My Grandmother's Apple Cake
This show, though. "My Grandmother's Ravioli" with Mo Rocca.
This show is my favorite. Who doesn't love a show in which a fantastically funny guy goes in and meets and talks to grandmothers and grandfathers, learns a meal from them, and just absorbs their awesome?
I am incredibly fortunate to be the granddaughter of the two best grandmothers on the face of the planet. They are basically everything. This show reminds me of that. It reminds me that no matter how much time I spend with my grandmothers, that there is still so much more I can learn from them. It reminds the me that the important things in life are rarely things at all, but rather, it's time. It's our most precious commodity.
The woman above reminds me so much of my Bubby. My Bubby's kitchen is constantly bubbling over with life and love. She invites the world to her table to break bread. I remember making apple cake with her every year of my childhood. "Peel the apples all the way, my little monkey, but not so much that there's no apple left!" The apples would cook down for hours in her giant aluminum kettle. Every so often in the process, she'd go to it and add some butter, or cinnamon, or a big glug of brandy. "Bubby, how do you know when to add everything?" I'd ask. "When the apples smell like they're ready for company." By the end of the cooking, they'd be reduced to a caramel mash of pulp that smelled like walking through the Garden of Eden. Adam would be tripping over his own feet to defy G-d and eat it. She'd parcel the vat into six smaller mixing bowls and whisk baking soda into the sauce. The way it bubbled up always surprised me. She never ended up covered in flour as she added the required 3 cups to each bowl.
She always wears long sleeves, all the way down to her wrist, so it's only when she's baking, and her sleeves are pinned back with bobby pins that you can see the tattoo on her forearm. Numbers branded onto her when she was not even 21 years old. A number that she sees every day. Every day she's reminded of the child taken from her arms, and the husband that wouldn't see the end of the war. A set of numbers so faded it's now mostly unreadable 61 years later. But she knows them; we all know them. She never wanted to get them removed. We offered--frequently--so that she didn't have to look at them every day. "But," she says in heavily-accented English, "I lived. I lived and am here, and so have all of you. So many didn't. I am proud in my heart to say I survived, and I don't wish to forget those who did not."
I remember staring at it as she kneaded the challah on Friday mornings, as I sat and ate pickles at breakfast. I still stare sometimes when I see it. I cannot fathom that this woman, this unsinkable mother of 12, grandmother of more than 50, great-grandmother of....just a metric ton of tiny Jews, had to suffer so. I cannot picture her there, though I've seen pictures of her from just after liberation. She's just too full of life. She's all spirit and truth. She protested against segregation here in the US, even though she risked arrest and deportation because she knew the evil that lay that direction. She fought her conservative congregation for the right to read the Megillah, eventually leaving that shul because she knew that she and her daughters deserved better.
She has ever been my champion, encouraging my music and my writing like no one else ever has. She held my sister and rocked her back and forth when my father essentially cut her from his life when she came out. "It is fine, my sweets, you will live here. We'll make latke." (Potatoes solve everything emotional--Matzo ball soup is for all things physical--wine is for everything else. Jewish Momma Wisdom 101)
Her hands are too arthritic to knead challah, and she now forgets when company should come for the apples, but she never forgets to hold my daughter and son and rock them back and forth as she feeds them soup when they feel ill, and for that, for those moments, I could not possibly be more grateful.
Watch the show. Go hug your grandmother.