Sharon is a no-nonsense woman; she’s known for getting to the heart of the matter, no bullshit. Because she's extremely honest and up front without being in your face, she’s also easy to trust. Her humor coupled with her many hidden talents make every meeting an adventure full of laughter, raw humanity and amazing food.While Sharon can cook the crap out of just about anything, there’s one item in her repertoire whose story lingers in the eater’s mind as much as the flavor does on the tongue: her phenomenal apple pie. Out of the oven, its lumpy crust practically bursts with pie filling, and once the smell bubbles up, there is no escaping it; you must have a bite of Sharon’s famous apple pie. This pie has been a family favorite for as long as Sharon can remember, but to her it means more than just yummy dessert; the steaming crust and gooey filling calls up autumn outings with her father and twin sister, Sandra. They would pack up the car and head to a family-run orchard out in the country where trees sagged with apples and fresh-pressed cider gushed from the holding tank filling the family’s gallon jugs. Sharon radiates joy while recounting those memories.
Listening to Sharon tell childhood tales is especially interesting because she slips right into “we” instead of “I” at first taking the listener by surprise. But as you learn about Sharon’s family’s passion for food and cooking, you also get a feel for the intertwined experiences she and her twin lived. It all becomes clear; first person just wouldn’t make sense in these stories. Sharon and Sandra did everything together: played together, cooked together and eventually went on to share a singing career. The two eventually pursued different career paths and now live in different states. Even though they are separated, the twins’ bond is as in-tact as ever which came through as Sharon shared how they learned to cook. When the twins were in the fifth grade, their mother (who had been laid off from her job as a music teacher) enrolled in graduate school in order to pursue a career as a guidance counselor. The only way she could balance her studies and family was to teach Sharon and Sandra how to cook, so the lessons in the kitchen began. The twins’ mother knew it was not enough to simply teach her girls how to cook; she also needed to teach them to grocery shop and devise a food budget. At the same time, her studies were so rigorous she couldn’t spare any extra time, so on shopping days she would pull up to the fire lane at the local market, put on her hazard lights, shove her nose in a school book and send the girls into the store. The shopkeeper or store manager would allow the girls to go out and consult their mom before choosing various items. They would say, "This big tin of tomatoes or these two smaller ones?" and their mom would reply, "Okay, let's do the math." As a result, the twins got a sense of how to shop smart and build a workable grocery budget. It wasn't long before they were doing most of the food preparation and cooking all on their own.
While most of us would consider Sharon a basic cook by the seventh grade, her cooking skills actually became a problem for her Home Economics teacher. The Washington women didn’t have much use for precise measuring—unless they were baking, so when the teacher asked Sharon “How much cinnamon should you add in french toast?” Sharon responded, "You just add some until it's enough." Needless to say, the teacher wasn't very impressed with her ability to follow a recipe. Sharon still cooks this way today and, to a certain extent, also bakes this way; not one of her eaters complains, so maybe the Home Ec. teacher should’ve allowed for a little more creativity in the classroom, but that's another story. The important thing is Sharon wasn’t hindered by recipes; when she cooks now, she’ll stick to the core recipe measurements, but when it comes to spices and extracts she does what makes sense for her in that moment. It all depends on the recipe, the ingredients and her mood.
Not only did Sharon’s mom teach the twins how to cook and the importance of taking risks with recipes even when they’re written to be followed, Sharon also learned a great deal about navigating the kitchen from her Aunt Mary with whom she spent almost a week each December for three years. This is where Sharon really sunk her teeth into baking because each Christmas season, Aunt Mary made twelve kinds of cookies as gifts for her large extended family, friends and neighbors. In the beginning, Aunt Mary assigned Sharon mostly tedious prep work: cutting dates, draining and slicing maraschino cherries, crushing corn flakes, and chopping hundreds of nuts. Sharon eventually earned the right to participate in the entire baking process; there were simple recipes like ginger cookies and Sss (spritz) and some that were more complicated, but Aunt Mary taught Sharon all of them. Sharon still carries on the holiday tradition, but she’s added a few new cookie recipes to the group and has cut the cookie variety from twelve to six, opting not to make the overly complicated ones. Like I said, Sharon doesn’t have time for fluff, and the idea of voluntarily cutting dates into small pieces is unthinkable.
Simplicity is vital to Sharon because she is a very busy woman; between her demanding career as the executive director of a national education non-profit, competitive ballroom dancing, cooking, entertaining friends and spending time with her partner, Barbara, she has a super jam-packed schedule. It's tough to rank high enough to get some one-on-one time with her, but I got lucky after planning about three months in advance. Even though Sharon’s a tough woman to track down, when she spends time with you she’s completely present, never giving the sense she’s preoccupied with something else. When we met at her house after a long workday, she greeted me with a hug and a smile, settled into her chef’s coat (which she dons for each cooking endeavor) and, after taking a few last-minute phone calls from work, she was ready to make some serious apple pie. Sharon memorized this apple pie recipe so long ago she can’t recall whether she learned it from her mother or one of her aunts. All she knows is each time she serves it to someone new, the pie plate’s left cleaner than before she started. Over the years, she’s learned she’s got to tweak the recipe depending on the brand of flour she’s using, the water where she lives, the tartness and juiciness of the apples—and how spicy she’s feeling. One thing Sharon's aunt taught her is to almost always double the amount of spices or vanilla extract a recipe calls for in everything she bakes which makes for bold flavors. She definitely lays it on thick in her rendition of this recipe; I don't think I've ever eaten an apple pie that left such a tingle on my tongue.
5-6 medium-large apples 1 c brown sugar 1T flour Pinch salt 1t+ cinnamon (I really don't know. Depends on flavor) Pinch nutmeg Lemon juice (a 2-3 squeezes of fresh lemon juice) 1-2T butter, cut-up
Peel and slice apples into a large bowl. In a small bowl mix the dry ingredients, then add to apples and toss. Add lemon juice and toss slightly. Pour into pie plate that has the bottom crust. Cut butter and dot the top of the filing. Add top crust, crimp edges, and vent top crust before putting in the oven. Bake in a pre-heated 400-degree oven for 15 minutes, then set oven to 375-degrees and continue baking for another 45 minutes. Let cool before cutting. If you want to serve the pie warm, reheat on 300-degree oven for 10-15 min.
CRUST 2 c flour 1t salt 1/2 c +3 T cold Crisco shortening 4-5T ice cold water
Mix flour and salt, then add shortening and cut-in until flour mixture has consistent small lumps of shortening. Mix in 4 T of cold water first. If the crust does not just come together, add a tablespoon of water at a time and mix until you can form two even sized balls. Roll out crust between two pieces of waxed paper until the diameter of a 9"pie plate with a little overhang.