On a recent mid-morning, my three-year-old granddaughter, still wearing her white cotton nightgown faintly smeared with her strawberry snack, walks into the living room with a wicker basket slung over her arm. I look up from the newspaper.
“Hey, Nana, I am picking apples,” she says, moving behind the armchair and crawling over the sofa arm. “I am going to make an apple pie,” she announces as she heads back into the spare room to gather “the ingredients.”
Back in the living room, on a hastily cleared coffee table, she begins to make her pie.
“Do you have a recipe?” I ask.
“Yes.” She pushes her long brown hair away from her eyes. She rejects my offer to tie it back.
“Will you share it with me?”
“Yes. First, you put 100 cups of flour in this yellow bowl that I like. And then eggs.”
“Three,” as she adds three smooth rocks she’d pulled from a battered egg carton and smacks them one by one on the edge of the plastic bowl. “And five spoons of baking powder.” She uses an orange plastic spoon to measure out the make-believe contents of an old baking powder can. “And I already put in the milk.”
“How much?” I inquire -- I’d already begun to take notes on the back of an envelope.
“Half a bottle. And then three spoons of sugar.” She is perplexed for a moment because the dented toffee tin she had opened was empty. “We don’t need sugar,” she says, dismissively tossing the tin aside. “Now I have to make the apples.”
“I’ve heard that apple pie tastes best when it’s made from two kinds of apples,” I volunteer as a lifelong baker. Again, she seems perplexed.
“I mean two different colors of apples,” I explain hastily. “Red or yellow or green or striped.”
“Red and green,” she says. “Good thing I picked some green apples, too.”
“How many do you need?” .
“Four,” she says at first and then is quiet a moment as she reconsiders. Her blue eyes focus on mental calculations. “No, eight.”
“That’s all the ingredients. Now is the time to mix it up. Mixing is for grown-ups. You have to do it standing up, with one hand so it doesn’t spill.” She blends all the fixings with a wooden spoon.
“Now you pour it into a hot pan -- a grown-up has to do that part, too,” she adds as she -- clearly a minor -- empties the contents of her yellow bowl into a small metal pie pan that has seen better days. “And then you leave it in the oven,” as she slides it onto the fireplace hearth.
“For how long?” I wonder aloud.
“Eight minutes,” she says, without even checking her recipe. As she waits for the pie to bake, she picks up a plastic whistle shaped like a red and white chicken. She blows noisily into its hind end. A high squeak results.
”Have you heard my chicken?” she asks, turning it around to blow into its beak to release a deeper cluck. Yes, I say to myself. That chicken and I go back at least thirty-three years. I’d bought it for her dad and his brother a long time ago.
“Why are you blowing into the chicken whistle,” I inquire out loud.
“That’s the timer,” she says, rushing to take the pie out of the oven.
“Do we need to wait for it to cool,” I ask.. “Do we need to blow on it?”
“No, it cools itself,” she replies. “Let me slice you a piece.” She squats on the carpet, her knees bent sharply, her bum not touching the floor. My joints ache at the thought. She rises too gracefully, no need to hold onto a table or chair. She brings me a piece of pie, resting it on the flat of her hand.
As I savor the pie, she careens across the room to pull on the chain of a nearby floor lamp, turning it on. “Let’s pretend it’s Christmas,” she says. Her invitation is infused with wistful enthusiasm. She and I have agreed often in the past that Christmas is the best time of the year.
“This pie is delish,” I exclaim. “So is this a Christmas Apple Pie?”
“No, nana,” she said, actually shaking her head at my feeble effort to catch up with her imagination. “It’s apple pie,” she explains patiently, again pushing her hair back. “And this,” she waves her arm to take in my cluttered living room, “this is Christmas.”