Saturday, October 14, 2006
Mom's apple pie
We may both come from sturdy Polish peasant stock, but Martha Stewart I am not.
My intentions are pure though. I awake with the grand idea of rounding up all those apples from the birthday party and turning them into an apple pie. I look in my mom’s recipe box and try to find the recipe for her killer apple pie. I’m soon sifting through index cards that include: apple fritters, apple pancakes, applesauce cake, apple crepes, Jewish apple cake, apple streusel, apple cobbler and, finally, one or two versions of apple pie with pie crust directions too. Do I want to add chopped nuts? (No, David’s allergic.) Raisins? (No, not Jenn’s cup of tea.) I’m just looking for a basic apple pie, the one that mom used to make. The one I remember and can still taste. It was a classic. She loved to bake. Her cakes and pies were culinary masterpieces.
I re-read the cards. Are either of these handwritten recipes the real thing? The holy grail? She would often make some notation on her favorite recipe cards that gave a hint but there’s nothing written here to solve the conundrum. She may not have needed a written record for something she did often and so well, just like her pierogies (Polish dumplings). When she died, the art of cooking went with her. It took several Christmas holidays and much trial and error to duplicate mom’s pierogies. All I ask now is a clue, a compass. I’m a lowly pilgrim looking for the right path.
And I’m a virgin. Yes, it’s true. Here I am, almost ready for Medicare, and I’ve never baked an apple pie. Blame it on the mother who baked like no other. Blame it on my taking her for granted. Blame it on my interest in making music rather than baking bread.
Redemption is at hand. Today I shall make it all right. Today I shall prepare, with my own hands, a culinary treat for my granddaughters and family. How hard can it be? (Mom made it look so easy.)
Armed with good intentions, I grab the two recipe cards, stuff them in my jacket and drive off to the nearest supermarket. I pick up extra sugar, spices and flour but come up short trying to find the Crisco which was a staple in my mom’s kitchen. Yes, I can substitute butter for the shortening and am debating how to proceed when suddenly a brightly colored box of ready-made pie crust catches my eye. Amazing grace. The kitchen gods are smiling at me.
I arrive at Jenn’s and tell her my plan. She is thrilled to turn her kitchen over to me. However, Hannah is now home from daycare and looking to help babci with the apple pie. No problem. Benevolence rules. We set her up with a bowl and spoon and I teach her how to sift the flour and then add water. She plays at making dough while I cheat and pat my ready-made dough at the far end of the table. Now I can concentrate on the filling. The recipes I brought with me are similar to the one on the ready-made package. I decide to take the easy way out again and go with the apple-pie directions on the carton. One-stop shopping.
Hannah putters happily while I start peeling the apples. I’m making memories with my grandchild. Everything is going well until I cut my finger with the knife. All operations are suspended while babci tries to stop the bleeding. Hannah clucks and extends her sympathy. Jenn returns with Sophie and promptly bandages my finger. The kitchen is now quite crowded, not even counting the friendly household ghosts. Sophie wants to get into the act. I hand out more measuring cups and spoons and let her mix the ingredients for the pie filling in a large bowl. Jenn and I keep peeling and cutting apples. Six cups of apples take a heckuva lot of time. I have new respect for my mom and Martha Stewart.
Just as we are about to add the apple slices to the sugar and spices, Hannah reaches for something and knocks the bowl off the table. Half the measured dry ingredients are now on a kitchen chair and the floor.
I look at Jenn. She looks at me and gets up and pours us both a glass of Canadian beer.
The kids are now starting to fidget and whine and we send them off to the living room with Shrek to keep them entertained.
By now I have started dinner and manage to overcook the broccoli. “Every time, mom, every time. Even when we were little.” I have a sudden urge to escape to a keyboard. Instead, I take another swig of beer and finish what I started. As I work with the ready-made crust, I think how much longer the whole project would have taken if I did this from scratch. At last, the pie is looking decent and we pop it in the oven.
The girls are allowed to stay up post-Shrek and pre-pie, waiting for dessert. The kitchen fills with the wonderful aroma of apples and cinnamon. I have now drained my glass of beer and am patting myself on the back. There are pots and bowls and apple peels everywhere. Martha’s kitchen would never look like this but she probably has a fulltime staff to clear and clean as she moves methodically through her prized recipes. All I have are two little girls waiting impatiently to taste their grandmother’s apple pie.
We end the night with warm syrupy apple pie topped with vanilla ice cream.
I wouldn’t trade my good fortune for Martha’s fame, ever.