And The Cat Fell In the Apple-sass

November 29, 2018

If I thought I’d escape kitchen duty by going AWOL during the first week of deer season, I was certainly wrong. Thanksgiving included, I have more than made up for my absence in the kitchen and the neglect of our hunters.

Our family gathering was greatly scaled down this year and I did not anticipate more than 10 at my table. Well, 10 ¼, the fraction representing 6 week old great grandson Jaxson, who represented a fourth generation at our table. We are truly blessed.

Julie Traynor Postcards from the Pine Columnist

Julie Traynor Postcards from the Pine Columnist

Way back in the Blevins Street days when Grandma lived just down the street and the Berry Clan was small enough to gather for the major holidays, part of our tradition was to listen to Grandma’s stories, of which there were many.

One of our Thanksgiving favorites was the story we called “And the cat fell in the apple-sass’. I’ve told it before. It is a tale for any season and it goes like this.  

As a little girl in the early 1900’s Fern spent part of the winter months of each year in the log cabin buildings of the family lumber camps in Winterfield and northwest Clare County. Her father Milt Beebe, and his sons and brothers, spent each winter working in the woods. They farmed acreage in Highland township on the family farm each summer. Her mother, Lillie Beebe, was the cook and her older sisters, Anna and May, assisted. Grandma and her younger sister Crystal considered the whole thing a big adventure for they loved to be in the woods at anytime. The little girls accompanied the rest of the family as this was a family concern.

One of Fern’s most memorable log cabin living tales was of an incident in the long log cook cabin at one of her father’s lumber camps, early in the last century.

One crisp fall day in late October, so the story goes, Lillie had just set a big dishpan full of hot applesauce to cool. It had taken a long time for this very large kettle of apple sauce to stew. The apples were brought from the orchard on the farm, where varieties little known today still grow. They were abundant producers and many were stored for the winter in the root cellar, others were sliced, dried, and threaded on long strings, like apple leis.  Apples and the many wonderful things which could be made from them figured prominently on Lillie’s menus. She was a firm believer of that old adage for good health, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.”

It took a lot of food kept on hand to fuel hungry lumber jacks. And a problem anywhere there were humans and their food, were rodents. Mice and their kin were a pest both in the barn and the house and so toward the purpose of control Lillie kept a big tabby cat, in fact in her long life she had raised many Old Tom’s to patrol her kitchen. The current Old Tom reserved any affection he may have had for his mistress. 

The Old Tom of my grandmother’s youth was of a rather disagreeable nature and on this particular applesauce afternoon, the cat having finished his rat patrol, climbed high into the heat and stretched out upon a warm rafter log for a snooze.

Below, Lillie and her girls mixed biscuit dough and worked in preparation for supper. The aroma from the dishpan of applesauce mingled with other cooking smells and all were heavy in the warm air. Old Tom, now in a heat induced stupor, was stretched out like a week’s wash on his high perch. He slept heavily. The rafter he chose was not only too narrow, but was also the one positioned above Lillie’s work table and the dishpan of apple sauce. By the time he roused enough to know what was happening it was too late.  

“Ker-splat!”

“The cat fell in the apple-sass!” Grandma would laugh and slap her knee. She made the sound of Old Tom touching down into the thick applesauce each time she told the story. Lillie’s dismay over the loss of the applesauce was as great as poor Old Tom’s. In true cat fashion, he was not at all happy to have been so clumsy. He did not enjoy the process of removing the sauce from his fur either. 

Lillian Hall Beebe; maker of applesauce, owner of cat. She was the cook at this family camp on the Dead Stream. This was taken about 1910.

Lillian Hall Beebe; maker of applesauce, owner of cat. She was the cook at this family camp on the Dead Stream. This was taken about 1910.

Fern Berry, the writer, used the story of Old Tom and the “apple-sass” more than once during her writing career. She told it, complete with effects; crackling fire, rustling leaves, the smell of cooking apples and of course the cats great fall into the sauce.  Countless eager little ears, including her grandchildren, enjoyed this during her long career.

 *   *   *

Marion lost one of her staunch supporters and long time citizens this week with the passing of Louie Toth. Both Louie and Joanne have touched the lives of many in one way or another. Louie came to Marion via the long defunct Riverside Electric.
They bought a home, in which they raised their family and still live. They became members of our community. Louie may be best remembered from his years with the Marion Post Office. He was a friendly face at the counter and a faithful rural carrier on the large and long Route 2 which took him to mailboxes in parts of three counties. The Toth’s sang with and were members of the Methodist Church choir for many years. They gave freely of their time and talents to the Marion community. Joanne was a moving force in establishing the now much used Meals on Wheels in our area.

Marionite Louie Toth was 90. Our condolences to Joanne and his family.



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