The Block Island Times

Apple Pie Day

By Martha Ball | Nov 30, 2013

First light is not so early these days, but Nature does not follow a clock and in an abundance of caution I let the pup out for a few moments while I wait in the entry, shoes half on, shielding my feet from the cold cement floor. There are sunrise deer in the front field, their coats blended with the muted fall foliage until they move, white tails flashing. They make a great noise in the quiet, I hear them thundering across the road toward the thicker brush as they catch sight or sound or scent of Autumn, the alien creature in the yard. She has yet to consider the chase, but she does look for an instant before turning and dashing to safety, no longer so anxious to be out in the big, scarey world.

It is fall, it is New England, and later I stand in my kitchen, in my hand one of the tools from the marvel that is my kitchen drawer. This is a ring with an open center connected to its outer rim by eight spokes. It is the older of two apples slicers, the one that by appearances would be the less easy to use but, like the rolling pin with one handle missing, is better than the newer, improved model.

It is rarely used, but this is apple pie day and, while a knife is more than adequate to pare one piece of fruit, the nine or 10 or 11 of the total in the bag, however many I can cram into the shell, merit this awkward tool. It is imperfect, one with 16 sections might be better, but for the infrequent use it gets it is fine.

My golden dog, Autumn, stands behind me, unhappy at being so completely ignored, wanting both attention and a taste of whatever is before me. The task is consuming far more time than she is accustomed to my taking in the kitchen, my back to her, and my sweet docile baby is now a demanding child. I toss her a red skin with a bit of fruit clinging to it thinking it will dissuade her. Instead, she takes it, sniffs it, devours it, and is back for more. The only thing that stops me from giving her the whole stack is a concern of unsettling her tummy, accustomed to a regular diet.

There are times I wonder what was it my mother taught me, a thought usually compounded by a growing disbelief that other people are really telling the truth about all the advice and counsel they received. Then I come around to this ritual of fall. It used to happen more frequently and there was no need to put to paper the recipe my mother reeled off, the one that was embedded in my memory, until years of inattention let it slide away. A few years ago I found myself looking in books and on the internet for familiar ingredients and proportions for the filling.

She would tell me I am making a great big production out of something very simple and I would remind her half her apples came from a can; not filling, she was careful to note, but sliced apples, ready to be dressed up and like those four-and-twenty blackbirds baked in a pie. A real apple was an addition, to this recipe, to mince meat, to a wide variety of dishes than I ever realized. Today, though, I would have to tell her times have changed, it is just not that easy to find sliced apples, not prepared filling, on a store shelve.

The crust was always made from scratch and it is there that I find the security of the singular thing my mother did teach me, with no warning it was anything but simply accomplished. There is a constant ratio, she said, and a particular kind of shortening and none other — not anything living in a can on a shelf — cut into three times as much flour, a dash of salt and enough water to make it work. She usually added “your aunt so-and-so uses ice water” but our water came from a well, cold when let run, there was no need for what I now have since learned is considered essential. It was the same aunt who ironed sheets and other things deemed... unnecessary

When I started looking at the cookbooks, I was astonished to see most recipes called for double the crust ingredients I had been taught to double what I’d ever needed, but suggestion is a powerful thing and lately I use measurements half way between the two. The water is still a guess, the bowl of flour with shortening cut into it stuck under the tap hoping for the best.

Later, after the angst that comes with anything done but once a year, and the reality of a towering golden pie filled with layers of golden apples, out of curiosity and that terrible sin, pride, I go back to the blogs and am glad they did not exist all those years ago. I would have been forever paralyzed by fear.

My complication comes of not having an oven that works — amazing what can be done on a range top with cast iron. Last year I was dog-sitting and took that opportunity to make the fall pie, this year I went to the house of a summer neighbor to bake it — no, I was not tossing the pup apple skins in someone else’s kitchen. The cooks in the family are the men, I remembered after several “how do I...” oven inquiry texts that provided no answers. After another, to the older son who would normally know, I realized the stove is new, replacing one almost as new that blew out as best as anyone could determine by wildly fluctuating electricity. He has been away from it for a while and does not know, either.

It is, I imagine as such things go, a relatively simple oven to operate and, eventually, I do master it, or at least get it do what I want which is reason enough to be thankful. It even has a timer, next time I really must find the proper temperature in some old, battered cookbook long neglected in the shelf. I’ll know it when I see it.

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