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.


Margaret said...

Beautiful post, as always, Mater. I remember when I made my first apple pie. My sister had to work late, so I went to her house and decided to make dinner for her family with my niece and nephew's help. We attempted a pie and it actually tasted great, though it could have used more filling. But I didn't care. Just like you, half of the fun was making it with the kids help.

geogirl said...

Ah yes, the glass of canadian beer (wine, whiskey, etc...) the hidden ingredient necessary to all successful kitchen expeditions that Martha and the cookbooks never tell you about.

Don't feel bad about the knife slip. One Thanksgiving I had to take my Mom AND my Brother to the emergency room for knife vs. finger accidents. SAME DAY!!!
After it happened did Hanna point at you and say "It GERMS!!!" ;-)

Bloodborne pathogens be damned! It looks great! Save me a slice!

The Mater said...

LOL, geo, you're freaking me out. I'm in between health care plans right now. That was my first thought with the sliced finger ... "damn, this better stop bleeding!" I poured copious amounts of anti-bacterial liquid soap onto it while Hannah enjoyed the drama of babci running around the kitchen holding her finger! We definitely don't want it to "germ". Your mom and I could be buddies. But two ER visits in one day?! I think next time, you should cook the turkey.

Margaret, how sweet of you to treat your sis and family to your first attempt at an apple pie. I'm sure what got us both through was the hidden ingredient: the love that went into all the labor.

Thanks for your comments. Peace!

geogirl said...

It's amazing how dangerous kitchens can be. Mom was trying to remove an avacado seed and my brother was trying to slice ham really thin. It was the same day but different times. We still got the same doctor though. After the second visit he pointed at me and said "You, go home and throw out all the knives!"

Oh...and thanks for giving me the apple pie craving. *sigh* looks like I'm off to the store.

doow said...

Wow, you remind me so much of Jenn in that second photo! Congratulations on the pie-making, it looks so scrummy. Damn this inability to taste food via a computer screen ;-)

Contrary said...

I am also an apple pie virgin. On the upside, mostly because I cannot stand cooked apples. Can't eat em, look at em or smell em, if I can help it.

Pookie calls me Un-American, but I still like hot dogs, and Chevys and baseball, so I don't think I'll get booted out of the country.

I do make this awesome pumpkin gooey cake that people will hurt themselves to get at, so I suppose I'm not doing too bad.

Take care of your booboo (glad it didn't keep you fom typing this lovely (as always) post.

Simon said...

Ah... Canadian beer is near enough a panacea to heal all my wounds. And here's to granny's recipes.

I have a small, stained card with my own grandma's pancake recipe on it. I have it memorised by now, but I spurn boxed pancake batter the same way I do folks who malign Star Wars -- I have no use for 'em. Sundays are for Granny's Scratch Pancakes, and they're darned fine.

The Mater said...

You Canadian lads are a fine lot indeed. One of David's favourite things to do on a Sunday morn is make a batch of his killer pancakes from scratch too.

Must be something in the beer.

Keep spoiling us :>)

cuz said...

Cuz, I just sit back and read your "stuff" and smile and smile and wish Aunt Mary were here reading, too!!