Tuesday, June 18, 2024
HomeTheGoodStuffThe Good Stuff by Shelley Bennett

The Good Stuff by Shelley Bennett

By Shelley Bennett

Celebrating Thanksgiving brings a lot of “good stuff” to mind: childhood feasts at my great Aunt Wanda’s in Waterford, welcoming Santa as he arrived in a firetruck, friendly football games after dinner, and being surrounded by family.

One of my favorite memories is the dessert table at Aunt Wanda’s. It was a standard dining room table, about 8 feet long, filled with pies of every kind. Lemon, cherry, pecan, and pumpkin. Apple pies piled high with tart fruit inside, coconut cream topped with merengue and toasted coconut, and of course chocolate with homemade whipped cream, which is what I always picked.

Each of these pies was made with love and a spirit of competition by my grandma Joann Simpson, her sisters Betty and Wanda, and my great grandma Naomi Speake.

After dinner, they would each pick a piece (or maybe a “sliver” of several) and sit down with a cup of coffee. Soon you would hear the praise and comments, “Mom, your crust is so tender this time” and “Betty, those apples could have used another ½ cup of sugar.” All of this delivered with love and laughter and maybe a hint of biting sarcasm.

I was 17 the first time I paid attention to pie making. My grandma and I were visiting family in the Bay Area. She decided to make an apple pie to show our appreciation to our hosts. I watched as she seemingly made something from nothing.

Flour, Crisco, and water became a flaky crust, her hands fashioning a perfect crimp around the edges of the pie plate. Apples, sugar, cinnamon, and squares of butter on top made the luscious, juicy filling.

She showed me how to cut slits in the top so the steam could escape and paint milk on the top crust with a little sprinkle of sugar for that perfect toasting in the oven.

The afternoon air was perfumed with the intoxicating scent of cinnamon and apples. Uncle Bud could hardly wait until after dinner to cut into the beautiful pie. Aunt Alberta marveled at the delicious first bite of crust and filling. That day I saw how my grandma’s hands worked effortlessly to create something that brought us all together.

When Leo and I got married, I asked my grandma to help me make some pies. That first time, I was more of a sous chef, peeling and slicing, mixing and watching. So the next year, I asked again. I learned how to pick a variety of sweet and tart apples for the perfect filling and the ratio of ingredients for a simple, yet delicious crust. How the recipe on the back of the Karo syrup bottle really is the best pecan pie and that you can always rely on the red and white cookbook for fruit fillings.

By the next year my skills had grown and at last I was trusted to make an apple pie on my own. On Thanksgiving day, I waited anxiously as grandma cut into my pie and served herself a piece. She had a few bites, sipped her coffee, and finally nodded her approval.

Grandma passed away five years ago, but her legacy lives on in our pies. Each year, I have instructed my kids on how to make the perfect crust and a filling of their choice. Landon’s favorite is apple and he has even won a few ribbons at the Lassen County Fair. Jacob usually chooses pecan, but has ventured into Key Lime. Sofia loves chocolate and is planning to try a new recipe this year.

I feel grandma’s hands on mine as I demonstrate how to roll the crust and fashion the edges. She peaks over my shoulder to make sure I taste the filling before adding it to the pie plate. And finally, smiles with satisfaction as the beautifully browned crusts come out of the oven. Pies are something that seem complex and difficult, an intimidating dessert; yet with a little time and conversation can be easily conquered. Just like most things in life.

As I look back, making pies with grandma was more than just “making pies.” It was about the conversations and laughter, afternoon coffee breaks and carrying on traditions. It was the “good stuff” and I am so glad I paid attention.

Remember when news was ‘newsy’? When you read about weddings, family events and engagement announcements in the newspaper? If you have something that might be newsworthy, please submit it to [email protected] and I’ll do my best to include it here in “The Good Stuff.”

Jeremy Couso
Jeremy Couso
SusanvilleStuff.com Publisher/Editor
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