My Very First Cookbook

At nineteen, I was a young mother living in Honolulu, Hawaii far away from the farm my parents owned in western Vermont. At this point in my life, and I suppose in the lives of many teenagers, I ate a lot of fast food and a whole lot of takeout. I also remember eating something called a plate lunch which basically just a plate or styrofoam container piled high with some type of prepared meat, white rice, and – inexplicably – macaroni salad. These were truly delicious and, beyond the blueberry pancakes from the now closed Kelly’s diner and the scrambled eggs with Portuguese sausage from – of all places – McDonald’s, they remain some of my fondest food memories from my time in our 50th state.

During a bout of homesickness, I remember wanting something decidedly un-Hawaiian and, since this was before the Internet, I called my mother for the recipe for beef stew. On a side note, Hawaii doesn’t recognize Daylight Savings, which means that depending upon the time of year, the time difference between Hawaii and Vermont is either five or six hours. I called my mom sometime in the evening Hawaiian time, and that’s how just a week or so later, I got my very first cookbook – in the mail from my mom.

By the time the cookbook arrived, I of course had already moved past that longing for beef stew and had moved on to the next thing. Still, the cookbook has come in handy over the years, first as a reminder to check the time before I pick up the phone, and because so many of the family favorites I still make came straight from the stained and dog-eared pages of this book. We even ended up making that beef stew, the recipe for which I’ve adapted over the years to make my own.

Beef Stew

2 T all-purpose flour
1 lb beef stew meat
2 T cooking oil
3 C vegetable juice cocktail
15 oz San Marzano-style tomatoes, drained
1/2 C chopped onion
1 C beef broth or stock
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp minced thyme
1 tsp crushed red pepper, optional
2 1/2 C cubed, peeled potatoes
2 C sliced carrots
1 C sliced celery
1 tsp fresh basil, rough chopped

Place flour in a plastic bag. Add meat cubes, a few at a time, shaking to coat. In a large saucepan or Dutch oven brown meat, half at a time, in hot oil. Return meat to saucepan. Add tomato juice, tomatoes, onion, beef broth, garlic, thyme, and crushed red pepper. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Cover; simmer 1 to 1 1/4 hours for beef or till meat is nearly tender. Add potatoes, carrots, and celery. Cover; simmer 30 minutes more. Skim fat. Add basil. Spoon into bowls and serve with warm, crusty bread.

Serves 4.

Grandpa’s Apple Pie

My grandfather was an MP in WWII and a postman in Brooklyn in the 1940’s. When I knew him, he had long since retired and had a head full of white hair. I remember watching him make this pie when I was still too little for the top of my head to reach the top of the formica countertop in my grandparents’ kitchen.

He told me once that the key to this pie is to let the apples sweat for a bit before you put the pie together. At the time, I didn’t understand why that was important, but like a lot of things he told me over the years, it stuck with me.

Grandpa spent more time teaching me about cooking than anybody else, and for me cooking and family go hand-and-hand. Cooking was quality time. It was always about learning. It was about bonding and, yes, to me cooking grew to represent love. So I think it’s fitting that I begin this blog on Valentine’s Day (which is, coincidentally, my birthday) with this recipe from one of the men who loved me first.

I find dimes from time-to-time. Always dimes. I find them on the ground when I’m outside on walks, around the house. I find them in parking lots. And I’m not sure why, but I swear they’re from my grandfather.

Grandpa, you are missed.

Note: This recipe is written below as it was published in our family cookbook, and while Spectrum makes an organic shortening that I’ve used with very good results, I prefer a butter crust with this recipe. I’ve always, always used Martha’s recipe with excellent results every.darn.time. 

In any case feel free to experiment and, of course, your favorite double pie crust recipe will work in place of my grandfather’s – I promise you that he would not have been offended. My grandmother now… that’s a story for another day. If you don’t have a favorite pie crust, just double the recipe for my fav, or perhaps you’d like to try this one and let me know how it comes out. 

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Grandpa’s Apple Pie

Crust
2 1/4 C All purpose flour
1 tsp salt
3/4 C plus 2 T shortening
1/3 C cold water
Cut in 2/3 of the shortening until mixture is like corn meal. Cut in remaining 1/3 of shortening until mixture resembles large peas. Sprinkle water, 1 tablespoon at a time, while tossing with a fork. Add only enough water to make mixture cling together. It should not be wet or slippery. Divide dough in half. Roll out each half on a floured surface.

Filling
3 lbs MacIntosh apples, peeled, cored, sliced, and sprinkled with lemon
2 T cinnamon
3/4 C sugar
pinch salt
1 T butter

Coat apples with cinnamon-sugar-salt mixture in a large bowl. Place one half of the prepared crust in bottom of pie plate or tin. Fill bottom crust with apples. Dot with butter. Cover with top crust and poke with a fork to vent steam.

Bake in an oven heated to 425 degrees for about 40 minutes. Lower heat slightly if pie is browning too fast.