by Michael Billikopf
“Over the river, and through the wood, to Grandmother’s house we go; the horse knows the way to carry the sleigh through the white and drifted snow.”
- Lydia Maria Child
As we neared my grandmother’s house, everyone in the van would erupt into song. We knew we were close as we drove over a small bridge above a small creek that to us seemed like a large river. The tall redwood and oak trees line the drive towards her house. Excitement filled my heart, as I knew I would get to see my grandmother again whom I loved with all my heart.
I could not wait for the car to finish going down the long driveway before I whipped the sliding door of the van open and leapt out. Tires still moving, I hit the ground running for my grandmother. Her warm big smile and strong hugs were waiting for me inside. After a solid hug I ran around the house. What kind of cookies did she have in the cookie jar and what is hiding behind the lids of the candy dishes? I rushed all the usual locations searching for what treasures would await me. Oreos, oatmeal cookies, chocolate chip cookies, Hershey kisses, and an assortment of hard candies were the usual catches.
After filling my belly with all the sweets I could get in before I was caught, I ran outside to explore her massive backyard. Thirteen giant redwood trees lined the backyard and the side of the house. I tried to climb them all, struggling to reach the lower branches. Some seemed impossibly high to my young mind. I remember jumping to reach the lower branches and being so proud of myself when I could touch the lowest branch.
Running and playing all day, I was exhausted. I would crawl under the giant juniper bushes and lay there quietly. No one could see me in the dense bushes. I was hidden and could have them all to myself. I would hear my mother calling for me and I would pop out from a corner of the bushes and try to scare her. She would always act surprised though I doubt she ever was.
It was time to go, but I didn’t want to leave my grandmother’s house. I knew with Grandma, we would do fun things like watching the Little Mermaid and baseball games in Oakland. I cried to my mother that I did not want to go. My grandmother offered that I could stay there if I wanted. I sat down with my mother and discussed staying with my grandmother. I had never been away from my mother than for more than a few hours. I was a little terrified but I knew that my grandmother’s house was a lot more fun than mine and my grandmother took me to do super cool things. I made the decision that would change the rest of my life.
During the next six weeks our friendship grew and she became my best friend. We did everything together and I did not have to worry about competing for attention with my siblings because grandma gave me all of her attention. It was not long before she had me waking up early to do chores around the house. She always said it is easier to get work done in the cool of the morning. I used to complain about waking up so early but I understand now that her house did not have air conditioning and by working all morning, we could get a lot of yard work done before the heat of the afternoon. When you have a large property there is always something to do.
As the summer flew past, I noticed green apples started falling from the large apple tree in the yard. This tree was huge and hung over the back lawn. My grandmother told me to collect the apples each morning so that we could make apple pies. Every morning I would scour the back grass and wooded area to see if there were any apples. I remember returning so victoriously after my hunt to show my grandma what I had found. Bowl after bowl was filled with apples until it seemed as if the whole kitchen was filled with this bright green color.
Waking up one day, my grandmother told me it was time to start making the pies. We started by making the dough. She carefully taught me how to knead the lard into the flower and add just enough salt for the perfect taste. I can still hear her voice telling me “don’t work the dough too much because you want to keep it flaky.” We prepared about a dozen pie crusts. The pie ranged in size from single serving pies to giant pies to feed an army. I always liked the individual pie tins because my grandmother would always allow me to bake it when I was done instead of freezing it.
Next came the biggest project: peeling all of the apples. I remember struggling at first with the peeler, afraid that I was about to cut myself. Soon I became a professional apple peeler. Grandma would sit with her large bowl of water, bathing the apples while she was cutting them to keep them fresh. I soon was able to peel fast enough to keep up with my grandma cutting the apples. Hours later the kitchen would be filled with pies.
Now it was time to season the apples. We started with healthy layers of cinnamon and sugar, ensuring it got distributed to all of the apples. Then we added a little nutmeg and small chunks of butter. While I was seasoning the pies, my grandma was rolling out crust tops. Carefully placing each one onto a heaping pile of freshly cut tart green apples. She would have me take a fork and poke 4 or 6 holes on the top of the pie, depending on its size to, let the steam out.
The finishing touch was my favorite, adding the sugar. My grandma always told me to take it easy and only put a little, but as a child, I knew that sugar tasted good. I would smother the tops of the pies with sugar while my grandma was not looking. She would walk over with a shocked look and say to me that it was too much. Then each pie was covered in tin foil and dated and sent to the giant freezer in the garage.
Six and a half years ago I received a letter from my grandmother telling me she was lonely and all she had to talk to was the weeds because she was mostly deaf. I made the decision to leave school and care for my ailing grandmother. It was the best decision I ever made. Every once and a while I still find one of the apple pies we made that summer in the giant freezer in the garage. I bake it and it is as good as the day it was made. The pie having preserved the memory of the best summer of my life.
Three years ago the apple tree fell on New Years Eve during a violent windstorm and three months ago my grandmother fell after a month long turbulent fight for her life in the hospital. After 88 years of life, she left me with so much love in my heart. Still living in her house, I sometimes look back on the drive home and am filled with such happiness. Over the river and through the woods to grandmothers house I go.
All Purpose Flour
Pinch of salt
Shortening till cut in
Add enough water till dough is formed
Extra Tart Granny Smith apples
Healthy amounts of sugar and cinnamon
Small pinch of nutmeg
Small chunks of butter
Place pie crust on top and poke a few holes. Apply sugar and freeze.
Bake with Love
-Veneta Elaine Marsing