"Cows are my passion. What I have ever sighed for has been to retreat to a farm and live entirely surrounded by cows–and china." Charles Dickens

October 28, 2013

Ode to Dad

My Dad, James H. Seiberling, and me on my
Grandpa Sei's croquet court in Akron, Ohio, c. 1976-78.
My father has been gone eleven years. Yesterday I was listening to some classical music on NPR that I know he would have enjoyed. For a long time I couldn't listen to any classical or nineteenth century music, or anything on the organ, without weeping. For my father, music was his lifeblood, his passion, his heartbeat. I am fortunate that he passed that along to me in a diffused but enthusiastic measure.

As I was listening to some child prodigies playing Brahms and other works while at the table in our quiet kitchen on a Sunday evening I was also rummaging through some old recipe clippings. I found them in the shed in one of many unopened, and as yet unplaced, boxes that have formed the detritus––and delights––of my middle-aged life. There, from Dad's college typewriter (he never did try to use a computer), was a recipe he had brought to us in an early autumn of our marriage, on one of many visits he made to New Hampshire to see us each year. I thought of Dad, of course, while reading it, and smiled at a frugal notation he made (see below) and thought, given the season, that I should make it again. Then I realized that October 27, Sunday, was the actual anniversary (and same day of the week) of his passing eleven years ago. This is usually a date that I would have anticipated weeks ago but I suppose it is a sign that the immediacy of grief has slowly left me, replaced only by the presence of my father in my soul and memory as I navigate through the rest of my time here.

Dad died just two days before my 40th birthday and at the very minute, at 2am, that the clocks turned back in the hospital for Daylight Savings time. My two brothers and I were with him for his last days which was a blessing and a comfort and we had all been in and out in the few months prior. Dad's doctor said at the time, "I called and you all came. Not everyone does that, you know." There were many profound and unexplainable things that happened during his last day, and at his memorial service a week later, and I've written about them privately. I always found the Daylight Savings timing to be a strange kismet as he welcomed the darker days of winter when he could be indoors and hibernate as he was want to do with his music and his television. It's not that he was antisocial––being out and about was just always on his terms, like so many things.

As well as music and playing the organ, Dad loved all things autumnal, like I do. He liked Halloween and unpasteurized apple cider (from an old mill in Loyal Oaks near Norton), pumpkin pie and apple crisp and he especially liked homemade apple butter stirred into large-curd cottage cheese. He sometimes joined us for Thanksgiving and appreciated my stuffing (there were several dishes that he liked me to make when he visited but he always preferred his friend Alice's potato salad to mine!). He liked the cooler days and the thrill of the baseball playoffs and World Series, no matter who was playing. Of course, he was a born and bred Cleveland Indians fan and even though I could care less for the sport, I enjoyed going to home games and feeling the breeze from Lake Erie and being a part of the roar of the crowd and sharing this great American tradition with my father and brothers and cousins. [We would also meet my cousins each summer in Boston at Fenway Park––usually for an Indians-Red Sox game.]

The year he brought me this recipe, for Jacobs Field Apple Crisp (once served at the home of the Cleveland Indians and now called Progressive Stadium), he also sat in our darkened kitchen and played spooky music on our daughter Addie's electric organ while trick-or-treaters came to our porch. Hancock was the perfect small village for door-to-door goblins and we must have had several hundred children each year from the village and surrounding towns. Dad delighted in seeing the costumes and our decorations and enjoyed many meals around the same table that now graces our small Kentucky kitchen. There he was comfortable telling us stories of his childhood and so many memories that he'd never shared with me before. Perhaps it is something about a kitchen table and a good meal that evokes such spirited remembrance.

So yesterday I was able to listen to beautifully played music, all of which my father would have known by composer, title, and movement. I savored a favorite recipe in his typewritten hand and I was grateful. I know he is still with me, every day, and I know we will be together again. And I know that he is in the great celestial realm, somewhere, playing the organ and singing in a choir. When I hear music that he once shared with me, it is a kind of connection to the divine. And that is why I have always sung, too. After all, singing is like praying twice.

Of course, I plan on making this recipe again very soon. Here it is written exactly as he typed it (if I had my scanner set up I would just scan it!):

Jacobs Field Apple Crisp

  • 15 apples (4.5 pounds) such as Macs or Golden Delicious
  • 1 cup brown sugar packed down
  • 1.5 tsps ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/2 cup cider or apple juice
  • 1 Tbsp. cornstarch dissolved in 2 Tbsp. water
NOTE: Allspice and cloves may be omitted if not already in your spice rack as they are quite expensive today! [Dad was a bank branch manager and always frugal and I appreciated his concern about my spice cupboard and finances.]

Crumble Topping:
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup brown sugar packed down
  • 4 cups granola cereal [CSP note: I've also used plain rolled oats.]
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp. allspice
  • 1/8 tsp. cloves
  • 3 sticks butter, melted
For the filling: Peel, core and slice apples. Combine apples, sugar, spices and cider in large pan or wide kettle. Simmer uncovered over medium heat until apples are tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Be careful not to burn. Stir in cornstarch mixture. Simmer several minutes, stirring occasionally until thickened. Remove from heat.

For the topping: Combine flour, sugar, granola and spices in a bowl. Add melted butter and stir until dry ingredients are thoroughly coated. 

Place filling in a baking dish and heap the crumble topping over the filling. Bake at 325 degrees for 15 minutes or until golden and bubbly. [CSP note: I've not made this in a while so baking time might be longer.] Let cool and serve with ice cream or whipped cream.

Recipe can be halved for smaller amount.

He added: "This is awesomely delicious. I know you'll enjoy!"

Happy Halloween to you all ~

You come back when you're ready!