We bake and blog (and eat). Though baking takes up a lot more of our life than blogging.
October 14, 2015 / By Brett Braley
[The second post from one of our fave guest bloggers, Brett of Fig and Bleu]
Heirloom is more than the grocery store variety for those from the Midwest. You may inherit your grandfather’s name as your own and it becomes a relic of the Depression-era sensibility that still runs deep in your own blood. You finish your plate because others can’t. You measure the flour and leave the rest in the bag. You make a meal stretch by adding stale breadcrumbs. Heirloom isn’t restricted to tomatoes in the Midwest; it goes deeper. Everything we’ve ever loved and learned has been a hand-me-down from others. You can almost feel that connection when you drive through the plains in Indiana, the window down and your arm cutting the air with an outstretched palm.
The Midwest runs deeper than geography. Having been raised by my parents in an area of Pennsylvania called the Laurel Highlands and raising myself the rest of the way in California, I can attest to this. I’ve felt the pull towards the midland states most during celebrations that act as bookends of life: weddings, births, and funerals. The same families gather at the same churches and there you find the same food on an old foldout card table where your uncles played Euchre. A line forms around the hot dish casseroles, the warm bread wrapped in an old stained cloth napkin, the sticky and bleeding pies with berries so fresh they tasted like sweet wine, and glass pitchers of iced tea, the Lipton bags still floating in it.
The foldable tables were brought into church basements, covered in a clean plastic tablecloth that shined glossy below the white lights. I’d sit down at any open seat, my paper plate sagging under the weight of everything I had chosen as my meal. I usually held my mom’s hand to ensure I could sit by her. My dad would drink a beer and my mother would butter my bread and we’d all sit, picking at the chicken with our fingers and listening to all the voices of a world I lived on the periphery of: between childhood and adulthood, between stranger and family.
Fall was my favorite time for someone to die or get married when I was younger. It meant piles of leaves and cousins gasping for breath in the dusky haze that hangs over the horizon for a couple lazy hours in October. We’d all gather together around an old tire swing in the woods, daring the one another to swing as high as they could on it, hoping the frayed rope didn’t break at the apex. Fall was the time when mornings were most crisp. I’d sit huddled under quilts in the backroom of my aunt’s doublewide trailer and her weak coffee, even when I was eleven, was welcomed to warm me up.
On every table in those harvest seasons between the ages of three to seventeen, there was apple butter in old foggy jars. Most often found unscrewed and next to a pile of white bread for breakfast. I ate my share with a spoon; my mom put a dollop on vanilla ice cream at a baby shower once. Each aunt made her own apple butter a little different; my mom makes hers from stunted apples that grow in a shale bed next to the creek in her backyard. I asked her for her recipe to spread on a piecrust I found in that old Tanglewood cookbook. She said she doesn’t write those kinds of recipes down; they’re all in her instincts now. She’s been making it for 35 years, and so the process is deep inside her.
It wasn’t until later that I realized how vital this gathering around food was, how it existed in my genes as well as my sense memory. How it situated itself on my palette and into the corners of my nerve-endings, always on the outliers of my synapses. I gravitate to those hearty meals; my mom adds a can of Coca-Cola to her ham. I like donuts made from pinched-off biscuit dough and my lemonade so sweet it hurts your teeth. A piece of bread dipped in apple butter is the only thing you need with coffee. These were the years I remember most before bed, seasons of harvest and celebrations of life. How they shaped my worldview, my love of food, and the bonds that tie us together are enriched most in egg, sugar, and flour.
Cheddar-Apple Butter Galettes
Using Ms. Evelyn Menchhofer, Treasurer of Tanglewood Baptist Church’s pie crust recipe, I made these roughshod pies that are great for gatherings, breakfasts, or desserts. The recipe makes 4 medium-sized pies, but can easily be doubled to have extras.
Ingredients for the galette crust:
Directions for the crust:
Ingredients for stovetop apple butter:
Directions for apple butter:
Ingredients for the Cheddar-Apple Butter Galettes: