Ask anyone in my family and they remember Grandma Rau’s apple cobbler. The buttery crust steaming over hot sliced apples served with a splash of cream made for an unforgettable dessert or breakfast. I can still see Grandma’s hands working a silver paring knife around and around each apple until there were long strips of apple peel for us to snack on (after we dangled them about, of course). All before she sliced them into a bowl and sprinkled them with sugar and cinnamon. And that was before she would daub dough over those McIntosh apple slices. McIntosh was the only variety of apple I ever remember at Grandma’s house.
At the local orchard this week, I happened to see baskets of McIntosh apples among other varieties available. I knew in the moment that McIntosh apples were coming home with me. It would be just what the doctor ordered to make Grandma’s apple cobbler at my sister’s house to perk her up after she had been ordered by the doctor to rest for a couple of weeks.
It had been about ten years since I last made Grandma’s apple cobbler. That time, it just hadn’t tasted the same to me, so I wasn’t motivated to make it again until now. Maybe this time would be different. There were “optional” ingredients noted on the old recipe card. Did Grandma put those optional ingredients in or leave them out? Did or didn’t I include them last time? Maybe I just needed to savor the cobbler and its memories with my sister to fully experience it.
I would try again.
"Lynn, do you think it looks like Grandma’s?” I asked as we checked on the cobbler bubbling in the oven. “Just a little longer,” we agreed. Her oven runs hot, so we altered temp and time to bake. Memories came alive as we began to smell the aroma of Grandma’s kitchen past.
My mouth was watering as I spooned steaming cobbler into bowls. Delectable! Buttery. A sweet crust in balance with the tartness of the apples. “Lynn, do you think Grandma added the optional nutmeg or left it out?” After another taste test, we decided that she must have added the nutmeg like we did. Spoonful after spoonful, we raved about how it tasted and decided that it was the best Grandma’s apple cobbler ever.
About an hour later when I was reviewing the recipe card again, I realized that I had accidentally doubled the amount of butter in our cobbler. Seriously? I did that? NO WONDER IT WAS THE BEST COBBLER EVER! And it probably wouldn’t exactly qualify anymore as what the doctor ordered.
“Do you think that Grandma doubled the butter, too, Lynn? It sure tasted just like I remember,” I said with a giggle.
Grandma never had the recipe written down. We had to ask her to tell it to us and then we wrote it down. Mine was written on a plain index card in penmanship that I recognize from my pre-teen years some 45 years ago. And, I admit my recipe card has aged kind of like me—with some gray around the edges. Lynn’s recipe card had more detail about the process for making the cobbler and was also written in her own handwriting. Over the years, we had probably made it with Grandma hundreds of times taking on more and more responsibility to help as we became old enough to pare and slice the apples and graduate into little bakers ourselves. Interestingly, nowhere do our recipe cards say to use McIntosh apples. Just apples, though we knew she only used McIntosh.
Grandma’s maiden name was LaVoie. She was of French-Canadian descent having been born in Cloquet, Minnesota, about twenty miles southwest of Duluth. Learning more about McIntosh apples today in preparation for this blog, I see that it is the national apple of Canada originating from seedlings discovered by John McIntosh around 1811 in Ontario which happens to be the closest neighboring province to Minnesota.
That explains it!
Of course, Grandma’s apple cobbler needed to be made with the tart goodness of McIntosh apples. McIntosh was THE apple of Grandma’s heritage!
Years ago when I made this recipe and it hadn’t tasted like I remembered it from my childhood, I recall it had been too sweet. I’ll bet that was because I had used a different variety of apple. I hadn’t used McIntosh which would give the proper sweet-sour balance to Grandma’s recipe. And McIntosh apples bake to a texture of perfection.
Where did Grandma get the recipe? Did she make it up? Was it her grandmother’s recipe? I’d give anything for a chance to ask her now. No matter where it came from, Grandma Rau’s love and heritage is alive and warm in our hearts today through her McIntosh apple cobbler. Who knows? Maybe next time, I might purposely double the butter!
Connecting to our native roots through family recipes is a way of Keeping Nature Central in our lives. How does your food heritage connect you with Nature? How do you nurture those connections with your family and friends?