As the snow swirls around outside the best thing I can do for myself and my husband is bake. He has had a real craving for one of my Apple Pies, but it got put onto the back burner with all the cooking that the holidays require. So with peeler in hand and apples that were crying to be used before they went bad, I resolved that this was the day!
When I’m doing something that doesn’t take a lot of concentration I either have to make a game out of it, i.e. how fast can I peel an apple or how long can I keep the peel intact without breaking it. Or I can let my mind just drift. Today it drifted.
It started when I spotted my cast iron fry pans that are a perpetual inhabitant of my stovetop. Ken’s Mom entrusted these pans to me soon after we were married. She had them stored in the attic of her house and asked if I would like them. They had surface rust from not being used. Young and dumb I thought to myself, “Who would want these old things”, but I was eager to please her so they came into my care. They had belonged to her mother and they needed to be used. She told me how to care for them and then she told me stories about the women who had used them. She told me stories about the family that they helped to feed and the food that they produced.
Then the stories all started to come back. I was 5 or 6 years old again, standing by as my Grandma Skopec took a small disc of dough and set it on my Moms round kitchen table. With rolling pin in hand she started to roll the dough out in all directions. Larger and larger it got as I stood by asking endless questions. Finally, she stopped for just a minute and explained that if she didn’t work quickly the dough would dry out and be unworkable. I was welcome to stay, remember my questions and she would try to answer them when she was done. As I watched, as quietly as was possible for me at the time, the dough became thinner and thinner until it hung off all sides of the table by at least 10 inches. It was so thin you could almost see through it and there wasn’t one tear. I can still see the look of satisfaction on her face. That pastry recipe is in my mother’s recipe box in my cupboard, though I still haven’t attempted such a feat.
I remembered my Aunts and Mom gathered in a kitchen, cooking and talking, getting the food ready for a family get-together. The food flowed from the kitchen to the tables that were set up. My Mom’s special recipe potato salad was always served in her pretty ruby colored antique bowl. I had just used this same bowl when I made my her Potato Salad recipe for Christmas.
My Dad liked to bake, and when he was laid off from Clark Equipment he made the best cookies and biscuits. Much of this was learned when he Managed Thomas’s Restaurant in Niles for a short time. He would explain why he mixed the ingredients the way he did and how you didn’t handle the biscuit dough too much or it would get tough. He told me why he would flour the biscuit cutter after cutting each biscuit so it wouldn’t stick, and then gently lay the biscuits on the baking sheet. They were the flakiest biscuits I ever tasted. When he made cookies he would let me help mix the dough near the end when it was too thick to use a spoon on. We would wash our hands and plunge our fingers into the thick gooey dough mixing in the chocolate chips and oatmeal. The best part was licking our fingers when we were done mixing before he showed me how to drop the cookies onto the cookie sheet and put them into the oven. The biscuit cutter and baking sheets are in my cupboard waiting for the next batch of biscuits or cookies.
My Grandma Quick would always let me help make piecrust. She would flour the table in the kitchen to roll out the crust on, and then she would add a little flour to the top of the dough. After rolling out the disc of dough to the right size she would drape it over her rolling pin and ease it into the pie plate. She would trimming the dough to fit then hand me her rolling pin so I could make a small crust with the leftover dough. As I roll out the crust for my pie, I remember the feel of her standing behind me with her hands on mine guiding them over the dough as we rolled. I can feel the rhythm of the gentle back a forth motion and the feel of her wooden rolling pin in my hands as I shape and flatten the dough. Yes, I’m using that rolling pin today and maybe someday I will stand behind one of my grandchildren helping them roll out their little pie crust.
Yes, many of the things that my family cooked with have taken up residence in my kitchen. The bowls and biscuit cutters, rolling pins, and pie plates are all there, along with their recipes and the cooking heritage that they have bestowed on me.
As I drape my dough over my Grandma’s rolling pin and ease it into my mother’s pie plate I can feel all of my family’s cooks gathered around murmuring their approval. What better thing to do on a snowy day than to invites these wonderful people back into my memories to warm my heart as their recipes baking in the oven warm the house, filling it with incredibly yummy scents and a feeling of home.