I made two apple pies over the weekend. I can bake fairly well, and I was (relatively) pleased with the outcome. Apple pie is one of my signatures; family and friends now expect me to produce at least one for all holidays. I always feel connected to my grandmother when I bake. Mixing the pie crust, rolling it out, sensing if it needs a bit more water or flour, getting the end result to be perfect...these tasks call images of Mimmie, and the remarks she made, to mind. When I asked her to describe her occupation, as part of an interview for my college class on aging, she responded with a laugh, "I don't want to say jack of all trades and master of none," before settling on "cook."
Mimmie was especially fond of sweets. As a newlywed in 1926, she started writing recipes in a spiral-bound notebook. On the cover is taped an illustration of a kitchen by Maxwell Mays that looks much like Mimmie's at the old house, where she lived before moving to a small mobile home next door to my brother's house, during the later years of her life. Assembling my pies on Saturday, I realize that my kitchen is also reminiscent of hers; although there is no wringer washing machine, and my range uses natural gas instead of propane and wood, the 1940s are still visible in my enamel-topped table, chrome hardware, tile walls, and lack of automatic dishwasher.
Mimmie was precise in everything. Just today I received a note in the mail from my aunt, Mimmie's oldest daughter, about a dinner she hosted a few weekends ago. She writes that it was great to have us over, and she would like to do it again. "I'll try to make something better, I think the mashed potatoes were dry." This makes me smile, because the meal was delicious, and her words remind me of Mimmie. Then, I see she added: "I sound like Mimmie, but it's true," and my smile becomes a chuckle.
The stained pages inside Mimmie's old cookbook are written in fountain pen and long ago started to crumble. That notebook begins with a recipe for Irish Wedding Cake. My sister recently returned from a trip to Ireland. All of Mimmie's grandparents immigrated to the U.S. in the 1840s or '50s. She never visited there; in fact, she rarely strayed from the Catskill Mountain region of upstate New York, and she even preferred staying at home to going out locally. But that didn't prevent her from being fiercely proud of her heritage. My sister brought back some stones from Counties Cork and Kerry. After Thanksgiving we plan to go to the cemetery, to share with Mimmie those mementos from her ancestral place. (Also posted at Gully Brook Press)