Plain Talk about Food: 'Whispers from the Past' and a French Apple Cake
by Colly Gruczelak
May 08, 2014 | 1363 views | 1 1 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
French apple cake. Courtesy of Colly Gruczelak
French apple cake. Courtesy of Colly Gruczelak
It was on one of those almost-too-bright sunny mornings — you know, the kind where you have to stop and wait until your eyes adjust to the light inside.

Grabbing the phone that had brought me to this darkened cave, I heard my stepfather’s voice shouting to “come quick.” Suddenly, my world became chaotic, my mom became as absent as one can get.


For those whose mom has passed, I don’t need to tell you how painful those next days were. Your mother is your beginning and, for many, your nurturer throughout her lifetime.


My mom however, was not a nurturer. Newly divorced, she left me in the care of her older sisters, who soon moved me to a girls' boarding school.


Mom moved from town to town in Washington state and then to California, trying to find herself as I believe it’s called. Eventually, she found herself in Watsonville, where she remarried and settled down.


After my high school graduation, I joined my mom and new stepfather; I was overjoyed at being with her once again. When I married, I settled into my new home just a few miles from theirs.


Mom and I soon discovered that, between the two of us, I had become the better cook. I started buying Sunset Magazine’s $1.99 paperback cookbooks and began baking for my family. Mom’s favorite was the French Apple Cake.


We were given just 13 years, mom and me, to get to know each other. We never spoke about those first 18 years of my life; that was too painful, and what could be gained was more important.


Ten years after my mom’s death, my stepfather called me. He was remarrying and it was time for me to collect mom’s cedar chest.


It was on a dreary rainy day that I turned my car onto the street in Watsonville where my mom had lived. Bracing myself, I entered their home; I had not been inside since Mom passed. Quietly, almost reverently, we lifted mom’s cedar chest into my car. Each wiping tears, we hugged goodbye, knowing I would not be back anytime soon.


Driving home, my mind traveled back to the early 1940s. In those years, family business was whispered about behind closed doors when the women got together, and children were not included.


“Does my mom love me?” I would ask repeatedly.


“Of course she does, having a roof over your head and food in your belly is what matters,” an aunt would snap. I knew better than to challenge her reply.


And now, 10 years after mom’s passing, I was turning the key in the lock of her cedar chest.


Lifting the lid of that chest, smelling the odor of cedar, I felt as if I were intruding upon my mom’s world. I could almost hear the whispers from the past escaping.


In the chest, tied with pieces of ribbon, were bundles of photos of me, each one dated by my age. There was my tiny handprint, cast in white plaster.


There were her paycheck stubs, a yellowed white waitress apron that mom had worn years before, a copy of my father’s will he had mailed to her for safekeeping while he was in the Army, and lastly, on the bottom of the chest, was a small tissue wrapped packet. It contained a tiny dress that I had worn when my first baby photo was taken, along with my letters to her, each one asking when I could be with her again.


In the twilight of that evening, holding that dress on my lap, my main question had been answered. I could almost hear my mom whispering, “Of course I loved you, I always did!”


Happy Mother’s Day!


French Apple Cake


1 ½ pounds Granny Smith apples peeled and cored. Slice one-eighth inch thick.

Microwave covered for four minutes. Toss with 1 tablespoon Calvados and 1 teaspoon lemon juice. Cool.


Whisk together:

1 cup flour

1 cup sugar

2 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt


In second bowl whisk together

1 large egg

1 cup vegetable bowl

1 cup milk

1 teaspoon vanilla


1. Mix wet and dry ingredients together until just combined.


2. Transfer one cup of batter to separate bowl and add:

2 tablespoons flour

Whisk to combine. Set aside.


3. To remaining batter add:

2 egg yolks

Whisk together and then gently fold in cooled apples.


4. Spray a 9-inch spring form pan with vegetable spray and pour in apple



5. Pour reserved batter evenly over apple batter.


Bake on foil lined cookie sheet at 325 degrees for 1 hour and 15 min.


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Colly Gruczelak
May 11, 2014
It was brought to my attention that the recipe should read vegetable 'oil' not 'bowl'. Please exceuse ths error. Colly Gruczelak

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