First off, Happy Mother’s Day to you all. I watch Alma do what she does as a mother, and what so many of you do, and honestly know that I couldn’t pull it off. In fact, I remember taking the last two weeks of the year off of work a few years ago, the absolute chaos of the daily grind, and the smile that involuntarily took over my face as I walked up the stairs to my office on January 2nd, knowing that I was about to get a much needed break by returning to “work.” So, thanks.
We were driving home tonight after a great day together, all six of us in the van, and Alma mentioned that she had to return a friend’s call. Something about advice on the peanut sauce for Chicken Sate. From the back row of seats, our eight year old daughter asked if the friend had remembered to marinate the chicken.
Alma cooks with our kids all the time, and it occurred to me tonight that it has become an ingrained part of their experience as children; a routine familiar enough that the details are memorized, and that will build throughout their lives into a catalogue that brings them back to our kitchen, and to the time they spent with their mom, stirring or sifting or whatever they do in there. (I only cook outdoors).
We spend a lot of time thinking about building memories for our kids. Little things they’ll come back to as adults, and when we’re gone, that will remind them of us and of what it was like to be a kid in our home. Maybe it’s vanity, or too much awareness of our own mortality as we age, but I think there’s something to it, and I’m glad that Alma is taking care of that in our kitchen.
This is a food blog, and I’ll acknowledge that it can be somewhat forced to make some connection to the topic in my (2nd) annual Mother’s Day coup of this page. So for the record, I’m well aware that these memories don’t have to be built solely on food. I can remember exactly what it felt like when my dad asked me to play catch, or put me in his signature, playful headlock, even when I was thirty and his grasp was easily escaped. So, of course, we can have an everlasting impact on our kids anywhere.
But you have to eat. And somehow the memories I have around food are more evocative of their origins than others. My grandmothers had a friendly, but serious, competition over whose apple pie was better. Each would ask me after almost every slice if it was better than Sally’s/Evelyn’s. They were both excellent, but Sally’s was better. (Pause to to listen for signs of Gramma Evelyn rolling over in grave).
Thanksgiving 2001, fifteen years after my Gramma Sally died along with her recipe, Sudbury, MA. I walk into my cousin Lori’s house and am immediately dragged into the kitchen, where Lori excitedly says something about finally getting it, and shoves a fork full of pie into my mouth. Instant tears in my eyes. Honest. She had nailed it exactly, after years of trial and error, and I was back in Sally’s kitchen in Cranston, RI, picturing the housecoat, the speckled linoleum floor, and feeling the general maternal doting that Jewish boys of my generation remember, and use as an important yardstick of female affection.
And now our kitchen has its moments, and tastes and smells that my kids will always remember, and I’ll thank Alma for that now, and I’m sure our kids will later.
Gramma Sally’s Apple Pie
a little sugar
a little cinnamon
Make a crust, and put it in an old pyrex pie plate. Mix the apples, sugar and cinnamon together. Put top crust over mixture and poke symmetrical holes with a fork. Bake until done. That’s how she did it, I swear.