going up to an open top, angled like an artist’s drafting board (which I think is what gave Granddad the idea). The sauce is pumped up through the opening at the top and cascades down the sides. The apparatus is heated, so the warm sauce flows easily. Workers with little metal vacuum hoses can easily pick the bad bits out of the flowing sauce, which is gathered up at the bottom and proceeds to the packing area.

Someone had to analyze previous years’ sales trends and decide what to pack. Gallon cans were popular for restaurant distributors. Most of the sauce went into quart jars. I remember long lines of those jars traveling along, through a washer and a drier, to a rotating machine that filled them with hot sauce and capped them, to a cooler, to a racking device that allowed them to be put in boxes with cardboard dividers. Most of my teenage summers were spent working on the labeling line, where we would unload these boxes, run them through a labeler, reload the boxes and paste a label on each side when we sealed the flaps down. There was a room with stacks of beautifully-printed labels, full color with gilt edging, ready to make up cases of sauce for the grocery chains as they ordered. Printing was my hobby; I had a treadle-operated letterpress and collected type fonts from a couple of small-town newspapers that ceased production, and did enough business in wedding invitations and business cards to pay for some college. I almost went into that trade but decided instead to go for a liberal arts degree and wander off in all directions. My three brothers were engineers, but I was classically inept and mathematically challenged, so I became a writer in self-defense.

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There are 17 comments.

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  1. She Member
    She
    @She

    A fascinating and lovely insight into a vanished time and the people who, in such a quiet and unassuming way, Made America Great.  Yay, Grandad!  Thank you.

    • #1
  2. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    She (View Comment):

    A fascinating and lovely insight into a vanished time and the people who, in such a quiet and unassuming way, Made America Great. Yay, Grandad! Thank you.

    And thank you, Doug, for paying attention so you could tell us about it.

    • #2
  3. ctlaw Coolidge
    ctlaw
    @ctlaw

    Here are the three patents apparently listed on the boilerplate:

    https://patents.google.com/patent/US1523843A

    https://patents.google.com/patent/US1556365A

    https://patents.google.com/patent/USRE17308E

     

    • #3
  4. Douglas Pratt Coolidge
    Douglas Pratt
    @DouglasPratt

    ctlaw (View Comment):

    Here are the three patents apparently listed on the boilerplate:

    https://patents.google.com/patent/US1523843A

    https://patents.google.com/patent/US1556365A

    https://patents.google.com/patent/USRE17308E

    Thank you for that! I hadn’t seen them.

     

    • #4
  5. Douglas Pratt Coolidge
    Douglas Pratt
    @DouglasPratt

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    She (View Comment):

    A fascinating and lovely insight into a vanished time and the people who, in such a quiet and unassuming way, Made America Great. Yay, Grandad! Thank you.

    And thank you, Doug, for paying attention so you could tell us about it.

    I wish I had paid more attention. I was busy being a dumb kid. I had to go someplace else and become someone else to realize what I missed. I give thanks every day that I had the chance to come back and turn it into a home.

    • #5
  6. Vectorman Inactive
    Vectorman
    @Vectorman

    Douglas Pratt: My three brothers were engineers, but I was classically inept and mathematically challenged, so I became a writer in self-defense.

    And for many Ricochet members who can’t spell, never learned grammar (what’s the difference between a gerund and an infinitive?) and write slow, we became Engineers.

    • #6
  7. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Douglas Pratt: I was classically inept and mathematically challenged, so I became a writer in self-defense.

    Odd, I was very ept, mathematically gifted, and still became a writer.

    • #7
  8. Douglas Pratt Coolidge
    Douglas Pratt
    @DouglasPratt

    Vectorman (View Comment):

    Douglas Pratt: My three brothers were engineers, but I was classically inept and mathematically challenged, so I became a writer in self-defense.

    And for many Ricochet members who can’t spell, never learned grammar (what’s the difference between a gerund and an infinitive?) and write slow, we became Engineers.

    And I’m glad you did, since I made a pretty good career out of translating you guys into English.

    • #8
  9. Douglas Pratt Coolidge
    Douglas Pratt
    @DouglasPratt

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Douglas Pratt: I was classically inept and mathematically challenged, so I became a writer in self-defense.

    Odd, I was very ept, mathematically gifted, and still became a writer.

    So you’re the one.

    • #9
  10. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Douglas Pratt (View Comment):
    So you’re the one.

    What can I say? The math students weren’t worth it.

    • #10
  11. Basil Fawlty Member
    Basil Fawlty
    @BasilFawlty

    Applesauce? Somehow, The Larry Sanders Show comes to mind.

    • #11
  12. ctlaw Coolidge
    ctlaw
    @ctlaw

    Basil Fawlty (View Comment):

    Applesauce? Somehow, The Larry Sanders Show comes to mind.

    Or

    • #12
  13. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown
    @CliffordBrown

    A far tastier assembly line product than rubber hose! I imagine the production line smelled great.


    This conversation is part of our Group Writing Series under the February 2019 Theme Writing: How Do You Make That? There are plenty of dates still available. Tell us about anything from knitting a sweater to building a mega-structure. Share your proudest success or most memorable failure (how not to make that). Our schedule and sign-up sheet awaits.

    March’s theme is posted: “Unexpected Gifts.”

    • #13
  14. Douglas Pratt Coolidge
    Douglas Pratt
    @DouglasPratt

    Clifford A. Brown (View Comment):

    A far tastier assembly line product than rubber hose! I imagine the production line smelled great.

    I forgot to mention the time he turned down the pressure a little in the cooker, and invented chunky applesauce.

    • #14
  15. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Douglas Pratt (View Comment):

    Clifford A. Brown (View Comment):

    A far tastier assembly line product than rubber hose! I imagine the production line smelled great.

    I forgot to mention the time he turned down the pressure a little in the cooker, and invented chunky applesauce.

    Fortunate accidents.

    • #15
  16. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown
    @CliffordBrown

    Douglas Pratt (View Comment):

    Clifford A. Brown (View Comment):

    A far tastier assembly line product than rubber hose! I imagine the production line smelled great.

    I forgot to mention the time he turned down the pressure a little in the cooker, and invented chunky applesauce.

    Why not drop in a new final paragraph, titled, as @arahant commented, A Fortunate Accident?

    • #16
  17. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown
    @CliffordBrown

    Applesauce is just the thing to serve with pork chops!

    • #17
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