Today is my aunt’s birthday, Barbara, the youngest of my mother’s three siblings and the only remaining. Barbie, as she’s lovingly known, has lived an interesting life. Bob, her husband of fifty years plus passed on a while back, and now dealing with Parkinson’s disease, Barbie will celebrate with others in her situation in an assisted living home in Guelph, Ontario.
As a youngster our house sat at the tail end of a long street on a cul-de-sac. Being the first house of the four on the ocean side of Young Avenue, the number displayed on a plaque by our front door, appropriately read 1. Barbie, Bob and two of the three boys they were to welcome into the world lived on the opposite end of our street at the culmination of a very steep hill. As it was on the route I followed home from school, I would often pop in for a visit hoping to be coerced into a warm slice of one of her incredibly delicious pies with a glass of cold milk or to hoist myself onto a kitchen chair and play with one of the babies usually seated in the high chair at one end of the table.
Bob had a big job with big responsibilities with one of the larger drug manufacturers. With this title came his ticket to travel the globe leaving Barbie to assume the roles of both mother and father many times during his frequent absences. Always when returning from some exotic destination there would be something tucked in his suitcase with my name on it. My bounty of booty included a full set of red silk pajamas with sandals from the Far East, a tam from Ireland, a Paddington Bear in his blue raincoat and red hat from a trip to Britain, and a China doll from, well, China. For us as children Bob arriving was nearly as exciting as seeing Santa landing on a snow topped roof. Goodies were sure to follow.
Moving being part of his swift progress up the corporate ladder, when I was eight I waved goodbye as a packed van drove off relocating my aunt and her family to Sudbury, Ontario. Not long afterwards, my mother would remarry whisking me off to Southern California. The gap between us was never to shrink again. Over the years through reunions, letters and occasional visits on both sides we kept track of the progress of the various limbs on the family tree welcoming newcomers as they arrived and noting the passing of those who left. Not close in proximity, blood seems to keep you tied wherever your travels lead you.
In my teens my mother read me excerpts from a letter from her youngest sister saying Bob had been given Europe as his district to manage and home base would be Amsterdam the first of the coming year. The three boys, approaching their teens at this point, were enrolled in boarding schools in France and an apartment, provided by his employer, was established for the family in Amsterdam proper. English is the second language in Amsterdam, with Dutch leading the pack, and French and German thrown in for good measure. Dutch being a particularly difficult language to master, Barbara and the kids took French lessons and armed with only “ja” or yes in Dutch, boarded a plane for the Netherlands.
As one event has a way of opening a door to another, this move would be the advent of my Mother’s one and only trip abroad. At the point reservations were made I was married and both my children had arrived on the scene. Mother asked me to join her, but with a new job, two toddlers, and a husband in school plus working a full-time job, life didn’t allow me much room to run off throwing caution to the wind on vacation. Not wanting to take my stepfather, as flying wasn’t his thing and a long trip such as this would not find him good company once on the ground, one round trip was purchased.
Mother found Amsterdam glorious. Sparkling waterways, flower markets, fabulous restaurants and with her tour guides now part of the local scene she saw the best there was to see in the short time she had to see it. On the third week of her four week stay a side trip through France was planned with an overnight stay at a medieval castle noted for its lush accommodations and purported unwelcome visits from the undead in the dark of night. According to the literature, guests have noted wailings through the walls, gentle touches and even sightings of those not yet crossed over.
Now, my mother is not a person I would expect to find holding the torch when searching for Becky and Tom Sawyer in the caves. She’d be more likely the one outside pouring participants a glass of hot tea or a cup of ale. Electrical storms send her under the bed, and movies with anything akin to spooks or blood stained clothing would never be her choice for entertainment. Game to give it a try, however, she signed on for the drive through France and the chance to spend the night in a real honest to goodness castle.
As described it was very tall and foreboding, with parapets high at the top. They arrived on a dismal rainy day with reports of a larger storm headed into the area by nightfall. Inside, the castle retained a lot of its original charm, if that is the correct word for it. Stone in structure, flickering sconces led the way up long curved staircases to the higher levels for the energetic, or elevators had been installed in the lobby, to carry guests up to their rooms. Being the odd man out of the three, mother was assigned a room on the same floor but not directly adjacent to my aunt and uncle.
Dinner behind them and with the storm raging outside, they retired to their respective rooms after a long day. According to my mother the first wail echoed through the room following a large clap of thunder causing the lights to flicker, dim several times, then diminish completely. As her story goes, when the lights went on again she was wedged in the middle of my aunt and uncle in their bed with the covers over her head. Unless she squeezed beneath the door or through the keyhole, I’m sure there’s some exaggeration imbedded in this account, but nonetheless between the two is where she ended up. Discussing this not being the ideal sleeping situation, my uncle the only man in the group, gave up his warm spot and headed down the hall to my mother’s room to finish out the night. According to him he heard sounds from time to time which he attributed to the wind. Truly, he would never had admitted otherwise.
How fun that would be. I love to be scared. I’d sign up in a minute.
At any rate, I’m sharing this pie with you because it is according to my guests last night “the best apple pie they ever ate”. Rick asked me to try to recreate a pie he’d eaten at a restaurant a long time ago and apparently this came close. It’s not pretty, but it does melt in your mouth.
2 pie crusts
9 Fiji apples (or your choice) cored and sliced thin
14 thin strips of ripe cheddar cheese
1/2 cup butter
3 Tbsp. flour
1/4 cup cold water
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Slice apples in piles of three apples each.
Place one pie crust in bottom of deep dish pie dish. Forming a circle rotate around piling apples one on top of the other. Take 1/2 of the cheese slices and form a ring in the middle of the apples.
Repeat with apple layer, then cheese layer, then apple layer.
Place the other crust on flat surface. Cut into 3/4″ strips. Layer half the strips across one way and then the remaining strips back across them the opposite way leaving space in between like in a lattice. Crimp the edges together.
Melt butter in small saucepan. Add flour and stir until smooth. Add water and sugars and mix well. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer 5 mins. Remove from heat and cool for 5 mins.
Pour sugar mixture back and forth over holes in lattice watching not to allow to drip over sides.
Place in 425 degree oven for 15 mins. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and continue cooking for 50 mins. until golden brown.
Let cool on rack. Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream if desired.