My grandmother passed away yesterday morning. She was in her nineties and had the privilege of being entirely herself right up until the end. She outlived every expectation of her doctors (stubborn to the end!) and got to die at home surrounded by family. We should all be so lucky.
Grandma was a smart cookie. I got such joy out of telling Grandma stories. “My ninety year old Grandma has gmail, and she gchats and reads my blog!” was a sentence I often uttered. I’ve met many wonderful people thanks to this blog, but I’m extra grateful for how the blog brought me closer to my grandmother. She read it religiously and would email me with garden advice or recipes. Email was an easy medium for us to communicate by (completely unhindered by hearing aid issues), and the blog let her keep up with my adventures 3000 miles away.
Mostly I associate Grandma with her garden and with food. She was always feeding us. I can hear my own mother saying “Really, Mom, we just need cereal,” while my grandparents calmly ignored her and filled the table full of scrambled eggs, bacon, incredible hash browns, doughnuts, plus toast with butter and “Grandma” jam (as we called the jam she made from her garden raspberries). There was always cereal on the table too, but really how could you eat cereal when presented with the most delicious breakfast potatoes ever? Thinking back, I suspect the secret to those potatoes was a combination of butter and bacon grease. And love, of course. When Grandma moved in with my aunt and uncle, I was gifted one of the magical cast iron skillets that had given rise to years of delicious breakfasts.
(I make some pretty mean potatoes, myself)
Really though, Grandma was known for her pies. Ribbons adorned the wall in her front room from competitions her pies had won. (At least that’s what she always told me.) In the third grade I started a spelling sentence war with my teacher when I used the spelling word “best” to assert that “My grandmother makes the best apple pie in the whole world.” My teacher responded in red ink that her mother made the best apple pie. I accepted this challenge and proceeded to find a way to work my grandmother’s pie making prowess into every possible homework assignment that year. Grandma’s apple pie was my favorite, though she made all kinds of pie. When we came to visit, she’d always have apple pie, special for me she’d say, and even when we got in late at night, I somehow always finagled a piece before bed.
The problem with being 3000 miles away, though, is that you can’t quickly turn on a dime and get to the other side of the country. (I’d like to volunteer for any teleporting beta-testing anyone may know about). My mom and sister warned me that if I bought the last minute flight, Grandma would definitely come back to haunt me for spending that much money on a plane ticket. So stuck on the wrong side of the country, I decided to bake an apple pie for Grandma. I figured I’d bake it in her cast iron skillet and it would be the best culinary tribute I could offer. I’d already taken this skillet well outside its usual realm of bacon and potatoes with buttermilk skillet cake, so I thought it should handle a Grandma apple pie just fine.
Safely armed with a mission, I headed to the grocery store for apples and butter. I got briefly distracted by some rhubarb, but that’s a project for another day. Once home I cut the butter into flour using two butter knives, formed it into two small balls, wrapped them in saran wrap and popped them in the fridge for an hour. I peeled and sliced up the apples and sprinkled them with a small mountain of sugar and a few dashes of cinnamon. After the hour I bravely pulled out one ball of dough and set to rolling it out. This part is always nerve-wracking for me, but I knew if the dough tore that Grandma would have just patched it right up with her fingers. So that’s exactly what I did.
As pies go it wasn’t particularly pretty, and it was far from perfect. But it was exactly right anyhow.