I remember walking home from school. Battling the skipping tracks on my red shiny Walkman, I sensed the 4 o’clock fall light and the way it bounced through the maple tree in my back yard. I could see it from over the fence, and the closer I got to my house, the more it looked as if those palm-sized leaves were actually on fire with the golden orange flickering in the wind.
As I crossed through the back gate, I would pick up my pace, in tune to the S Club 7 playing through the foam headset. Straight to the garage, before even going inside, I would let myself in, and dig into the giant cardboard box which held a seemingly infinite amount of the most perfect cold, juicy Macintosh apples grown and gathered by my grandfather.
I would grab several handfuls, putting one or two in each pocket, and making a sack out of my shirt, knowing that the more apples I could carry, the better. I would help my mom and sisters carefully peel the apples, covering them in perfect amounts of cinnamon and sugar. What we didn’t immediately pop into our mouths, we would pour in our homemade, generations-old crust recipe to bake in the oven and let the scent of homemade apple pie fill every corner of our house.
This scent followed me through every fall season. It followed me to college, where I would bake pies just so I could smell that scent and feel those memories rushing back to me. With the fall light coming through my dad’s studio windows, the crisp breeze blowing through the back door, and the banter of my mom and dad as my dad stole increasingly larger portions of the extra pie dough, this family pie recipe infiltrates nearly every memory I have of home.
This attempt to simulate home is what allowed me to create my own new home in Southern California. Despite the absence of my family, I carved out my own world through those pies. I baked them for friends, and eventually spent many Saturdays going to the market and peeling apples with my boyfriend, bonding over the intoxicating smell and the labor required to carefully roll out and braid each crust.
It turned into my livelihood, as I began to bake and sell upwards of thirty pies per week. Selling them at a local farmer’s market, people would question the pies, the recipe, the tradition. Each time, I assured them that this would be the best apple pie they had ever tasted.
There is no secret recipe, no secret ingredient. We do have a damn good crust recipe, but other than that, the only magic I put into these pies is complete abandon and the passionate desire to make each bite remind the tastebuds of a nurturing time, place, and space. I want that warm flaky crust to make them think of their mothers, their siblings, their neighbors, their grandmothers. I want them to associate that pie with the memories of home, of simple times, and of the unparalleled joy of seasonal crisp apples, grown by their grandfather.
Now, as I begin to put down my own roots, in a place selected entirely and solely by me, I find myself turning to pie time and time again. Every trip to the grocery store during the months of September and October takes a detour to hunt down those Macintosh apples. I will buy enough each time to make several pies. Because you never know who in your life might just need that reminder; that scent of cinnamon baked apples folded in a delicate rustic crust to trigger the memories of home--whatever that means to you. I know I can always use that reminder.