The holiday season is here again, and I think now more than ever people want to be close to their loved ones. This is a season for family and friends, and I wanted to make something to remind me of my paternal grandmother, my Mam Mam.
My Mam Mam passed away about 15 years ago, but she always feels especially close during the holidays. She loved celebrating and making them special, although she had a way of making any visit with her special.
She was wonderful at baking and cooking, and all of our most cherished holiday recipes come from her. There will never be a Christmas in our household without nut roll or pierogies, just like there will never be a Christmas without the songs she used to love or the porcelain Christmas tree she would have in her living room.
The holidays are a time to be with the people you love, and we always keep her close.
This, however, isn’t one of my Mam Mam’s holiday recipes. It isn’t a marathon recipe like the pierogies, which would churn out at least a hundred potato dumplings, and it doesn’t require grinding pounds of nuts or kneading dough.
It is actually one of her favorite recipes, and one that she would make often. Mam Mam would have apple cake ready for surprise guests or as a treat at the end of the week. Everyone loved that apple cake, and I remember her always seeming to have it.
The thing is, I was starting to forget what it tasted like. I couldn’t quite remember how it smelled, and that made me sad. It was slipping away from us because it was a recipe my mother said didn’t work for her (and if it didn’t work for my mother, I didn’t think there was a chance it would work for me).
But as I was thumbing through the recipe cards, I found three cards in differing degrees of age and wear for the apple cake. One was in my mother’s handwriting, copied from my Mam Mam’s, the second was obviously Mam Mam’s but had gotten wet at some point, and there was one that was very worn and old … and loved. It was difficult, but I could still make out the words.
It’s a little heartbreaking when you start forgetting certain things from the past involving people you’ve loved and lost, so I decided to give this recipe a chance. Just to see if I could re-create that memory before it was lost completely.
I didn’t have a lot of faith in it turning out because my mother is a wonderful baker. Everything turns out for her, but she said this cake wouldn’t. I don’t know why it did for me. Maybe it was because I noticed something on the oldest recipe card that wasn’t on the other two. The older card said, in faded blue ink, to stir by hand.
My mother said she had always used a mixer and always thought Mam Mam had used her hand mixer, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to follow the card.
I also buttered and floured the pan very generously, because my mother said she had issues with the cake not releasing from the bundt pan well and falling apart on her.
Maybe it was just that my Mam Mam didn’t want us to lose the cake either, because it turned out beautifully for me.
As it was baking, the smell of apple, vanilla and sugar hit me as something wonderfully familiar. When I sliced it and saw the layers of thin apples and cake, the memory of the cake was suddenly back in full. It looked just like it had when I was a little girl. It tasted perfect.
It isn’t necessarily the fanciest cake, but I am very proud of it.
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