This weekend, Kirk and I made our annual trek to the mountains to partake in the Hendersonville Apple Festival in western North Carolina. It has become something of a tradition to attend the festival with our friends Jacob and Sara (remember them?), and though the day felt like nothing so much as summer, we indulged our fancy, pretending that the air held the promise of crispness, and cooler temps were just around the corner.
As we perused the offerings of the many tables, sampled the delicious apples, and indulged in once-a-year treats, my grandfather came to mind. We recently marked the four year anniversary of his passing, and as we passed booths promising fresh apple slushies, apple turnover, homemade apple ice cream, and hand-dipped caramel apples, I smiled at the distant memory that floated to the surface.
Nana and Papa’s small, rectangular house squatted on their postage stamp-sized property, with a concrete driveway lining the right side of the lot, and a detached one car garage tucked in the back. Within the confines of the fenced backyard, the grass was immaculately maintained, the roses along the house flourished, and the small vegetable garden along the side of the garage offered its bounty.
Come late summer, the lone tree that was centered in the yard exploded with a harvest of tiny green apples. These apples were an enigma to me. Perfectly formed miniature versions of the apples I ate at snack time, they taunted me from their unreachable heights, surely at least 6 feet above the ground. Of course, there were always plenty of ugly, browning apples littering the ground beneath the canopy, but if the tree had thrown them away, I sure wasn’t going to eat them. Besides, the five-second rule had clearly been broken as I had never actually seen one fall. And it wasn’t for lack of trying. I tried valiantly to shake one of the forbidden fruits to the ground, but the sturdy trunk refused to sway even a little. Not only could I not move it, I couldn’t even climb it due to its skinny diameter and high up limbs.
After plotting unsuccessfully to pick one on my own, I begged and begged Papa to get one for me. Again and again he shook his head, until at long last he finally reached up and plucked one for me, handing it to me with merriment in those rich blue eyes and an innocent smile on his thin, flesh-colored lips. Almost the moment it was in my hand, I eagerly sank my teeth into the surprisingly hard flesh.
Immediately, the starchy, sour flavor flooded my mouth, causing my lips to involuntarily pucker and my eyes to squint. Blinded by the tears that sprang unbidden to my eyes, I was aware of the sound of laughter from the exact location where Papa had stood moments before. Was he laughing at me?!
I spit out the offending bite and wiped at my tears with the back of my sleeve. I was tempted to wipe my tongue as well, but settled on spitting a few more times. When I was recovered enough to look up, I focused on my Papa, who was trying hard to control his laughter. My eyebrows came together huffily and my hands went to my hips. “Why did you let me eat that Papa?” The hurt and accusation were clear in my whining tone.
Smiling gently, Papa put his huge hands around my thin shoulders and squeezed lightly. “Because you asked, Little Bit, and Papa can’t deny you nothing.”
That’s how I will always remember him: as tall as a giant, chuckling merrily with that raspy, throaty quality that accentuated his many decades on this earth. Piercing blue eyes focused right one me, as if I had something important to say, even at the age of five. And always, always indulging his grand kids. It makes me smile just thinking of him, and the twinkle in his eye as he handed me that apple. I'm so glad that we were able to make it to the festival this year, which brought about this special memory in the first place. Who knows, maybe next year's festival will shake another great memory loose for me, too :)
Do you have traditions that help you to ring in fall? Apple orchards, or football games, or one last s’more around the campfire? Does food ever trigger memories for you like it did for me?
This is actually the very first recipe I ever posted on the blog, but it is so yummy, I decided to share it again so my newer Cake Readers had a chance to try their hand at total awesomeness in the form of apple pie :) The recipe is based on the Perfect Apple Pie recipe at KraftFoods.com – I simply lowered the amount of sugar in the filling, added a pinch to the crust, and used Honeycrisp apples because they are the best EVER (and available by the bushel at the festival, lol)
Glorious Apple Pie
Crust: (and yes, you can just use the premade kind from the store)
2 and 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
1 cup shortening
1/4 to 1/3 cup ice water
Combine the flour, salt, and sugar, mix. Add shortening, and cut into flour using a pastry knife or two regular knives until mixture resembles coarse, pea-sized crumbs. Add water a little at a time, stirring with a fork until mixture clings together. Taking care not to over mix, divide the dough evenly and shape into 1 inch thick disks, wrap with plastic wrap, and place in refrigerator for 15 minutes.
4 large or 5 medium apples - honeycrisp are my very favorite - Very thinly sliced and cut into small wedges (I use the apple peeler/slicer/corer that I got for $19 at the festival, but which they sell in novelty kitchen supply stores or online)
1/2 cup sugar
1 and 1/2 Tbsp cornstarch
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
Combine in bowl, tossing well, set aside.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Pull dough from fridge, sandwich between either 2 large pieces of plastic wrap or parchment paper, and using a rolling pin work until large enough to cover the bottom of a 9 to 9.5 inch pie pan. Peel away to top piece, then invert dough into pan and peel away remaining piece of wrap/paper. Adjust to fit pan without stretching, making sure no air bubbles are trapped at the bottom.
Add apple filling
Work the top piece of dough the same as the bottom piece. Place over filling, crimp bottom and top pieces of dough together, and cut steam vents into the top. For a shiny crust, beat an egg and brush it over the dough, sprinkling with sugar if desired.
Place on a cookie sheet to catch overflow, and place in oven. Bake 45 to 50 minutes