It?s just not Gram?s

I had slaved in the kitchen for four-and-a-half hours. I?d rolled the dough, sliced the apples, spilt cinnamon everywhere and made, what I thought, was a superb apple pie.

The first time I made an apple pie I was a junior in college. I?d called Grandma in a panic. I had been challenged to a duel, or rather a bake off. I?d ran my mouth about how my grandma made the best pie, offending the honor of my friend and his grandmother?s chocolate pie. The only way to settle it was a pie-off.

?Honestly, Karyn, I think it would just be best if you bought a pre-made crust and apple filling,? Gram?s raspy voice said over the phone as I begged her for her recipe.

?Do you have no faith in me?? I asked, slightly offended.

There was silence on her end of the line, but through the deafening quiet, I could visualize her exaggerated eye roll.

?I have some,? she finally said. ?It?s not like I told you to just go buy an already made one.?

It had, however, crossed her mind.

After some begging, groveling and a little whining, which was not received well, she finally relented and gave me her recipe.

?And your famous flaky crust??

Again, she suggested I just buy a crust.

?It?s about a handful of flour,? she finally said, giving in and adding one more file to my sparse recipe box.

Well how much is that, I wondered. Half a cup? Was it just a normal size handful or her handful? She was a dainty woman, and my hands were much, much bigger.

?It?s just a handful, Karyn. Don?t make it so complicated,? she said.

?But if you had to guess how much your handful of flour was, how much would it be??

I didn?t have to imagine her eye roll this time; she told me she was rolling those baby blues at me.

The next day, my day of culinary reckoning, I bought two five-pound bags of apples and everything else on my ingredients list. My roommate and I made an adventure of it ? photographing the entire experience so I could prove to my gram that I had indeed made her pie.

Mixing and then rolling out the dough was simple enough, and seasoning out the slices of apple was a piece of cake ? or rather pie, in this case. The only time I doubted my ability and questioned whether I should have listened to Gram was as I tried and failed over and over and over again to braid the lattice pie crust. Her melt-in-your-mouth, flaky piecrust recipe truly lived up to its name. Every time I attempted to weave one strand under another the crust crumbled in my hand.

In desperation, I braided the crust on a cookie sheet and attempted to flip the rounded crust onto the top of the unfinished pie. I think we can all imagine how that turned out.

If this was any indication how the showdown would go later that evening, I was going to have to admit defeat and say aloud that my grandmother?s pie was not the best. And I?d have to admit to myself, I couldn?t hold a candle to Gram and her cooking.

Officially, the pie-off ended in a draw. Each grandma had excellent pie recipes, our panel of distinguished judges (a handful of roommates that wanted a free dish) said.

But I knew, deep down that Gram?s homemade apple pie would have taken the trophy, had there been one. A few weeks later, at our family Thanksgiving, I recounted the whole story to my aunt, cousins, siblings and, of course, Gram. They laughed so hard at the pictures of the disheveled lattice crust and my head hung in defeat. Even Gram couldn?t control her laughter.

Thanksgiving, for us, has always centered on great food, good conversation and a rousing round of cards once our bellies were full. Every year, without fail, and no matter how much her health was failing, Gram made an apple and pumpkin pie, homemade noodles and the turkey.

This year, our celebration had a little less laughter and a few more tears, as the foundation of our family was gone.

I volunteered to make an apple pie last week. But even though I?d conquered it once, I couldn?t bring myself to bake Gram?s apple pie. Her recipe stayed in my Grandma Spory?s recipe box because I knew no matter how exquisite my braided lattice top looked, it would pale in comparison with the memory of Gram?s pies.

Instead I toted a Tex-Mex apple pie to our family dinner, moving everyone else?s desserts to the side so it stood front and center. At the end of dinner, it stood pristine; not a slice was missing.

As I drove home, head hung much like that picture we had all laughed at years before, I couldn?t help but hear Gram?s voice ? ?Honestly, Karyn, I think it would just be best if you bought a pre-made crust and apple filling.?

Maybe next year I?ll take her advice. Nothing else, it?s made another good story and I know she would have gotten a good laugh out of it.