“It is remarkable how closely the history of the apple tree is connected with that of man.”
― Henry David Thoreau
I’ve been meaning to write a few different blog posts in the past few weeks, but today this one grabbed me by the figurative balls. This is one of those writing that screamed at me to sit down and write.
Today is one of those days that bring a hint of fall, and with that the feeling of melancholy and nostalgia. It’s in the low 60s, cloudy, cool, damp, and grey. The kind of day where you need some sort of comfort food.
Today, that food is apple crisp. (Mostly prompted by the fact that I had a bunch of apples that needed to be used soon.
I had two grandmothers (as most people do), both very different.
My mom’s mother was Grandma and my dad’s mother was Granny.
Grandma and I were extremely close. I spent an incredible amount of time at her house, She was patient, she was kind. She was a beautiful woman that has part of her soul in mine. She was German and Polish and an amazing cook that could whip up a feast at the drop of a pin and made it seem so so easy. Holidays were spent at her house and no one left without feeling uncomfortably full. Food always brought the family together, and just about every woman in the family has an inherent feel for cooking.
Grandma passed away when I was seventeen, between my junior and senior year in high school. She wanted to pass at home, and that’s what we did for her. My mom, aunt’s, my cousin, my dad, and I all took shifts caring for her. As hard as it was for us to watch, we took care of her every minute in her last weeks on this Earth, bathing, cleaning, and doing the dirty jobs that come with an eventual death. I wouldn’t give up that experience for anything. There were so many tears, but so many laughs and memories made. Her funeral of course was sad, but joyous knowing she was again with my grandfather and family, probably having one hell of a party. At the cemetery we toasted with champagne and poured an entire bottle over the turned dirt for her and my grandfather. Maybe odd, but so fitting for our family.
I inherited the vast majority of her dishes, cooking ware, etc. Some items I’ve had to replace over the past few years out of necessity, and I felt an overwhelming sense of guilt throwing the items in the trash. Then I know exactly The Look she would have given me and exactly what she would have said, (something along the lines of “Don’t be foolish. Get something brand spankin’ new and nice for yourself. You deserve it.”) and probably would have smacked me on the arm.
The first Thanksgiving I cooked after I moved to NE, I was (unfoundedly) nervous. It was my first “big traditional meal” that I was going to prepare, and I wanted to do it justice. I had gotten up way early that morning and I remember standing in the kitchen thinking of all the stuff I needed to do. All of a sudden I felt totally calm (Matt might not have agreed) and I swear our house smelled like her house, and I knew that she was there. And that Thanksgiving went off without a hitch.
I miss her now more than I did after she had passed. She would have loved my husband and their cheeky humor together would have been an absolute riot.
Granny on the other hand, brings back different memories. She was French-Canadian and Belgian and grew up speaking French at home. She could have been a model in her younger years, and that beauty masked a very hard and poor life growing up.
The smell of wood smoke and fall remind me the most of her. Growing up, her property was where the family gardens were and I remember planting and hoeing rows of cucumbers, squash, pumpkins, corn, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, and whatever else that ended up getting planted that year. One row that was always planted without fail was a line of gladiola flowers for my aunt Susie. They of course were the first to bloom and I remember running down the hill each spring to smell them and knowing that the rest of the garden was on it’s way out of the ground.
Her land, my parent’s land, and my aunt and uncle’s land created one giant property that provided for a series of deer hunting towers and blinds built by my uncle, a refuge for wildlife, and the best fort building material that a kid could ask for.
There was a beautiful ancient red maple tree in the front yard that during the summer provided an immense amount of shade for parking, sitting and playing under, etc. It served as second base for kickball and softball games, and during the fall was the most gorgeous tree on the road. Sadly, a few weeks ago the age and weight of the tree became too much for it, and one of the large limbs fell across the road and split the tree. The REA/power company came out and cut it down before any more damage would happen. My mom sent me pictures when they were cutting it down, and part of myself felt like it was being cut along with it. The yard looks empty and bare now, and I’m dreading driving past when I return home for Christmas.
On the property there were apple trees, six of them that I remember. The type of apple trees that were so old and big that they drooped with age and apples. The apples themselves were so tart that you could hardly stand to just eat them by themselves, but they made excellent pie apple and stored well in the cellar. What I wouldn’t give now to have one of those trees nearby.
Granny, to put it politely, was not known for her cooking skills. The whole family knew it, and it’s been a butt of jokes. One of the things she could make though was her apple pie.
She made it the old fashioned way, with the left over bacon grease and lard. Enough of it to make a cardiologist have a heart attack on sight. Those tart apples got sweeter and held up the crisp inside of the pie like nothing else.
Granny sadly passed away only a few years ago from Alzheimer’s. I was able to drive back home for the funeral in between wheat and fall harvest, and even though I was told by my family that I didn’t have to, I’m glad that I did. Granny and I weren’t close, but a smell of a wood fire brings me back to her house in a heart beat.
So today, in my nostalgic mood, I bring you apple crisp.
Grandma’s Recipe for Apple Crisp
1 tsp. salt
1 c. flour
1 c. uncooked quick oats
2 c. sugar
1 tsp cinnamon (or apple pie spice)
1 stick butter
Butter the bottom and sides of a 9×12 baking dish. Slice or dice apples to cover the whole bottom of the pan, plus a little bit more. The firmer/crisper the apple, the better. (For this instance, I just used a hodge podge of apples that I already had, including Granny Smith, Gala, and Braeburn.)
Mix all dry ingredients in a bowl and sprinkle over the apples in an even layer.
Take the stick of butter and thinly slice and layer over the dry mix.
Bake at 350F for approx. 35 minutes or so, until the apples are tender and the top is golden brown. (You may want to check for dry spots on top and add a bit more butter in those places).
I also sprinkle some coarse sugar over the top.
And of course, vanilla ice cream.
No bacon unfortunately was used in the making of this recipe, and the edges were a bit more done than I’d have liked them to be. (I’ll blame it on getting used to a new oven…yeah, I’ll go with that.)
As this blog suggests, I’m cooking something and that means that we’re home- for a little while. I’ll catch up on our exodus from North Dakota, getting back home, our weekend visitors, and the Grapes of Wrath soon.