The Times West Virginian

My Favorite Recipe

June 22, 2011

‘The easiest thing to bake’

CURTISVILLE — You’ve got your eating apples and you’ve got your cooking apples.

And if you’re smart, you won’t confuse one for the other.

“Eating apples, like Red Delicious, aren’t good for pies,” said Pauline Eshelman. “They’re too mushy.”

What you need is a really tart apple, like a Granny Smith, Winesap or Jonathan, or a 20-ouncer, she said.

Mixed with the right combination of sugar and cinnamon, they produce a pie that’s sit-down good.

Eshelman and her husband Roger live on a mini-farm not far from Curtisville Lake. Here they grow all sorts of berries, many vegetables and even apples.

“The only thing I like down here are Granny Smith,” she said.

“At home, we used to get apples called 20-ouncers from a fruit stand. They make a wonderful apple pie. They’re much better than Granny Smiths, but you can’t get them down here. I don’t know why.

“I’d like to put a tree. They’re big apples, real hard and tart. They’re not an eating apple, unless you really want to pucker up. They’re pale green, like a Granny Smith.”

The couple came south from the cold Buffalo area.

“We decided we had to get away from the snow and cold,” she said. “The last year we lived there (1998), every morning for three months we had to shovel the driveway out from snow. It was not fun any more.”

West Virginia was perfect: not as cold and snowy as Buffalo, not as hot as the South, still with all four seasons.

Now she has four children, two stepchildren, 13 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

It would be a full house, if you could get them all together.

“But they’re scattered all the country. Not one is around here.”

She is an accomplished quilter, whose pieces have been displayed at the Mannington District Fair, Clarksburg, Ruby Memorial Hospital and various state shows.

She learned to cook and bake at an early age. She and her eight brothers and sisters (she’s number six of nine) grew up in public housing. Her mother worked, and they had to take care of the apartment.

“The chores got pushed onto the kids. We all pitched in. The first one home from school got the chore of peeling potatoes. We learned real quick not to rush home,” she said with a laugh. “We didn’t want to get stuck peeling 10 pounds of potatoes. That’s what it took every night. No ifs, ands or buts. There were a lot of us. It was KP basically.”

Whether peeling potatoes, taking down the wash or running the sweeper, there was always something to do, she said.

“This taught me to be independent,” she said. “And I am one independent cuss.”

Eight of the nine siblings joined the service. She served in the Navy from 1963-64.

“I wanted to get out of Tonawanda,” she said of her hometown. “I did, and I’m happy.”

Two sisters and two brothers have since passed away. The rest are scattered across the country also.

“People think baking pies is tough ... because people just don’t bake pies anymore. It isn’t tough. It’s bothersome. But I don’t have a problem with it. I’ll bake any pie, fruit pie, cream pie. Doesn’t matter.

“To me, pies are the easiest thing to bake. You just slap them together and you’re done.”

Like any good home cook, she makes her own crust. She goes one step further by using apples from their own orchard out back.

“We grow Cortlands, Red and Yellow Delicious, Jonathans and Arkansas Blacks. We’ve even got a tree that supposedly came from a graft from a Johnny Appleseed tree. We’ve never gotten an apple out of it, but we’re working on it.”

Roger’s favorite pies are rhubarb and apple, so that’s what she makes most often.

“My favorite is pumpkin, but he doesn’t like it so I don’t make it. I tried rhubarb, but I don’t like it. We both like apple pie. And we both love Key lime pie.”

She used to make a pie called “Open Sesame Pie,” luxuriant with toasted sesame seeds, dates, whipped cream and eggs.

“And no calories at all,” she said with a laugh. “It was a wonderful pie.”

If Pauline is the baker of the two, Roger is the cook, specializing in meat and potatoes and vegetables ... “nothing fancy,” he said. He recently tried out a recipe for beer can chicken.

“It was juicy and very good,” he said.

But when it comes to rhubarb pie, he’s ready, knife and fork in hand, even before the rhubarb’s ready to pick, she said, laughing.

“‘It’s ready,’ he’ll say. “‘Can I have a pie?’ And as soon as the rhubarb’s ready to pick, he gets his pie. He can devastate a rhubarb pie in 24 hours. As soon as I get it out of the oven, he’ll say, ‘Is it cool enough?’

“And within an hour and a half, he’s got it cut and is devouring it.”

The contest for June is pie. To be featured on the “My Favorite Recipe” page, contact Debbie Wilson at 304-367-2549 or at dwilson@timeswv.com.

Email Debra Minor Wilson at dwilson@timeswv.com.

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