Here's a piece that I wrote quite awhile ago in tribute to my mother, and for all mothers everywhere.
Looking back on my childhood years, one of my most vivid memories centers around the kitchen and the warm smell of apple pie sprinkled with a little conversation for good measure late in the afternoon.
When elementary school is over for the day, I literally hopscotch the uneven sidewalk pavement to the back porch of our house on Eastern Long Island. My walk is a short one of a couple blocks, and many of my neighborhood friends keep me company.
Opening the screen door I can count on finding my mother in the kitchen making a pie. We have a fresh, warm pie on the table every night for dinner.
Mom was a Home Economics major in college, and she was quite well versed in nutrition before it was fashionable. Yet, it’s a wonder that we all didn’t outsize our clothes, but fortunately we were destined to remain trim people.
Mom stands over the counter kneading pie dough with her hands. Occasionally she stops the steady punching and reaches into the canister for some flour to keep it from sticking.
She tells me that she learned how to make a good piecrust from her mother, but when Pillsbury introduces its boxed mix after World War II, she quickly becomes a convert.
I think that she is Pillsbury’s best advertisement. Her pies are in great demand at church suppers and bake sales, and she makes no bones of giving credit to where credit is due.
All her life my mother believed in less fuss the better and carried that out in every aspect of housework. She was a bundle of energy that not only took her homemaking duties seriously, but also, she was our household engineer fixing everything from wiring to intricate plumbing. My dad kept to running his store, and wisely left my mother to her engineering projects.
It wasn’t surprising to see her tinkering under the hood of the car, and when she would get stuck she would phone her brother for advice. I am certain that in another day and age she would have gone on to have become an engineer.
Before you know it she is sprinkling a fistful of flour on the cutting board. She reaches into the drawer for her wooden rolling pin, and places the rounded ball of dough down to be shaped. Studying the rolling pin when she sets it aside, I notice that its wooden green handles are worn from use.
Today I use that very same rolling pin, but unfortunately I never got the hang of good pie making, even with an expert for a teacher. The old rolling pin does feel good in my hands, though, and it brings me a little closer to her.
Deftly she shapes the crust, lifts it into the pie plate and crimps the edges with her nimble fingers just like working a piece of clay. If I look the other way even for a second, I’ve missed the tricky part.
I remember mom as someone who worked quickly and efficiently. Years later when my daughter, Christine, took my place at the counter watching her grandma bake, she would call her “the five-minute pie lady.”
Nothing seemed to get the best of her from making a Halloween costume from scraps of material at the last minute to racing down to my dad’s store with a warmed dinner during his busy Christmas season.
Dough consistency can be tricky, but mom lets the feel of the dough determine if she needs more water mixed in. She wipes her hands on her worn cotton apron.
Once the crust is ready, mom selects five or six McIntosh apples from the basket under the window in the back porch. She slices faster than my eye can follow, scoops them into the pie shell and finishes the pie off with a dash of spices topped with pats of butter.
Mom was sensitive to my needs too, and when I would come home from school brimming with news, or perhaps, a trouble or two, she would listen carefully keeping an eye on getting the crust together.
The remaining slivers of piecrust get rolled out again forming strips decorating the crust. By now my hunger gets the best of me, and my hand is slapped for trying to grab raw dough to feast on.
Mom cooked by instinct. She would glance at a cookbook like a reference guide. It was hard for her to come up with a complete recipe if I asked her to write one down for me to use. Preserving her recipes for the rest of the family became a challenge later!
Into the oven goes the pie and it is not long before the delicious aroma of apples baking takes over the whole house.
It was right there in the kitchen during pie making that she heard me proudly read from my first reader, “Dick and Jane.”
At seventeen I told her that I wanted to become a teacher while leaning over the counter watching her bake.
Much later it was in the kitchen when she told me that she must give up living on her own. She felt confusion had set in, and she wasn’t too certain of things anymore.
Pie baking was over, but the memories of my mother will never fade.