My great-grandmother, like most people who live long enough to become great-grandparents, has become somewhat of a family legend. Affectionately known as Little Gram, she and her family immigrated from Austria when she was just 12 years old. At just 4’11″ and probably 90 pounds soaking wet, she gave birth to three 10-pound babies at home, and outlived the doctors who told her she just had a year to live when she was in her forties. (She lived to be 93.) She wasn’t exactly known as a health nut, downing RC Cola every day and always keeping Butter Rum Lifesavers in her purse, but she did believe in moderation. She told my mom, “One time, I ate too much. It was terrible!” She also firmly believed in an afternoon nap. For years, I’ve relied on Gram’s apple crisp recipe, and it’s a quintessential Gram creation: nothing too fancy, nothing too crazy, and usually made with ingredients you have on hand. Of course, she never measured anything, and just taught her children and grandchildren how to cook by showing them: ”You mix it up until it looks like this, and then it should feel about like this.” So, the “recipe” came into being after her death: we finally took measurements and wrote them down. She simply refused to give out instructions for everything, though – she wanted to be needed, and so when my mom asked for her recipe for rye bread, for example, Gram told her, “You don’t want to bother making that. When you want that, you just send someone to come get me, and I’ll make it for you.” Her expertise, incidentally, was not limited to the kitchen: she evidently taught my mom (her granddaughter-in-law) how to re-pot plants, clean just about anything, and how to pluck what appeared to be porcupine quills from a dog’s snout. They turned out not to be porcupine quills and actually the dog’s whiskers, but my mom knew better than to question the almighty wisdom issuing forth from her husband’s grandmother’s mouth.
I barely knew Gram when she was alive; she died when I was just 6 years old. But obviously, she lives on through stories and traditions. Because of the apple crisp tradition, I’ve been reluctant to try another recipe until I started this project. Ina Garten’s recipe (on p. 226 of Barefoot Contessa Parties!) was just different enough that I didn’t feel like I was betraying family tradition, but it was familiar enough that it still tasted like apple crisp should taste. I can’t say that I’ll abandon Gram’s recipe (posted below), but this new variation (which includes citrus zest and juices) could be a nice addition to the rotation. The wonderful thing about apple crisp is that it’s not as complicated or involved as a pie, and it can be whipped up pretty quickly. Besides, with oatmeal and apples, who can resist it for breakfast?
Gram’s Apple Crisp
4-6 cups apples, peeled and sliced
½ c sugar
1 tblsp. cinnamon
2 tblsp. flour
Mix together and place in bottom of greased 8×8 or 9×9 pan.
1/3 c brown sugar
1/3 c oatmeal
1/3 c flour
3 tblsp. butter or margarine
“Cut” these ingredients together with a fork or pastry blender. Spread this mixture on top of apples. Bake for 40-50 minutes at 350 degrees.
We use the same recipe for peaches, with less (or no) cinnamon, and sometimes less sugar, depending on how sweet the peaches are. The peach crisp will probably take less time to bake, depending on how ripe the peaches are. Mom told me this recipe was from Little Gram, but she could have just told me that to make me want to learn how to make it.