Several years ago, I heard about an obscure and out-of-print old treasure: Applesauce Needs Sugar. Sadly, the book is old enough and obscure enough that it took months for me to get an interlibrary loan copy. When it did arrive, I had no time to read it and had to return it. For nearly two years I looked for a copy to purchase, but never saw anything that cost less than $50. Finally, I more or less gave up the search for this unknown little book.
Last year, a dear friend found a copy for me. I have no idea how much she paid for it, but I doubt that it was cheap. Even though I worry that she paid too much for it, I am glad that she did find it. This tender, true story should not be out of print, and it should not be this hard to find. It’s too good a book not to be readily accessible. In fact, I have mentioned it to Purple House Press in the hope that they can get the rights to reprint it.
Before I go any further, let me apologize for reviewing a book that you might have a lot of trouble finding. Since I have it, however, and very much enjoyed reading it, I thought that I would leave a review on the off chance that others who find it in a garage sale or family attic will know that it is valuable.
I had heard that Applesauce Needs Sugar was a true story before I read it. Remarkably, my book finding friend found a copy for herself as well. Tucked inside her copy, she found a sweet little letter from one of the Applesauce family members to their extended family! That token seemed to amplify the already delightful charm.
In this article, I wrote about canning. My canning article grew out of a review of this book. Ultimately, I decided that I should let them stand apart, but I think that it is important to note that when I finished reading Applesauce Needs Sugar this September, all I wanted to do was can apples and listen to Benedick and Nancy Freeman’s Mrs. Mike.
Older and more rustic than Cheaper By The Dozen, Applesauce Needs Sugar has a similar feel. Each story is told by grown up children who are writing about their more-exciting-than-fiction childhood. Both stories also feature the authenticity and sincerity of their family values and home culture. While this story is not particularly funny, it has the same sense of family spirit and ingenuity as Dozen.
Applesauce Needs Sugar is mostly set in Western Canada. Even though it reminds me of Ralph Moody’s Little Britches Books, it more strongly reminds me of Mrs. Mike. Like Mrs. Mike, it is more sad than Moody’s books and also, like Freeman’s book, it is clearly written for adults instead of families.
“We haven’t been given five children to take care of and no provision made for our needs.” (p 11)
When this somewhat bitter but mostly sweet tale opens, the Canadian Hammond family is living in Texas and is desperately hungry. Their luck has been awful and their credit is bad. Papa doesn’t have any work and Mama is taking care of five young children. They are friendless and a world away from “home.” When a neighbor gives them windfall apples from a bad tree, Mama bows her head and prays.
“Heavenly Father, we have gathered the apples you sent us, and the juice is ready and the sauce is boiling down. We will continue today, finishing the work as far as we can go, but we need sugar. We could use it today, but first thing tomorrow morning will be in time. Brown sugar will do. It need not be white. We bring you this need, Father, and ask for one of Thy good gifts. Amen.” (p 15)
And so, without sugar but with incredible faith, Mrs. Hammond and her army of children labor to make apple butter so they can earn the groceries they desperately need. They do not starve. But how God works His will is a treat to behold.
“We’ve got apples, and we’re going as fast as we can toward apple butter. When it’s time for the sugar, the Lord will take a hand.” (p15)
This first chapter is probably the best in the book. It is the most tender and most well told. The rest of the book, however, has a beauty worth appreciating. Not particularly cheerful, it is very faith filled and full of pioneer spirit. After the sixth baby is born and Papa has steady work, Mama gets antsy to return to Canada. In Chapters 2 and 3, the family moves to Victoria, British Columbia where they will stay, for most of the rest of the book.
In Chapter 2, we the strength of Mrs. Hammond’s character is further tested. Papa moves to Canada ahead of the family to try to find work and set up a place for them to come to. When Mr. Hammond sends for his family, Mama has to move the six children and all of their belongings without the support of her husband. The trip is marred with some suffering and serious stress. It also includes a strange interlude with a cowboy. This wealthy rancher protects the family on a difficult train ride and ultimately tries to get Mrs. Hammond to leave her husband and marry him instead.
This book is uneven. There are beautiful sections, but there are also some strange and eyebrow raising sections. Because it is a true story, told by the children, there isn’t a story arc or a plot. Just a collection of interesting memories. Mama’s character shines through as pretty lovely. Papa’s character is less enchanting.
Also important to note, in one place, Mama’s racial bigotry is revealed and challenged. Ultimately, she sees this flaw in herself and repents of it. However, it is a bit messy.
Uneven, a bit disjointed, and not totally likable, there is a beautiful spirit in this story that captured my imagination and won me over. I am glad to own this book. I will be glad to reread it. At the right time, in the hands of the right reader, this could be a very inspiring story. I would not, however, recommend searching high and low, nor would I recommend spending a month’s book budget on it. If you find it at a fair price, grab it. Otherwise, wait for it to find you.