The Times West Virginian

October 19, 2011

Easy but so good

By Debra Minor Wilson
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — Married for 43 years, Linda and Mickey Abruzzino are a perfect match.

She likes to cook. He likes to eat her cooking.

“He could eat anything,” she said. “I’ve never had any problems cooking for him.”

“Yeah. Put it in front of me, and I’ll eat it,” he answered, laughing. “See how skinny I am?”

A self-proclaimed sweet-aholic, he loves peanut butter, especially what he calls Linda’s “peanut butter whammies” ... homemade soft-as-silk peanut butter cream sandwiched between two chewy-soft homemade peanut butter cookies.

“They are awesome,” he said. “Sweets are my biggest downfall. And she takes all the calories out of them!”

“He’d like me to bake every day,” she said.

She learned to bake the honest way: from her mother, Margarite Brooks, and from working in the bakery at the Fairmont State dining hall for 16 years.

“Mother was a wonderful cook,” she said. “We lived in a coal mining town, and she could cook and bake anything. She even used to cook for people.”

She grew up in Dakota, not far from where she lives now. Her father, Chester Brooks, worked in the old Dakota mines and then later at Idamay.

Unfortunately, as the youngest of seven children, Linda didn’t pay much attention to her mother’s talents. But something must have sunk in because now she is the kind of cook who will make noodles by scratch. Unlike Mickey, though, she can’t stand spicy foods.

Mickey likes to cook, too, but he makes what he calls “conglomerations,” mixtures of this and that, leftovers and what-have-yous, veggies and meats and pasta, things like that.

There’s the old Italian dish (don’t ask him to spell it) made of “what’s leftover from the garden” seasoned with salt, dill, fennel and garlic, layered and pressed in a huge crock for up to two months. The night before it’s done, drain and toss in some freshly made salt water, and the next day rinse and serve.

“My mom would fry some up in an iron skillet. It was very good,” he said.

“Back in the old days, nobody wasted anything. Things were too hard to come by. We’re spoiled nowadays. We had spaghetti and meatballs every other day because it was inexpensive.

“With 16 kids, they only hollered for you once to come and eat,” he said, laughing.

“My mother, Mary, would can from 4 in the morning to late at night,” he recalled. “We had this large root cellar with about seven rows of shelves full of all kinds of canned fruit. They lived in the hard days. We don’t know what that is.

“We used to eat pokeweed and rabbit,” he said. “People don’t live off the land anymore. If they had to, they’d starve.”

They’ve lived in their Meredith Springs home for about 40 years. A few things have changed along the years.

“A long time ago,” she said, “where those houses are, over there, was just an apple orchard. And the old trolly street car tracks are down there. I don’t remember the trolley, but my older brother Pete rode the street car.”

When she makes her “Easy Skillet Apple Pie,” Mickey’s eyes glaze over and he smiles a really big smile in anticipation. He knows what’s coming.

Out of the oven and having rested on the kitchen counter for a bit, it’s now warm enough to melt the butter pecan ice cream Linda piles on in generous dollops, but not too hot to burn the mouth.

It’s worth waiting for, he said.

“It’s easy to make,” she said. “I’ve always made it in this skillet because that’s what it calls for. I’ve never tried making this in a glass baking dish. I’ve always made it in a cast iron skillet.

“The older they are, the better they are,” she said of the skillets. “I think it’s because they conduct the heat so well.

“I put a little shortening in the skillet and put it in the oven to season it. I put some brown sugar and a stick of butter in the skillet and let it melt one to two minutes until it bubbles and gets all dissolved.

“And then you just put the first pie shell in the bottom, then your apples and then your other pie shell on that. I seal it real good, and put egg white and sugar on top, and take the knife and cut holes in it for the steam to escape.”

What makes it so easy is that you use store-bought pie crusts, she said.

“This is the easiest pie I’ve ever made,” she said.

Don’t get her wrong. She makes her own pie crust by hand.

“But I like this recipe because I can buy the pie crust. I don’t have to roll it out.

“Granny Smith apples are the best for baking because they’re juicy,” she added. This recipe calls for Braeburn, too, but if she’s out, she’ll substitute Romans.

“But not MacIntosh. They cook up too mushy, like apple sauce. They’re not good to cook with.”

She got the recipe from Southern Living magazine.

“It sounded so good, I thought I’d try it,” she said.

“That first pie? It was lucky anybody else got any,” Mickey said with a laugh. “That brown sugar got caramelized. It was awesome.

“We put vanilla ice cream on it once,” Mickey said. “Didn’t hurt it one bit.”

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

Email Debra Minor Wilson at dwilson@timeswv.com.