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A is for Apple

Theresa J. Elders
656 Pend Oreille Loop
Colville, WA 99114

A is for Apple, B is for Brandy


By Terri Elders


“Good apple pies are a considerable part of our domestic happiness.” –Jane Austen


Five years ago when my husband, Ken, and I strolled around the backyard of our new country home and I spied the two apple trees, I immediately pictured the pies Grandma and Mama used to prepare. Sometimes the pair cooked in tandem, staging a mini-bakeoff. They’d vie for our approval, Mama with her expertly fluted lattice top French apple, and Grandma with her apple rhubarb, crowned with the flakiest crust ever to please a palette.


“Don’t you all prefer my apple rhubarb?” Grandma once asked. My older and wiser sister poked me in the back. She knew how I loved rhubarb. Before I could nod assent, she jumped in. “Grandma, it’s a dead heat. Your pie is delicious, and Mama’s is delectable.”


“Even if you’re penniless, you always have a treat waiting if you’ve got an apple tree in your yard,” Grandma said, cutting us each a slice.


Patti whispered to me later that we’d always have to say it was a tie if we wanted the kitchen to continue to carry that sweet, spicy cinnamon fragrance.


Though Daddy worked at the creamery and Grandpa took odd jobs wherever he could, the dollars they brought in had to stretch to support a family of four adults and three kids. Fortunately we lived in Scotts Mills, Oregon, where everybody had an apple tree or three. I even plucked wild crabapples on my way to school.


Sometimes I’d wander the aisles of the general store, hungrily eyeing the boxes of Cracker Jack and packets of graham crackers. I knew though that those were treats for special occasions, such as birthdays and holidays. At Christmas, each child could depend on a tangerine, some walnuts, and a small box of chocolate covered cherries. And at Easter, of course, we’d get baskets with jelly beans, a packet of chewing gum and a chocolate egg.


But for everyday sweets it was always apple pie or, for variety, a cobbler. Once in a while on sultry late summer Sundays, we’d sit on the porch until twilight. Grandma would haul out her wood bucket ice cream churn, fill it with cream, eggs and sugar, then cram the top section with ice and salt. I would crank until the creamy smooth vanilla concoction thickened. Then she’d bring out the pies, fresh from the oven. We’d gaze down at our bowls as the ice cream slowly sank through the crust and into filling, and then we’d slowly spoon it all up, our eyes glazed with ecstasy.


On cooler autumn evenings, we lounged on the porch watching the stars emerge.  Grandpa would clear his throat and ask Daddy. “About ready for a swig?”  Then he’d step inside and emerge a little later with a tray holding steaming cups of particularly aromatic coffee for the two of them, and a pitcher of lemonade for the rest of us. Grandma would follow on his heels, with a tray of slabs of apple pie and a platter of wedges of sharp cheddar from the wheel Daddy brought home from the creamery.


Now Ken smiled as I gazed at our trees as if they were festooned with ambrosia, the fabled food of the gods, rather than just plain old apples. “You look absolutely enchanted,” he said.


 “My whole childhood was punctuated with apple pies. I’ll bake lots of them now.”


 I plucked one of the yellow cheeked red fruits from a branch, and held it to my nose, and sniffed. I sniffed again, and then frowned.


 “Oh, no,” I sighed. “This is a Red Delicious. OK for munching, but not the best for pies.”


Ken pointed to the other tree. “What about those?”


Bliss…they were Golden Delicious, just about the best pie apples ever.


“That’s great. Reds for snacking and apple sauce, and Goldens for pies, so we’re set.”


That evening I hummed a chorus of Shoo Fly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy as I leafed through my accordion file in search of Grandma’s heirloom recipe. It had been decades since I’d baked a pie, and when I finally located the yellowed paper with Grandma’s spidery handwriting, I wondered why I had waited so long. As I glanced at the list of ingredients and the instructions, it came back to me.


I never could make a proper crust. Mama said I didn’t make it short enough. I understood the secret was in the amount of ice water and the mixture of shortening and butter, but no matter how hard I had tried to follow her instructions, my crusts always resembled patchworked leather. It’s a wonder the recipe wasn’t blotched with my tears. I’d tried so many times and always failed.


I tucked the recipe back into the file, and decided to forget about the apples. I’d make a pot of applesauce now and then, but otherwise I mostly ignored the trees. They were symbols of my defeat.


But this past autumn, as the economy worsened, I remembered Grandma’s words about never lacking for a treat so long as there’s an apple tree. I wandered into the backyard with a basket and heaped it with Golden Delicious. Over the years I had collected a series of apple recipes, none involving pie crust, always tucking them away with a promise to try them some day. Why couldn’t that someday be today? Waste not, want not.


So I made my first “impossible” apple pie with those sweet cooking apples, and it came out perfect, since it smartly made its own crust. A week or so later I tried an apple crisp, and then apple cheese bread. Besides my usual batches of applesauce, I baked apples and even fried them. I outdid myself with an exotic dish called glazed apple daisy that involved packaged cinnamon rolls and chopped walnuts.


I packed up sacks of the Reds, tucked in a simple recipe for applesauce, and toted them to the local food bank.  By October I had stored several sacks of apples in our garage pantry where they would stay fresh through January. I even took a bushel over to a neighbor for his retired race horses.


On Halloween I recalled how Grandma always candied apples, and how grateful I used to be that I didn’t wear braces so I could savor the delicious crunch. I coated a dozen and gave them to friends.


Finally, after the first early November snowfall, I climbed the ladder and harvested the few apples that clung near the top of the tree, sampled already by flies. These I tossed over the fence into the pasture for the ravenous deer who foraged each night and who were not picky eaters.


I’ve mentally awarded myself an A for effort. I might not be as crusty as Grandma or Mama, but I’m just as thrifty. And I suspect that even Grandma would approve of that glazed apple daisy, so long as I threw in a sliver or two of rhubarb and didn’t let on that I hadn’t made the cinnamon rolls from scratch.


And by baking all our desserts myself, I’d saved enough to buy several very nice bottles of Grandpa’s special coffee flavoring.

Owner of originalTheresa J. Elders
Linked toGertrude Alma Solander

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