The Pleasures of Life
Family recipes filled with sugar and spice and everything nice
By David Claude Bailey
How do I love thee, my Valentine? Let me count the ways: your paper-thin Moravian cookies melting in my mouth at Christmas; the house filling with the buttery aroma of a chocolate chess pie bubbling in the oven; the raised doughnuts that you fried for our girls — dripping a trail of white frosting; and, oh, that pineapple upside–down cake you once cooked in a Dutch oven, which caramelized on the bottom into a lovely, sticky, golden goo.
“All you need is love,” Mr. Peanuts, Charles M. Schulz, once said, and then added, “But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.” Which brings to mind your double-chocolate brownies, made with butter, cocoa, chocolate chips and a triple dose of love. Licking her fork, one of my women friends once said, “I wish I had Anne for a wife.” My men friends merely stuff their faces.
I know I’m lucky, but not just to have found and married a serious eater who learned to cook in her grandmothers’ and mother’s kitchens deep in the Lowcountry of South Carolina, where I ate my first pralines, crunchy bennie-seed wafers and divinity as light as a sugar-frosted cloud.
But it’s not just Anne. Call me the Don Juan of dessert divas because I have a host of other lovers, who, over the years, have let me know in no uncertain terms, “Nothing says loving like something from the oven.”
For some reason, women like watching me eat. Maybe it’s the way I lick my lips or arch my eyebrows or giggle between bites. And, if what they give me is transcendent, I have been known to stand up and do a little jig of joy.
Let’s start with my mother, about whose cooking I’ve written in these pages before (www.ohenrymag.com/o-henry-ending-31/). How many mothers would cook their son a green birthday cake complete with a chartreuse lime frosting? From the savory persimmon pudding with hard sauce she made at Thanksgiving to the raised Swedish nut roll stuffed with black walnuts she always served on Christmas morning, Zella Romaine Zettle Bailey created desserts that became family legends.
Then there was my Aunt Rachel who, when I spent the night with her three sons, plied me with pungent gingerbread, always hot from the oven and slathered with lemon sauce.
I’ve never been much of a cake fan, but my friend Spencer’s mother made a pound cake that was so rich it would stick to the cake plate, leaving a sort of golden slurry subject to our dirty little fingers. (Anne loves cakes and once reproduced a 14-layer cake we first ate in Manns Harbor.)
In fact, the ’50s, when we grew up, was sort of the golden age of cake mixes. Anne’s grandmother went through a stage where she baked cakes with funny names — sock-it-to-me cake (mostly just butter, sour cream, brown sugar, cinnamon and cake flour), dump cake (pineapple, cherries and nuts swimming in yellow cake mix) and, my favorite, hummingbird cake (crushed pineapple, bananas and pecans plus black walnuts with flour and sugar). If something tasted good, Gladys seemed to think, just add it to a cake mix and, “Voila!”
Me? Just call me pie face. Some of the world’s most delicious pies have disappeared through this pie hole. Mom’s mincemeat or cherry pie. My sister-in-law Tammy’s pecan pie — better than candy. And what I call Anne’s crunch-apple pie. The recipe appears on a yellowed and batter-spattered page from a 1981 copy of Family Circle and is entitled, “The Mom’s Apple Pie to End All Mom’s Apple Pies.” Here’s the recipe with slight alterations made by my Valentine, the princess of pies.
The Mom’s Apple Pie to End All
Mom’s Apple Pies
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
3 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
6 large tart apples, pared, quartered, cored and sliced
9-inch unbaked pie shell
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup (one stick) butter
Combine sugar, brown sugar, flour and cinnamon in a large mixing bowl, pressing out any lumps. Add sliced apples and toss well to mix. Fill pastry shell with mixture. Dot with 2 tablespoons of butter.
For the topping, combine flour, brown sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Cut in butter until mixture is crumbly. Scatter topping thickly over the apple filling, heaping it high.
Bake in a hot oven (400 degrees F) for 30 minutes. Turn the oven down to 350 degrees F and cook it for 30 minutes more until it’s all bubbly and done. OH
I need your love: Send me a one-to-two sentence description of your sweetest treat — and a recipe if you want — and we’ll see if we get enough to publish them next Valentine’s Day (firstname.lastname@example.org).