Note: This post was originally for a recipe roundup with Gluten-Free Girl, to share your first baking memory. (Hence the diatribe. ;) )
When I was little, every Wednesday afternoon my sister and I spent with Nonna. We would have tea parties with her old china- I would be “Meesiis Zmeet” and Nonna or my sister would be “Meeesa Brrawn”. Some days, we’d be daring and after lunch take the bus aaall the way downtown to the Rideau Centre and get lost in the Bay department store. Once, nonna bumped into a mannequin and appologized profusely, before breaking into gales of laughter at what she had done. She loved re-telling that story.
In fact, Nonna just loved stories, period. I felt like I knew all the relatives I had never met back in her small mountain village of Ovindoli during the war time by the many tales she’d tell growing up. The time they snuck into the cemetary at midnight- and the boy who’s shirt got caught on the fence but he thought it was a ghost and his hair stood straight up on end. Apparently he was never the same again. Or the story of their donkey that a german soldier insisted on moving forward and (nonna loved this part) when a relative couldn’t understand the german he yelled back “YOU are rauz and chezzitu but my donkey CAN’T!”.
Or the story when my papa and his friend were serenading nonna and her cousin under their windows at night and the girls decided they wouldn’t turn on their lights to say they heard the music. Except her cousin backed out at the last minute, and DID turn on the light for her beau, and my nonna didn’t know. So she kept her lights off, true to their little pact. Ohhh even 50 years later papa would get ticked about that story.
Or the times she said she spent writing letters in her diary wondering how her father was, working on the railway in America- asking a bird to take a message to him for her. Or the story of the little man that would ring the church bell, and he was so short that he would swing upwards with the rope every time. The story of “Dora with the muddy bum” and I wish I remembered the rest, but I only remember hoots of laughter about a little girl who slipped in a puddle.
So many stories. So much connection to this distant land I had never seen but let grow like a curling grapevine into my heart. How she grew up in La Casale, just down from the village, where, now all the houses are abandoned and in ruins.
I remember going back, the first time- smelling the earth in her village, seeing the ghosts of beloved Nonna Donata and Papa Antonio, her parents. Seeing their faces refracted in the hauntingly familiar faces of those who still live there today- family resemblances trailing down through the generations. A certain blue eyes, a pair of hands, sturdy square hips, peach soft cheeks… everyone there had something from the familiar roots pushing me up through the soil. My nonna and papa. This village is the tiny hundreds-year-old unmoving hub in the centre of a world that outside, spins so quickly and changes too much.
So back to Wednesdays. After our adventures and storytelling, we would all hustle back to Nonna’s house and help her get ready for dinner, where my dad’s 3 siblings, spouses, and all and sundry would crowd around the bustling rustic basement table for home made pasta, tomatoes and basil, sometimes gnocchi, or lasagna on special occasions. Uncle Frank would always stir my soup in a particular manner for me to cool it down. He’d scoop around the fresh pasta and clear sparkling broth and blow on it, convincing me it was just perfect. We would always chuckle that my sister L was a ‘true Abbruzzese” because she would heap MOUNTAINS of salty pecorino cheese on the soup.
After dinner, once in a while dessert was a special pane di spagna. Usually my dad and uncle sam and pete, sometimes albert, and when we were lucky, on special occasions lisa and dino and olivia and paola, or uncle moose (with his brown mazda and flip up headlights) would be over, all drinking coffee or talking politics.
Dessert was usually apple pie. Its funny, in such italian roots my nonna wanted so much for us to have little North American traditions. We almost always had apple pie. We almost always had tea parties where I was Mrs Smith and she was Mrs Brown. She would invent stories with english names like Tony and Toby or Alisha and the Strawberries. We grew up totally Canadian- a mix bag of everything.
Anyhow- when we made apple pie nonna always brought out little tin pans for me and my sister to make our own pies. In between draping long sheets of pasta around the basement to dry for the meal, and rolling meatballs, or stirring sauce, there was the pie.
When I found out I couldn’t eat wheat, among so many other things, part of me inside quietly mourned the end of being able to relive those memories. Food is not just fuel, its identity. Its where you are from. Its the astonishment that when you go back to the village where it all started, and someone you’ve only just met offers you soup, and you slurp a spoonful, your heart catches in your throat because it tastes exactly like home. How did they know? How do they all know to make it exactly the same way? Because its who they are, its where they are from.
So, when Shawna from GlutenFreeGirl offered for us to share our childhood memories of our first dishes, I had to share. This is my roots. This is my mini- apple pie. And it doesn’t have any wheat,eggs, or dairy.
Note: The crust in this picture looks crumbly, but I have since updated and improved the recipe. It now holds together like a charm! And it has a vegan option! Check it out!
- 1 recipe of gluten free egg free dairy free pie crust (it makes about 3 mini apple pies, or 1 regular pie so you can adjust accordingly if you wish, or roll out enough for 1 mini pie and freeze the rest)
- 2 apples
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp tapioca starch
- 1 tbsp plus 1 tsp honey Vegan: 3 tbsp agave nectar, maple syrup, or yacon syrup, melted
- several generous grates of orange zest
- tiny pinch of salt
- Roll out enough pie crust to fill the bottom and sides of a tin mini-pie shell(the tin pie shell should be about 5 inches diameter). Drape it gently inside the pie pan. Repeat, with a second pie shell (this will be the top of your pie, but let it rest inside another pie shell to make the form). Put both shells in the fridge.
- Peel and slice the apples into bite sized pieces. Toss with the cinnamon and honey.
- Sprinkle over the zest and starch and toss to mix thoroughly.
- Pack the apples into the bottom pie shell. Flip the second shell overtop and let the crust drop on top of the apple filling (it breaks easily, so be careful).
- Cut air vents in the pie. Bake for 1 hour at 350 degrees.
- yum. :)