Why I Don’t Share My Grandmother’s Apple Pie Recipe
This dish has sustained my family since slavery. I cannot freely let it go.
My hands were dry and gritty. I had washed them several times, meticulously replicating my mother’s tactic of cleaning under my fingernails with a toothpick. Still, I could feel the flour and cinnamon, certain there were small granules embedded under my cuticles. It never occurred to me to wear gloves. My mother always said real cooks use their hands. Food has to feel your touch for it to be any good.
It was more likely that my hands felt gritty because I was nervous. I looked out from the top step of the library into a crowd of co-workers, the tops of their heads reflecting the May sunlight. I had just won first place in our annual staff pie contest on account of my apple pie. The pie I had been developing for years was finally out in the world with all my love and devotion. A vanilla-and-butter-infused baby bird taking flight. Little did I know my triumph would turn into an existential identity crisis, placing me as a sentinel over a flaky and unforeseen treasure.
My mother started cooking at the tender age of six when my great-grandmother Julia ushered her into the kitchen and taught her the recipe that would start it all: pan biscuits. My mother grew up in southern Texas, in a town where if you blinked you would walk right by. Not much had changed for her family, descended from slaves of cotton plantations who somehow survived their brutal servitude. The state of Texas had technically set her ancestors free on June 19, 1865, but continued to abuse her community all the way through her own life.
Every time I was allowed to observe one of these sacred food rituals, I knew I was being given a gift with the same importance of any family heirloom.
Her family still farmed maize and cotton in sweltering flat fields. Too young to help her family with the land, my mother was put to use in the kitchen, her delicate fingers perfect for forming biscuits. These biscuits kept her family sustained as they worked in harsh conditions. Coming in from the fields, her community would dole out praise for her perfect creations…