Try as I might, I’ll never be able to replicate my mother’s apple pie.

I have the recipe all right, but there was something about hers that puts mine to shame.

My mother would toss the flour into a bowl, add a few splashes of ice water and bits of cold butter, fork it all up and cut the dough in two pieces for the upper and lower crusts.

Macintosh apples

In what seemed like seconds, she had deftly rolled them out, folded the crusts in half and readied them for the pie plate.

To this day, I’m impatient when it comes to peeling and coring apples, but she was able to do it swiftly, seamlessly, while chatting with my grandmother or even talking on the phone.

The kitchen smelled like heaven while her pies baked in the oven.

Though we didn’t get to have a slice until after supper, we were often issued an early treat.

After Mom trimmed the pie crust dough to fit the pie plate, she gathered up all the stray pieces of dough to form a ball. She’d roll it out, slather melted butter over it with a brush and then sprinkle a good dose of sugar mixed with cinnamon over its surface.

Starting at one end, she’d roll the dough into a long, flat rectangle, cut that into one-inch squares, plop them on a baking sheet and slide it into the oven.

What a sensory experience it was, peering through the oven’s glass window to watch the butter and cinnamon bubbling at the edges of the dough, which grew as it baked. The aroma was intoxicating.

There was nothing like sinking our teeth into one of those warm, buttery pastries for which we would praise my mother, who saw the operation as merely a practical way to make use of leftover dough.

In the fall, there were always apples at our Skowhegan house — bushels that we kept in a room off the kitchen we referred to as the “back room,” which later would disappear when we tore the wall down between the two rooms to expand the kitchen.

But before we did that, the apples were kept there — winter apples including Macs, Cortlands and Red Delicious. It was always cold in that room, which faced north to the woods and was also a catch-all for whatever wouldn’t fit in the house, such as the freezer.

The freezer was long and deep and had a heavy door on top that whooshed when we opened it. The freezer housed all of the garden produce my mother would preserve in little plastic containers and mark with masking tape on which she scrawled the date. There were green and yellow beans, corn, peas and other vegetables, as well as blueberries, raspberries and strawberries she and Dad had picked the previous summer.

In a deep closet off our dining room, my mother kept jars of jam and jelly she had made, as well as produce from the garden, including tiny beets she had pickled, mustard pickles and peaches. When I was young, my older sister, Katherine, and I would sometimes get a hankering for pickled beets late at night and raid the pantry. Those beets were delicious.

Mom also made crab apple jelly, using small crab apples she plucked from a tree in the backyard of my grandmother’s summer house in Cornville — a tree my mother continued to collect apples from long after my grandmother had died and the house was sold. As my mother aged, the new owners were kind enough to deliver crab apples to my mother in the fall.

To make the jelly, which also was stored in her pantry, she boiled the apples in a large pot and spooned them into a cheesecloth bag she hung from a cupboard door handle. It was fascinating to watch the red liquid drip, drip, drip into a bowl she placed beneath it.

As the leaves swirl around in late October and the cold creeps in, I think of my mother’s warm kitchen and all the good food she prepared for us, not only daily, but throughout the year.

Her work was a labor of love, and while she has long been gone, I continue to feel grateful for that.


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