Baking Pies with Angels
Say it out loud. Go on. Pie . . . ahhh. Let the word and all its pleasant associations flow over you. Pie.
My friends Sandy and Rick Van Eck have an apple tree that is EXPLODING with apples. Remember the tree in The Wizard of Oz that starts throwing its apples at Dorothy and the Scarecrow? The Van Ecks weren’t throwing the apples at us, but recently they were trying very hard to get rid of them. I was in a Zoom group two weeks ago when they offered up their apples. I remained quiet. (I can do that sometimes).
Then we were in the same Zoom group on Saturday when they made the pitch again. It was like people begging you to take a kitten. I wanted to say “yes;” I am usually an obliging sort of person. But I didn’t want their apples, because I knew that taking them was going to lead to guilt and lying, and possibly the end of friendship. Oh, yes, apples can do all that, ask Eve.
Here’s the thing: Sometimes, city folk who have a tree that bears FOOD are excessively impressed with their crop. They take great pride in that fruit bearing tree, even though they had very little to do with its production. Sure, in some cases they planted them -- two trees – it takes two, dontcha know? But in most cases, the people bought the house and the apple trees came with it. They don’t even have to water or fertilize it and voila! One fine, fall day they come out and there are apples – everywhere – and the people are just so darn proud.
Except --- what they don’t want to acknowledge is their apples are gross. (No one ever thinks their baby is ugly.) Oh, you know what I mean; you’ve seen them lying all over lawns around town. The apples are little and green and sour and have worms in them. Nobody wants those apples except the flies. No, thank you very much.
So, while I didn’t want to look a “gift horse” in the mouth when the Van Ecks AGAIN offered their apples, I also didn’t want small, green, sour apples with worms in them. What would I do with them? If I accepted them, I knew I would throw them away, but not immediately, not for a few days. Maybe even a week. They would sit on my counter mocking me. My husband, who is far better at remaining silent than I, would ask me every day, “Whatcha gonna do with those little green apples, Dear?” And I’d be mad at him for being so smug. Then one day, when they began to rot and the fruit flies showed up, I’d put them in the trash. Deep down in the trash.
I’d feel guilty for taking them, guilty for not doing anything with them, and guilty for wasting them. I’d have so much guilt I might need to go to confession. “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. Like Eve, I took the apples.”
Plus, if I accepted them, Sandy, in that sweet way she has, would ask me if I enjoyed the apples, and I would lie. Now, I’ve had years of acting classes that did not pay off, and I am a HORRIBLE liar. The Catholics got me young when Father Pete at St. Joe’s thundered from the pulpit, “Liars burn in hell!” Truth. Swear to -- never mind. Maybe that’s why I am such a terrible liar. If I lie badly, maybe I will be saved from the really hot floor of hell.
When Rick and Sandy asked for a 3rd time if anyone wanted some apples, I had an idea! Gretchen Graf is this amazing woman who leads a congregation (Lutherans) that makes a meal once a week for 30 people who are doing their best to make a new start in life. Gretchen and her congregation are the kind of people who would never say “yes” to free apples only to throw them in the trash. They’d make apple sauce, apple butter, apple bread, apple cider, apple wine, apple art, apple clothes, and – apple pie. So, I contacted Gretchen and she said she’d LOVE the apples, if --
If only she had the time to make pies. Sigh.
See, Gretchen’s a busy woman, and unlike myself, she’s not busy watching French mysteries on Netflix or saying snarky things on Facebook. Gretchen is seriously busy. When she said she wasn’t sure when she’d find the time but would gladly take some apples – I knew I had to step up. So, I texted Sandy: “Thank you. I’d love some apples!” Sandy dropped off -- I kid you not – a mattress box of apples. And guess what?
They were beautiful apples!
Some still had a sweet, curling leaf on the stem. They were the most amazing apples I’ve ever seen AND -- they came off the tree of people I KNOW. Isn’t that so COOL?! Not from some sterile, produce aisle where the fruit has been waxed and polished because NATURE isn't "attractive" not enough. No, they were off a REAL tree -- in a YARD – in MY TOWN! Uh-huh uh-huh.
They were fairly large apples, most filled the palm of my hand, red and yellow, and kind of squat like a McIntosh, no holes, no worms, and they weren’t sour – but they were tart – perfect for pies! Pie, pie, glorious pie!
So, I proceeded to go pick up some pre-made pie crust at the store – (THAT doesn’t grow on anyone’s backyard tree). I assembled all the ingredients: white sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, butter, and – my special magic – pure vanilla extract. Ummm. I began peeling and chopping while NPR played a segment on songs with strong bass lines. "Pressure pushing down on me Pressing down on you, no man ask for Under pressure that burns a building down . . .
Um ba ba be Um ba ba be De day da Ee day da, that's okay"
And a funny thing happened: As I peeled and chopped, I could feel the pressure in my shoulders release. I found my jaw unclench. My mind wandered back – back to a small teal and white kitchen in Miami, Florida. 1981:
My mom only bought frozen pies, or store baked pies, but one day when I was about 16, living with my Aunt Helen, she said, “Oh, apple pie is easy!” She then proceeded to show me how easy. No recipe card. Just kinda eyeballing all the ingredients. Her freckled hands, kissed by sun and years, dug into the bowl of sliced apples, sugar, and spices and turned it over on itself. The diamonds on her left hand winked as she talked.
Aunt Helen had been a widow for at least ten years by then. Uncle Jerry was about 20 years older than she was. Together they’d had six children. The children were grown, one gone far too soon, and at this point there were grandchildren, yet she had taken me in during my “wayward” teens because . . . well, because she was that kind of sister and aunt.
She had terrible arthritis in her knees, yet she was on her feet five days a week cooking for God.
Okay, she cooked for God in a kinda, sorta, roundabout way. She fed the “boys” at St. Brendan’s seminary in Miami, Florida. She put breakfast, lunch, and dinner in their bellies so they could devote their days to studying scripture, theology, and prayer. She fed their bodies so they could one day feed the souls of a congregation. So, in a way, she baked pies for God.
God loves pie. That’s why there are so many apples on apple trees.
You know, a pie is a simple thing – 5 ingredients (if you don’t include the vanilla) plus the crust. Taking a teenager into your home when you’re a widow in your 60s is not. Volunteering to feed 30 people every week is not.
But baking a pie? Anyone can do that. Even me. I raise my fork to the Van Ecks for their persistent generosity. Their apples allowed me to bake pies with Aunt Helen this week. I could feel her over my shoulder watching as the scent of cinnamon and apples filled my kitchen.
Apple seeds are tiny, but like small acts of kindness they can grow and fill your heart until, like a prolific apple tree, you are passing that kindness on to others.
Writing Challenge: So many recipes are handed down from loved ones. What recipe do you make that takes you back to a kitchen that only exists in the sunbeam of a memory?