I always enjoy the challenge of trying new recipes. I pour over cookbooks and websites like Epicurious, dreaming about the new meals I can bring to the table (literally). I like to think Nigella Lawson transmits some of her skills and talent to me whenever I try one of her recipes.
But while one of the joys of cooking is in the challenge and the newness of things, there’s also a deep satisfaction in drawing back on the classic recipes that have carried on through the generations. There’s a communion with the past and a feeling of carrying on tradition which is unique to you and your family. It’s a chance to take part in one of the things so many bakers and chefs have in common– “I learned how to cook from my mother.”
I grew up on the best pie in the world. On the Fourth of July, Christmas, and other holidays, my mom would roll out a short dough and draw on the traditions of her family to bake tart-yet-sweet rhubarb pies and warm, cinnamony apple pies. She grew up on these recipes too. The recipes can be found in a little church cookbook, with my great-grandma’s name next to each of them, a tribute to the wonderful, warmhearted woman we’ve missed so much since she left us over ten years ago.
One of my earliest experiments in baking, probably when I was in my late teens, was trying these recipes for myself– the crust and the rhubarb pie; I’d never made the apple pie recipe. It’s been a while, but I decided to revisit them this week. I had a bag of Granny Smith apples, and decided I should put them to good use.
The pie was relatively easy to throw together, but I’m not going to lie, I called my mom three times while I was making it. “This says the water and flour is supposed to make a paste, but it’s really liquidy– did I mess up?” “Do you use a pastry blender to mix everything up?” “How small do you slice up the apples?” It must have reminded my mom of when I was three years old, asking “why” and “what” and “how” about everything. But word-of-mouth is how these recipes come down in their truest forms, and, besides, I never mind a chance– or three– to talk with my mamma.
I also decided to try something a little different than anything I’d done before. I’ve always made a plain top for pie, with lightly crimped edges and a small design on the top cut by the tip of a knife. This time, I wanted to make a lattice top. Julian picked up a pizza roller for me at the grocery store and I used that to make long, mostly even strips. It was tricky to weave them without breaking them or making too many gaps, and there ended up being some spillage onto the bottom of the oven, but overall it turned out well and I was really happy with it.
Once again, I had the joy of sharing this with Julian and his mom, who both loved it and declared it the best pie crust they´d ever had. Perhaps there is some bias in there, but then, I´ve always thought the same too, whenever my mom made it. Thanks to my great-grandma, whose love and skill make this a recipe worth making again and again.
On a side note, I learned from my aunt that Great-Grandma had a cherry pie recipe as well, which I have never had. I see more experimentation in my future…