Elizabeth Berg is without a doubt my favorite author ever. Period. I’ve read all of her books that are at our public library, and I’ve started buying used copies of all her older books that I can’t find in stores. My favorites so far have been Dream When You’re Feeling Blue (the story of 3 sisters and their loves lost and found during WWII), We Are All Welcome Here (set in Tupelo, Miss. in 1964 — a handicapped single mother struggles raising her 13 year-old daughter with the help of their live-in maid), and The Year of Pleasures (a recently widowed woman decides to move across the country to live out the dream life she and her husband always imagined). If you love to read, you’ll love her books. I swear. Sometimes I read a sentence and think I’ve never heard anything truer, more accurate — I sometimes wonder if she’s inside my head, writing the very things I think. My mother writes like this. I wish I had that ability.
Right now I’m reading The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted:And Other Small Acts of Liberation, a collection of short stories about the everyday experiences of women of all ages.
Last night I read one that made me laugh out loud. It’s called How To Make An Apple Pie. It’s actually a long, rambling, hysterical, simply and grammatically incorrect letter written by an elderly woman to her next door neighbor whom we can assume is like a daughter to her. She loses focus when laboriously explaining how to make her famous apple pie recipe and in the process we learn the story of their relationship. Reading it, it was as if my grandmother was standing beside me talking me through every detail of the process and working in quirky stories and facts along the way. Here’s one of my favorite passages:
“Oh, but you know what, I should have said first thing to do when you make an apple pie is put on an apron and some good music, big band music is good if you’ve got it. If not, country and western. Add that right up top. I don’t know why you cook better in an apron, but it’s true. And if it’s at all a nice day out, I suggest you open the kitchen door and cook barefoot. If it’s a winter day, why you hope for snow, there’s nothing like snow drifting down when your hands are deep in apples and spices, and you should wear a sweater with a pocket with a button and safety pin and hankie in it. Just kidding, but you know I swear every apple pie I made in winter I was wearing that sweater, I might could leave it to you in my will. I hope you’re smiling, are you?”
So after finishing the story, I was able to glean the recipe for Mrs. Flo’s famous apple pie and I decided to make it tonight for Ben, Josh and Emily. I’m feeling sweet so I’ll give it to you too, along with Mrs. Flo’s bits of wisdom. I didn’t make the homemade crust like she did, so excuse that this recipe is not in its entirety:
6 Granny Smith Apples
Pilsbury refrigerated pie crusts
Make the filling first (“that is so the apples have time to meet and greet before they go in the oven”) by thinly slicing the peeled apples and tossing them with lemon juice (“you always need lemon, even if it’s just a little because a lemon is like a brasseire, it offers support even though you can’t hardly see it”), white sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon (“add until it smells right, but don’t let it take over the apples. It is an apple pie, not a cinnamon pie”), a dash of nutmeg (“nutmeg always works undercover, where you taste it but you don’t know what it is”), a dash of salt, a dash of ginger, then a little pile of flour (“we all need something to hold us together, even apples”). Then, to make it extra special make some homemade caramel. Melt some butter on medium heat in a black cast iron skillet, add brown sugar and a little heavy whipping cream, bring to a boil, and let simmer until it’s caramel texture, then stir in some chopped pecans (“then of course you use less sugar in the filling, this is a nice touch and a little surprise”). Put your cold pie crust in the bottom of your pie pan and pour the caramel mixture into it. Next, add your apple filling and put at least 6 pats of butter on top of the filling. Lay your other crust on top, crimp the crusts together and cut little vents or shapes (“whatever you want, it is your pie and there’s the value of making your own as if the taste wasn’t enough”) then add 6 or 7 more pats of butter to the top of the crust (“you need a lot more butter than you think in an apple pie”) then sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar. Bake at 425 for 10 minutes, then 350 for 45 minutes.
And that’s it. Enjoy!
P.S. You might could put some foil around the edges of the crust if it gets to browning too soon. Move that up where it belongs.