I made an apple pie yesterday morning with my daughter. I let her roll out the extra dough and sprinkle cinnamon sugar on top then cut them into pinwheels. I used to do this with my mother and watching my little girl on that crisp Autumn morning,I was hit with a double shot of sadness and fond memories about my mom. This was a relief because, since her passing 6 weeks ago, I haven’t really been able to conjure up remembrances of her; maybe it’s the chemo, my brain seems to be in a fog. Below is a piece I wrote about her last year. Thanks mom for teaching me something that I can now pass on.
The Last Apple Pie
When my mother prepared her final apple pie she had no idea that one month later she would suffer a series of strokes and surgical operations. When she cut the apples combining them with cinnamon and sugar she wasn’t aware that by the following Thanksgiving, the social worker at Braintree Rehab would recommend that we disconnect the stove in her apartment. There was no way for my mother to know that when she pulled the steaming apple pie from her oven on that chilly winter day that this would be the last pie she ever baked.
“Tell me again why you are doing that,” my Mother called out to my sister and I from her seat on her tattered pink couch, the day we brought her home from the hospital.
I looked at my sister Mary as I reached behind the stove to find the plug and disconnect it.
“Because, mom, the social worker thinks it’s a good idea,” my sister explained,” You still have your microwave to cook things, you don’t need the stove. It’s dangerous for you right now.”
“Well, how will I make my pies?”
We had no answer for her.
I discovered early in my childhood that the perfect apple pie depends on two elements: the consistency of the apples and the flakiness of the crust. They must coexist or the pie fails.
Mom never explained the logistics of how to make the ideal apple pie, I absorbed the information, poised at her elbow, while she peeled, cored, and pared.
“Macs and Cortland’s make the best pies,” she would mumble, as she cut with the skill of a surgeon, turning the entire peel into one continuous spring-like coil.
I discovered that lemon juice prevents the apples from browning and learned to measure with my eye the exact amount of apples and the precise size of each piece needed to ensure the correct consistency of the cooked fruit; which is midway between hard and applesauce.
I watched as my mother added a little vinegar to the dough to achieve a light and flaky crust. When she rolled out the thick white mixture, I understood the importance of sprinkling plenty of flour on the table to avoid sticking and to roll the dough out from the center gently. She worked efficiently as I reveled in the sounds of her rings clanking against the shaft of the rolling pin and her bracelets jangling against the aluminum flour tin.
When I was 12, my mother took first place in The Shopper’s World Apple Pie Contest. Only she was surprised by this accomplishment. At our house, Mom’s pie was already illustrious; the contest merely a formality. Baked year round for holidays, friends, or Sunday dinner; each pie was as delicious as the last. There was never an “off” day for Mom’s apple pie. The panel had agreed, Mary Buckley’s pie was the best of the best. Although she laughed it off when the judges called, I remember thinking it was one of Mom’s prouder moments.
After my father died, my mother moved into a one- roomed subsidized apartment which meant that she could no longer host holiday family dinners. Per her request, my husband constructed a Formica cover to fit over the sink in her galley kitchen. By expanding her counter space, she could still roll out dough, ensuring her continued contribution to holiday meals.
Mom’s apple pie is now legendary with my own children. Wide-eyed before every gathering, they inquire:
“Is Grammy bringing apple pie?”
“Of course,” I answer, while basting the turkey.
My kids are not impressed by the hours of house-cleaning or shopping, the time spent preparing the turkey, peeling the potatoes, glazing the ham, or mashing the squash.
They are impressed by pie. I am impervious to their ingratitude because I can still remember, as a child, pushing the ham and potatoes around my own plate, one elbow on the table, palm squished against my cheek, wondering when the adults would stop talking and bring out the dessert for God’s sake! So I understand my kids’ excitement. This is Grammy’s famous award- winning apple pie. Dinner is secondary.
Unfortunately, I was not thinking of apple pie when I agreed to unplug my mother’s stove and cover the burners with cutting boards. It didn’t occur to me that last Christmas when Mom walked through my front door carrying her steaming pie, wrapped in waxed paper inside an old Filenes’s box, that that was her final offering.
If I had thought of her pie, while sitting in that stuffy Rehab office, then maybe I would have stood up to that social worker and told her that it was a far greater risk to take away my mother’s sense of purpose then the supposed threat of her burning down her apartment. If I’d remembered, I would have brought this woman a piece of Mom’s pie so she could taste for herself, the perfect apple pie. Maybe then she would have understood.