apple pie and presence

It’s Saturday and I’m standing in the kitchen in the early morning hours making yet another apple pie.  This is my third in a month.  In the past month I have nurtured my sweet Yankee closer to his time of passing.  I can’t remember the last time I made the ‘real deal’ apple pie, certainly not the from scratch with traditional pastry kind.  I’ve never lost a dog companion before.  After making quarts of apple slices. apple compote, several varieties of apple sauce, and numerous apple crisps,  the apple pie was an inevitable next step.  After thirteen and a half years of being love and presence, old age and letting go was an inevitable conclusion…

I know it can’t just be any o’ll apple pie.  It has to be memorable.  I run my hand across my shelf of cookbooks hoping for some guidance.  It stops at  “New York Cookbook”  by Molly O’Neill.  I open to the apple pie recipe that is served by the famous Algonquin Hotel.  The list of ingredients is basic and classic and I have everything on hand, flour sugar, salt, shortening, butter, lemon, and cinnamon, nutmeg, and apples.  That’s all. What’s required now is cell memory in putting this all together, and the confidence to manifest something golden and light and delicious.

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The first pie is made with the last of the apples from my tree out front.  Having already waxed poetic about the  sheer abundance of this tree this year, I need to mention here that the actual flavor of these apples is like no other…crisp, dense and with the clear after taste of sweet with each bite.  And no doubt they taste this spectacular because they are from right here in front of me, breathing the same air, smelling the same grass, roots deep in the same soil.  The pie crust is made with two cups flour, 1 tablespoon sugar, and a teaspoon of salt.  Cut into this 1/2 cup butter (I use unsalted Kerrygold) and 1/2 cup shortening (Spectrum organic all vegetable non-hydrogenated).  I begin with two knives slicing past each other to simulate a pastry blender and finish with my fingers breaking up each clump of fat and softly rolling it together until the entire mixture has the texture of a silky soft fine crumble.  Next add ice water (about 1/3-1/2 cup) while mixing with a fork until the mixture just begins to hold together.  Then plunge my hands back into the bowl and swiftly process the dough into one consistent whole.  Divide into two, make a ball and flatten each into a disc, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for the time it takes to make the filing.  Turn the oven on to 450 degrees.  Make zest (with a zester or grater) from one fresh organic lemon, juice the lemon and put in a bowl with about 4 cups water (the lemon juice keeps the apples from turning brown during the time it takes to prepare them all). Peel, core and thinly slice the apples, placing them in the lemon water while working the next one.  About 8 cups (or 8 med-large apples) worth.  Drain thoroughly, and put in bowl.  Now prepare the crust.  I roll each disk out on a pice of parchment paper that I stabilize with my body at the edge of the counter while I am rolling, using a pastry sleeve covered wooden rolling pin and just a tad of flour, rolling to a circle that will line a 9″ pie plate with about a 1/2″ over the edge.  You can pick the whole crust up on the parchment paper and quickly flip over the plate, peel the paper off, and press gently into the pan.  Now add the chopped lemon zest, 2/3 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, and about 1/4 teaspoon of freshly ground nutmeg to the apples and mix to just covering each slice and pour into the pastry lined pie plate.  It is quite a mound of apples!  Gorgeous.  Cut about two tablespoons of butter into small pieces and dot the mound.  Roll out the next disk of dough same way (using less flour in the rolling makes for a flakier crust!), invert and place gently over the mound of apples.  Seal the edges, dust the top with a sprinkle of sugar and flour, make a few slits (for escaping steam) and dot the top with another tablespoon of butter in cut up small pieces.  Take a deep breath and behold the beauty…

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Bake in the 450 degree oven for 15 minutes, then turn down the heat to 350 and bake for another 30-40 minutes.  If the crust browns too quickly, cover with a piece of aluminum foil laid loosely on top.  I know the pie is done when I hear and/or see the sizzle of pie juices emerging and the crust is a golden brown.

From start to finish It takes about two to two and a half hours to make this pie.  It would be easy to break the process into steps, giving me time to move away from the presence of it’s making to otherwise more important things..  But what I have realized is that breaking the process into steps with too much time in between is like fragmenting a complete thought into incomprehensible phrases or like breaking the flow of love because it doesn’t feel right to stay there for too long….

The third pie is prepared on the morning of Yankee’s passing, and I finally see the gift in this endeavor.  It is this maintaining of ‘presence’  through the entire process.   I register the reluctance I have felt in leaving any one aspect of making this pie for even a moment of distraction.  If I leave the pastry in the refrigerator too long, it will get hard and difficult to work.  If I leave the apples in the bowl too long with the sugar, too much liquid will form in the bottom of the bowl, the precious liquid that infuses each apple slice during the baking and compromise the final consistency.   If I take my attention away from any aspect of the making, something shifts and the full impact of the love felt in this presence of the pie escapes me…

Yankee didn’t bark.  I’m not sure he actually had a functional voice, and the point is he communicated clearly with eyes, soft muzzle nudges, and with his presence.  If I let him out and removed my attention from his presence for more than a few minutes, then he would take that opportunity to ‘escape’ and have his romp around the neighborhood.  Every time. He would never come home on his own.  I think he just let his nose lead him from one yummy place to the next, present with his experience, until some kind soul would call for me to come get him.   It became humbling for me to realize just how consistently this would happen, and how ‘responsible’ I would feel for ‘taking my attention’ away from him.  Now in the days since his passing I can feel the power of the gift he has left me with.  Yankee has taught me that it is okay to maintain my presence with me where I am, even if it means it is not with him.  He taught me he can take care of himself and if I trust the power of his presence, he will find his way home, even if in a way I cannot see or understand.

It is a perfect pie.   Memorable.  Marking the end of a magnificent harvest and the beginning of a new way of feeling Yankee’s presence….

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2 thoughts on “apple pie and presence

  1. What a beautiful tribute to your beloved Yankee. My favorite line is, “If I take my attention away from any aspect of the making, something shifts and the full impact of the love felt in this presence of the pie escapes me.”

    Another life lesson from your kitchen.

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