When I walked into my kitchen one morning a few Sundays ago, my eyes landed immediately on two yellow-skinned apples with vibrant blushes, lying right there in the fruit bowl in front of me. I spotted them so quickly because they were on my mind when I awakened just a few minutes earlier. Those two apples fell all comfy like into my thoughts, so much so that I could nearly smell them frying before my feet touched the floor, walking me their way. The day before, I had made sourdough biscuits, and it seemed to me that fried apples would pair beautifully with them.
Right after tapping the start button on my coffee maker, I bent over to fetch a frying pan from the cabinet. My eyes saw nothing but All-Clad. I knew that All-Clad would never do for these fried apples. I leaned in deep, looked toward the back, and there I saw the perfectly seasoned skillet that I knew I had to use. It was the one passed down to me from my mother. It was so shiny and smooth and oiled that it reflected not only the kitchen lights but also me, myself, watching my smile stretch across the cast-iron mirror.
I put the skillet on the stove, turned the burner knob to just a hair past medium, and by the time I had sliced off some butter, the skillet was hot enough to send the yellow chunks sliding all around in hot pursuit of their own melting. Soon, sizzle sounded. I added the sliced but unpeeled apples, stirring and stirring and stirring with my wooden spoon until they were all bathed in butter. Then I added water–not much, just a sprinkling–topped the pan with a lid and left the apples simmering while I went into the living room to sip my first cup of steaming coffee.
After a short spell, the essence of apples seduced me back to the kitchen. Lifting the lid, I could see by their near translucency that the apple slices–including their skins–were perfectly tender and ready to be sugared and spiced. A generous sprinkling of light brown sugar, a shake of cinnamon, a pinch of salt, and a smidgen of black pepper went into the mix. I stirred it all up really good and left the unlidded apples to simmer a little longer, while I continued sipping on my second coffee in the living room.
A short while later I returned to the kitchen, not because I had finished my coffee but because the apples scented me that their final moments had come.
I scrambled three freckled-brown eggs, fried some streaky bacon, warmed the sourdough biscuits, and plated it all up, watching the apples slide their butteriness closer and closer to the biscuits, just where I had hoped they would slide, just where I knew they would.
I split one biscuit wide open, piling apples on both halves, admiring them patiently while I savored the eggs and bacon. Somehow there’s something sensationally remarkable about waiting for biscuit halves to soak up the buttery unctuousness of fried apples.
These apples and biscuits were no exception. As I savored the last bite, I sat there smiling from ear to ear, saying softly to myself for no one else to hear, for no one else was around:
“Just like mama made.”
As I said it, I chuckled. I never called my mother mama. Even the imagined spelling looked strange to me. One middle m? Two middle m’s? One looked less strange, so I wrapped my arms around it and held it real close.
In that second, my thoughts drifted off to all the times–and they were many, those countless lazy days stacked on top of one another, turning into years stacked on top of years–that I spent with my mother in the kitchen, usually just the two of us, as I watched her every move.
From that vast expanse of dimmed memory, Fruitcakes, Pecan Pies, Coconut Layer Cakes, 12-Layer Strawberry Stack Cakes, Greek Green Beans, Sage Dressing, Potato Salad, and all the other dishes that I make marched out of the darkness and stood tall and proud beneath the bright lights of honor, right there beside the fried apples, all culinary memorials, all made just like mama made.
And then my mother’s voice floated in–so soft and low my ears had to strain to hear–sharing with me once more something that she had shared with me over and over as she grew older and older.
“You weren’t even born when my mother died. I was pregnant with Arlene. But isn’t it amazing: after all these years, sometimes I’ll do something or sometimes I’ll see something, and I’ll find myself saying to myself, ‘I can’t wait to run home and tell mama.'”
So it was, so often with my mother in her conversations with me. “I can’t wait to run home and tell mama.”
My mother has been dead nearly thirteen years. Now, after all that time isn’t it amazing that the simple serving up of fried apples on a Sunday morn brings to my lips once more the whisper that has crossed them so many times before:
“Just like mama made.”
Made from scratch, with the freshest ingredients.
Made simply. No fuss, no muss.
Made to taste just right, by tasting all along.
Made with genuine joy and sheer satisfaction.
Made just like mama made.