Apples, Grandmothers & Family Gatherings
a new recipe for an old memory
I did not realize until recently, that one of the very few things both my grandmothers shared was a love of fresh fragrant flowers and a fondness for apples. Apples show up in my childhood memories of both my grandmothers.
As a child, we seldom thought of using fresh apples where I lived in India because it was a seasonal winter fruit and it became nearly impossible to find good apples in the local markets. My mother would pick a single piece or two if she was going to make a fruit custard – but that was about it. In the days prior to refrigeration, only a few markets carried these juicy red fruits and it was often easier to find sparkling apple juice over fresh fruit.
My mother would make grated apples sautéed in ghee with a pinch of cinnamon and sugar for my paternal grandmother. Warm and comforting, it seemed to be a simple and easy way to appease the taste buds of a woman who did not like too many spices.
Apples showed up at my maternal grandmothers’ home in a different form. I recall being 10, sitting on her living room floor, gathering occasionally with the extended family for a large family lunch. Those lunches were special.
My maternal grandmother, ba as we called her, would purchase several loaves of pav bread from the bicycling baker that the morning. We would be a large group of at least 13 people so there was a lot of bread. Her house was the bicycling bakers’ first stop from the bakery. We would drive from different parts of the city to be there by about 9.30 in the morning. After a round of tea, my father and uncles went shopping for the meat, usually goat meat. My grandmother, mother, and her sisters would huddle and chat and start prepping for lunch. The women would make all the preparations for a goat meat stew, chopping the onions, grinding ginger and garlic, fixing up and assembling the spices and preparing the salad and rice to go with our lunch. My grandfather seldom ate meat, so if he was going to be vegetarian, a serving of the potato-stew was reserved for him before the meat was added in. Meanwhile, us cousins would head out to play in the gated and mango-tree lined community. No one needed extra help in the kitchen when there were so many adults mingling in the house.
Lunches were a little later than normal, about 2 or 2.30 p.m. The star of the meal was a dark caramel colored stew of goat meat with potatoes, paired with bakery fresh bread warmed on the griddle covered in melted salty butter, and sides of rings of raw red onion, wedges of lemon and a raita of yogurt, tomatoes, and cucumber. Rice was a simple affair, flavored with a buttery ghee and a nutty aroma of roasted cumin seeds.
But, I looked forward to something else – a serving of Gold Coin® apple juice to wash down the warm spicy meal. Someone would have made a special trip to make sure we had a few bottles of Gold Coin® apple juice at lunch, and lunch would not start without it. I cannot imagine a single, family-lunch at ba’s house without it. The aroma of bakery fresh warm bread and the hearty steaming meat stews mingled with the delicate fragrance of miniature arrangements of gardenia, Arabian or tea-rose or even a bowl of sambac jasmines on nearly every tabletop carried around her house, the cool breeze floated through the windows, gently caressing her colorful curtains. I could never forget the soothing, comforting memories about those large, loud, and predictable lunches, afternoon siestas on her tall teak wood beds, tea-time with a fresh batch of brun pav and a leisurely drive back home in my fathers' little olive green Fiat. (Pic. my maternal grandparents in their home, c. 1980, photographer unknown)
As Thanksgiving approaches, I think about my childhood family food-gatherings, that were far more frequent in comparison to the annual turkey day in the US. We gathered because we wanted to meet everyone. We took the time to travel, drive, to chat, to play and mingle. It was always the same group, my grandparents, their children, and their families. It was always the same food. And yet, we did it over and over again. All until my grandfathers’ stroke in 1986, when the focus shifted away from social events, to his full-time home-care. The family was never the same.
I miss those carefree days, and visit happier memories as I think about all the holidays that surround us now. We love making apple pie for various holidays and my daughter has taken to making it for our Thanksgiving table. I reflect on the value of appreciating people while they are around us, of simpler times. Diwali, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas – are all opportunities for us to gather, to laugh, to sip and savor the gift of 'being together'.
This year, I came across a Sparkling Apple Drink recipe that made me crave those simple times even more. As an homage to those simple family gatherings, of sitting on the floor in my grandparents’ living room, here is a quick and easy Ginger-Appler Sparkler, for when you want to enjoy the simple company of your near and dear ones. For an adult beverage, add a splash of cinnamon schnapps.
1-part fresh apple cider, chilled
1-part ginger beer, chilled
Dehydrated cinnamon apple slices
Candied ginger (optional)
In a large pitcher, mix in one-part fresh apple cider with one-part ginger beer. I like Reeds® Ginger Beer or Bruce Cost® Ginger Beer, Unfiltered (it comes in a can). If you want a sweeter alternative, use the ginger ale by the same brands. To serve, pour the chilled sparkler into serving glasses with a few pieces of dehydrated cinnamon apples and a cinnamon stick for added flair.