Of the Earth: Appreciating old apples

  • The late Pete Seeger, left, and Lorre Wyatt of Greenfield work on songs at Seeger’s home in New York, part of a two-year songwriting collaboration that led to the release of their 2012 album, “A More Perfect Union.” Contributed photo/David Bernz

  • The late Pete Seeger, right, and Lorre Wyatt of Greenfield sing together prior to the release of their 2012 album, “A More Perfect Union.” Contributed photo/David Bernz

  • BLIXT

For the Recorder
Published: 2/26/2019 1:54:47 PM

Never have old apples tasted quite as sweet as they will taste on Saturday evening, when Greenfield singer-songwriter Lorre Wyatt opens his freezer to celebrate the 100th birthday of his friend and collaborator, the late musician and social activist Pete Seeger.

As part of a 7 p.m. gathering at the Ashfield Congregational Church at 429 Main St. in Ashfield, Wyatt will share the last of the applesauce, and its embedded wisdom, cooked up by the pair one afternoon back about 2012.

In what has become an annual event following Seeger’s death in January 2014 at age 94, Wyatt and his guitar will be joined by a long list of friends and area performers for an evening of singing, reminiscence and applesauce. Joining Wyatt will be Peter Blood, Charlie King, Annie Hassett, Ben Grosscup, Sue Kranz, Yosl Kurland, Michael Nix, Ernie Hansche and Ben Tousley, as well as Conway’s brother and sister duo, Elias and Rosa Stegeman. The program, which is free and open to the public, is organized by the Rev. Sarah Pirtle.

Pirtle noted that Seeger and Wyatt’s personal and creative friendship stretches back more than 40 years, when they met at various anti-war and civil rights gatherings. They initially performed together at early events for the nonprofit Hudson River Sloop Clearwater and began co-writing songs in 1973.

Years later, as Wyatt was recovering from a 1996 stroke, the two continued to collaborate occasionally. By 2010, they decided it was time to get together for some extended songwriting sessions at Seeger’s place.

The story of the applesauce, and its re-emergence, is worthy of a long folk ballad of the kind that helped make Seeger a folk icon and that long-ago cemented the collaboration with Wyatt — full of hard times, sweet longings, gentle awakenings, deeper meanings, old friends and a healthy dose of redemption. Part of that story is immortalized in the song “Old Apples,” written by Wyatt and Seeger:

Autumn apples are juicy and crisp

In the winter they’re sweet as a kiss

By spring, they wrinkly, something is lost

But old apples still can make good sauce.

(refrain) I guess old apples still can make good sauce

It is a story with a sweet glow that survives successive retelling, much like the glow that surrounds the photos of Seeger and Wyatt at work together, or the glow of the Franklin County apples that Wyatt recalls hauling up to Seeger’s cabin on Mount Beacon in New York one fall about eight years ago.

The apples, he said, still looked and tasted fine that winter. When he returned the next spring, however, Wyatt recalls Seeger meeting him at the door with a big hug, but without his usual bounce. Seeger, then 92, was feeling his age. Usually, the men would sit at a table across from each other trading lyrics, circling the most promising material on note paper and relegating much of the rest to white-out.

“But Pete looked through his notebooks and said, ‘There’s nothing here worth circling,’” Wyatt said.

To make matters worse, Wyatt recalls, there didn’t appear to be much in the house worth eating.

“We looked in the fridge and it was like a ninth-grade science project,” Wyatt continued. “Pete wasn’t the best at covering things. Then over by the compost bin, I saw what was left of the apples. They were kind of shriveled.”

Without a lot of confidence, the pair boiled the apples, and fed them through a Foley food mill. In deference to the age of the apples, they added cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice.

“That’s not so bad,” Seeger said when he tasted the applesauce, according to Wyatt. “And that’s not so bad,” he added, circling a line of his lyrics.

“I told him to keep eating,” Wyatt recalled.

Eventually, of course, Seeger was compelled to look over at Wyatt and observe, “I guess old apples still can make good sauce.” Not a bad lyric for a couple of old apples.

While Wyatt considered supplementing the original applesauce with a new batch for Saturday night, he’s now decided he wants to give everyone an unaltered taste of what he and Pete actually cooked up that day back in 2012.

“If there’s a large turnout, we’ll have folks take a smidgen less. That way they can taste the actual sauce we cooked that was the inspiration for our song,” he said.

“Old Apples” appears on the 2012 album “A More Perfect Union,” Wyatt and Seeger’s last collaboration, which also brings together special guests Bruce Springsteen, Emmylou Harris, Tom Morello, Steve Earle and Dar Williams. In addition to “Old Apples,” Wyatt will sing “Bountiful River,” also from “A More Perfect Union.”

Wyatt said “Bountiful River,” which evokes Seeger’s connection to his wife, Toshi, and to the natural world with the view of the Hudson River from his cabin, is emblematic of Seeger’s forward-looking genius — positive without being saccharine. It has a lot to do with his politics, as a war resister struggling for social justice; and as a songwriter and musician able to bring many voices together into harmonies that others might never have anticipated.

“It’s like a letter to us, for us, in these times,” Wyatt said.

Wesley Blixt lives in Greenfield. He is a longtime reporter and is the author of “SKATERS: A Novel.” Send him recipes, stories and suggestions at wesleyblixt@me.com.


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