For as many years as I can remember, my Grandparents would drive from their small town in Southwest Iowa to our bigger, yet still small town in Southeast Iowa. They would come for both Thanksgiving and Christmas, occasionally deviating from this schedule, but they were with us enough that the fact that they're no longer part of the holidays is still a bit different.
And it's been almost 10 years since they both passed away.
Their presence wasn't something that stands out as "special" in the sense of an annual meeting filled with joy and memory inducing moments. In fact, there were times when their presence could be somewhat annoying as they frequently bickered, creating a holiday environment that was not up to my ideal of simply getting along for a few days out of the year.
Not that it our holiday was filled with drama or tense arguments; it wasn't. No, our Thanksgivings were just like everyone else's, filled with over-eating, Detroit Lions football games that nobody paid attention to (unless the Packers were playing them), and the eventual nap on the couch or recliner.
It was just the fact that they were there that makes these holidays without them such a weird feeling.
One of the things that my Grandmother used to do was to bake a Gooseberry pie and bring it to my parent's home for the festivities. My uncle would collect a few Gooseberry's in a forest near his place and he would give them to my Grandmother. She'd freeze them and use the tart berries for pies that generally made their appearance around this time of year. She knew that I went crazy for them, so it turned out to be a special thing for me. I mean, when was the last time you've seen a gooseberry pie at your bakery?
My mom got the recipe from her, but since my uncle died as well shortly after my Grandparent' passed, so did our gooseberry connection. They're not a popular berry-for most pie connoisseurs they are too tart-which means that even around the farmer's market circuit in Iowa they're a rare commodity.
Finally, my mom came across an older woman selling fresh berries at one of the last farmer's markets of the season in Des Moines. She had one bag of gooseberries left, and my Mom snagged it for $8. I'd seen green gooseberries listed from some dealer in Oregon for something like $30 a pound, which seemed ridiculous to me. After all, these were the fruits of some prickly shrub that dots the forests of Iowa, a plant that's frequently left for the birds and wildlife to munch on. They are not looked upon as a cash crop, at least not in the same way that those potheads in Oregon must view it with their Internet pricing.
With those berries, she brought out my Grandmother's recipe-the same one that calls for less sugar than most people would prefer, which makes it the perfect companion to a scoop of ice cream. While everyone else fed on apple, yours truly was able to secure the first slice of the gooseberry. It was a delicacy that hadn't crossed my lips in over a decade, and it immediately conjured up an emotional response that can only be described as comparable to the dish served up in Ratatouille.
The crust was nicely done and the berries stayed secure in their tapioca foundation. My grandmother would have been proud of her as I recall a few occasions when her own pie allowed the gooseberry to spill out after slicing the first piece, causing her to apologize for not putting enough tapioca mix to congeal the gooseberry innards.
I never complained. You never look a gift horse in the mouth and you never speak of any inadequacies of a pie's quality, particularly one that's baked by your grandmother.
Because you never know when your next slice of gooseberry pie will come next.