Virginia, Apples and Pie – My Labor of Love

By Joy Crump

My restaurant is in a city steeped in history, driven by what once happened here: the battles, the declarations, the laws made and broken. Fredericksburg, Virginia has a heritage that is both old and trending. The citizens and cooks I know here look closely at what’s available, at how it was once grown, harvested and presented and they want to know what’s next. Perhaps one of the more iconic symbols of Virginia is the apple; it’s almost revered. The Red Delicious’ familiar, deep royal skin and sweet flesh is the literal picture of health and simplicity for everyone.  The Gala, a friend arriving at the tail end of summer, adding a rich complexity to baked dishes. And then there’s the fierce Granny Smith: tart, snappy and strong; a force to be reckoned with when paired with its tamer cousins.

In my state of Virginia, farmers and artisans boast incredible beef, lamb and pork, vibrant vegetables and berries, deeply amber honeys, creamy complex cheeses. But, the apple stands out in its versatility, its universal appeal, in its tradition. And now, I’m proud to apply the abundance and variety at my fingertips here to my own ever-evolving heritage.

For me, heritage is family. It’s what’s rooted in me, what I’m made of, what feels right. Heritage is home and for most, particularly for cooks, home can change often. Cooks go where jobs take us, where opportunities call and where ingredients speak the loudest. I came to Virginia because I wanted to make Fredericksburg my home. I wasn’t sure when I arrived what would fit or what I’d learn. My research pointed me to the nearby Westmoreland County for produce, Gladys for mineral-rich beef, Mt. Vernon for clean and lean pork, and the Shenandoah Valley for a variety of apples. Now it’s my drive to use those resources in the recipes that I’ve made to create another page in my own heritage.

When I was growing up, my uncles would show up on the summer and fall weekends with bushels of apples they had picked up in nearby Amish country. They were always the same, at least to me: crisp and warm from the sun at the top of the bushel. Then, near the bottom, the apples would be bruised and darker–even mushy–battered from bouncing in the backs of my uncle’s cars. My grandmother and her daughters (my mother, my aunts) turned those ugly apples into chunky cinnamon-specked apple sauce. I’d sit with my cousins for hours and pare the skins in spirals, piling the scraps in buckets that we’d simmer down along with the seeds, stems and bits of usable flesh to make caramelized apple butter. We’d stash it all away in mason jars, plucking them off the shelves in the winter for dinner every single night. The top apples were gold that we’d slice into perfect wedges, toss in cinnamon, nutmeg and sugar and bake into pies and cobblers. That’s my heritage – the working of the fruits, the labor behind the love and the finished product.

I left Pennsylvania over two decades ago, and long before that my family stopped transporting apples in the summer and stopped storing the fruits and vegetables in mason jars in my grandmother’s basement. The old traditions have a new place. They are scattered and taking root with those of us who lived them in childhood. The old traditions are alive and well with my sister and her family in Georgia where they now grow their own vegetables.  They live with my brother in Florida, where he uses the same recipes with his children. And they’re with me in Virginia, in my restaurant and in my daily work.

My mom, sweet and perfect, passed away unexpectedly just a few weeks ago.  And only days earlier I called her because I was in my restaurant, alone on a Monday afternoon, making an apple cobbler for a client’s dinner I had coming up.  I called to ask her if I was using the right combination of apples for the pie. In this batch it was Virginia’s Gala, Granny Smith and Golden Delicious. I wanted to make sure I knew exactly how to roll out the bottom crust, how long I should bake it, if I had enough butter in the streusel topping. But really, I knew those things.  I knew the answers because she had already taught me. I had done it by her side a hundred times over the years. I was calling her needlessly because that’s my heritage: I work the ingredients with my mother. She’s the love behind my labor. So I called, and I asked, and she gave me the answers I already knew…again.

The pie was perfect. It was syrupy and cinnamony, bubbling with sweet juices. And the apples I used were magic, just as they had always been. Except they were my apples. My heritage had shifted again, right before my eyes.  And I like that.

Here’s my mom’s recipe for apple pie. Use it freely. It deserves to be a part of your heritage.

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The author is the Co-Owner & Executive Chef of FOODE in Fredericksburg, VA

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