Memories of baking and love

"The apples have to be McIntosh." My grandmother's words echo in my heart as my paring knife unwinds a red ribbon of peel. It drapes across my hand and drops onto the kitchen counter.

Baking apple bread always fills me with memories of Grandma. Sometimes that is exactly why I make it.

Grandma baked almost every day, and when I visited her, we would bake together.

Our time together was easy and relaxed. She would share with me stories of when she was a child or a young wife. She taught me songs and told me silly stories. We laughed – lots.

She was also my co-conspirator; before Grandma closed up the box of brown sugar, she would find two equal lumps and hand me one with a mischievous sparkle in her eye. We ate them like candy.

As I press brown sugar into a measuring cup, I recall her hands and the many times I watched her do the same. Grandma's hands were strong and skilled. No matter what she was doing – grating apples or embroidering my jeans – her hands revealed a grace that came from years of experience. I loved watching her hands.

Grandma also listened. She never treated me like a child. If I had an idea, she wanted to hear it.

"You are never too old to learn," I remember her saying when I was about 9 years old and she substituted my placement for hers as we arranged dough in a baking pan.

I doubt that my arrangement was any better than hers, but that wasn't her priority. What mattered to her was her grandchild. Standing at the kitchen counter, working side by side, I knew that her unconditional love was rooted in respect and appreciation for me as a person.

As an adult, I realize what a tremendous gift that was.

Removing the apple bread from the oven and placing it on the rack to cool, I savor the familiar aroma. I turn and put the kettle on.

Grandma always served apple bread with tea. I do, too.

Grandma's Apple Bread

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup light brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter or regular margarine, melted
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 to 2 cups coarsely grated McIntosh apples (cored, peeled)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. With a wooden spoon, stir in eggs, melted butter, vanilla, and grated apples.

Turn into a greased loaf pan. Mix cinnamon and sugar and sprinkle over top.

Bake for 45 to 60 minutes, or until tester inserted into the center comes out clean.

Remove from pan while still warm and cool on a rack. Serves 12.

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