There is something magical about food. It’s in the way we eat it – where we eat, who made it, who we’re sharing it with, what music is playing while you’re eating. What food comes down to is a silent communicator. It’s the envelope with which our mothers have swiftly and securely sealed our heartbreak. It’s the ship that sailed you to faraway exciting realms of culinary discovery.
But beyond that magic is a complexity that indeed belongs to food, but even moreso belongs to the hands that prepared it. Think of your dad’s classic Sunday poached egg on toast, or your aunt’s too-good-to-handle gravy. One of the many ways to support the fight against breast cancer in this month when it’s most on our minds, Eat to the Beat kindly had me sashaying through the top gals in the game – over sixty female chefs with quite a bit to offer along the lines of a good bite to eat.
Purring my way along the curving, linen-topped tables, my mind slipped back to Thanksgiving meals of my childhood, of Christmas treats and Easter baskets, of summer picnics and road trip coolers. My mother’s wedding-night wisdom, passed on to me in dewey-eyed childhood – “Eat dessert first, dear” – rang in my ears as I plucked a dulce de leche cheesecake bite from the table. The Quebec City Black & Tan, a favourite road trip memory shared with my Dad, came to mind as my universe was blown to bits by a sip of a really and truly delicious canned Hockley Valley B&T. Mmm. A bet with my father came to mind as I tasted the first white wine bold enough to make me take a second sip. Well, I’ve lost the bet, but for all you red fiends looking for a worthy glass of chardonnay, get your hands on Wente’s west coast grapes. Inn On The Twenty sent me back to my grandmother’s fresh-from-the-garden dinner table with their candied sugar beet parcels. There were BEETS in the pastries! Wanda’s was out in full form with endless treacle tarts, the mere mention of which had me in my Nana’s dining room, talking books and drinking in every second of our time together.
And if the magical memory tour wasn’t enough to have me nearly weeping into my Hypnotic mini martini, the best was yet to come.
Instructed to return after the 8 o’clock rush, I was back in front of the rows of potato, parsnip and pear soup with maple toasted walnut garnish to meet my foody godmother. There she was, in every way living up to her Food Network glory and more.
There she was, sitting opposite me on the stairs as we discussed our adventures and misadventures with the great Apple Pie. She told me she’d been working on the perfect recipe for a while, getting closer and closer to the “ultimate basic”. She told me about the past weekend’s Apple Pie Competition, proved my hapless friend wrong as per choice of apples for the best pie (decidedly NOT gala). “What all the winning pies have in common,” Anna told me, “is a mixture of apples.” Spies! Cortlands! Mutsus! Just not Galas. “Those,” she said, “are eating apples.”
More than a few questions were answered (top six ingredients to have on hand? Good vanilla extract, unsalted butter, good chocolate, cream cheese, seasonal fruit and oat), and then the great Miss Olson pulled one last trick out of her sleeve. Taking my notebook into her lap, she wrote her recipe for THE best crust out by hand, making verbal annotations along the way. Officially dubbed top secret, the recipe will appear in print next year, but I’ll be trying it this afternoon in my own little kitchen.
And I can assure you, dear reader, dear fellow foodies, dear sisters in the world of the culinary arts, that I will share this recipe with you. Once Anna says it’s okay, of course.
By Annie Webber