What was the first thing you ever baked in your parents’ kitchen? I think 9 out of 10 people would respond “cookies.” Me too! I remember that our neighbors across the street (Joyce Strong and her mother, Mary) had shared these funny little brown, bumpy lumps with us and I thought they were divine! When I asked Joyce about them, she said they were “Cat-tails.” The joke was that we had cats and the Strong family did not care for pets of the feline persuasion.
The cookies were actually an unbaked oatmeal confection that many of you have probably tasted or made at some point. It was the perfect first foray into the baking world for me because the cookies required no oven time! My mother’s cookies were a different story. Unlike those Peanut Butter Chocolate No-Bake cookies, each of Sadako’s cookies were perfectly round spheres…crisp and chewy and mostly eaten right off the wax paper where they cooled on the counter.
My mother, Sadako, born and raised in Taiwan, was a novice to American baking but she applied the strict attention to detail learned in her mother’s kitchen to her newly acquired skills. Due to her quest for perfection, she struggled especially with pie crust. And of course, apple pie was my favorite dessert in the world. I could not wait until she baked pie—sneaking into the kitchen late at night for a last piece before bed, waking up in the morning and eating a slice for breakfast. I even loved the little cinnamon strips she would make with the leftover pieces of pie crust. But she constantly complained of the troubles associated with rolling out crust so we did not have pie as often as young Ruth would have liked. :(
Fast forward to my first kitchen away from home and by golly, I was going to learn to make pie. Ironically, I don’t remember the first fruit pie I baked. But I do remember the first time I made a chicken pot pie for my sweetheart, JB. I recall that I used too many herbs in the gravy and one in particular, tarragon, was not his favorite. So several tweaks later, the Home Sweet Home chicken pie as it is today, became my signature dish. I took it to pot-lucks, friends who’d had babies recently or lost a loved one, and family reunions.
Eventually, we all return to our first (food) love and I am no different. I’m baking Apple Pie this week and every one of my senses will be aroused to memories of my mother’s flaky pies which she claimed were less than perfect but I found to be pure heaven.