Autumn Ragout

I should have begun earlier. The recipe calls for pre-prepared Pennsylvania-Dutch Apple Butter. That recipe is printed on the previous page after Prune Breakfast Butter, Cranberry-Maple Butter, Spiced Squash Butter, Spiced Plum Butter, Spiced Pear Butter. Good thing I bought Granny Smiths at the grocery store for a week’s worth of lunches. Five peeled apples and the tips of my fingers are sandpaper. Three cups of pale half moons. I add apple cider, Ground cinnamon, allspice, cloves, ginger. Spices simmer in a Dutch oven, fill our apartment with a savory-sweet scent. I need a bigger knife. I peel squash, carrots, rutabaga, one small red onion. I cube squash, carrots, rutabaga, one small red onion. I chop Napa cabbage, also called Chinese. I should have bought a fresh lemon; I want it only for its rind. I need prepared mustard.

My mother told just one joke her entire life:

​A new bride returns to her mother’s house, says:
​I left my husband.
When? Her mother asks, Why?
​The new bride says: I
​Was making dinner and the recipe
​Said to take one egg, and beat it.

The vegetables are roasting. It is already seven o’clock.

I make my husband slice the chicken, cut one-inch cubes. I do not handle raw meat. The turkey sausage is pre-cooked and I slice at an angle, mimic Julia and Martha, though I do not own an apron. My brother wore an apron when he made spaghetti on Sundays after church. He browned frozen hamburger from the quarter cow in our extra freezer in the basement, and wore the apron that read: A Wolf in Chef’s Clothing. The word ‘ragout’ is French, pronounced the same as the spaghetti sauce my brother fed us on Sundays after my mother died because my father didn’t cook. He ate steak whole, flopping from a fork, plate on his knees.

The vegetables are roasted, but not brown. I send my husband out for bread. It is now seven-thirty. My mother cooked from a Betty Crocker cookbook. The red one, with round metal rings to hold slick pages. Brown stains, blue-inked stars to note if we kids ate it, a checkmark for a potluck or ladies’ aid luncheon. I open the oven door, mitted hands reaching, lifting, combining roasted vegetables with jelly-pink chicken, coins of kielbasa, cabbage, cans of chicken broth, more apple juice. I use only one-half cup of the Pennsylvania-Dutch Apple Butter.

Bake at 350 for 50 minutes, when the vegetables are tender and the chicken is cooked through. While we wait, we dip torn bread into the surplus sweet paste, thick and dark in a bowl painted with a small brown bird, rescued from my mother’s Red Wing pottery set before my father sold the rest. Dinner may be ready by nine o’clock, but I will be too full with memories.

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