Old Fashioned Apple Pan Dowdy is a recipe that simply feels right to make in the fall. Each year I watch sweet, fragrant apple blossoms mature through the heat of summer into crisp red-skinned spheres. As the days grow shorter, the fruit falls to the ground, withering, absorbed unto the earth. And then it begins again. The life-cycle of the apples reminds me of Elodie Gallien – my maternal grandmother – and her losing battle with Alzheimer’s. The autumn, and the apples, raise thoughts inside of me, both sweet and sad.
This post was first published on October 3, 2014 and was last updated September 1, 2019.
This Old Fashioned Apple Pan Dowdy post is part of The Nanny Project, an ongoing personal series exploring the relationships and connections between grandmothers, recipes, the past, and present. I started The Nanny Project in the fall of 2014 and wrote it as a bi-weekly column in The Chronicle Herald from October 2017 until the spring of 2019.
The woman in this picture is Elodie Mary Gallien Wade and she was my grandmother.
Nanny was very close to my sister and I. Each weekend as kids my Mum drove us across the bridge to Halifax to visit her. Nanny lived in a small apartment on Victoria Road. We went to movies, walked through the Public Gardens, played at the beach, and sometimes, we’d just hang out in her apartment. It didn’t matter what we did. We were always together.
When I was 15 Nanny came to live with us. She was battling the first stages of dementia and the time had come she couldn’t live alone any longer. Over the next three years my mother, my sister, and I watched Nanny disappear, replaced by a stranger who cried constantly, begging for her mother. She withered before our very eyes, at the end, an empty Alzheimer’s-ridden husk.
I can still picture my 18 year-old self after her freezing February funeral. Dressed in a black turtleneck, a burgundy corduroy skirt, and a black pea coat, I roamed the streets of downtown Dartmouth, chain smoking, blinded by tears. Twenty years after her death and I still carry the weight of grief, heavy. Her death drove deep into my soul and I still feel it as the apple peelings slip from my hands to the wooden board below.
Born in Caraquet, New Brunswick, my Nanny moved to Halifax when she married my grandfather. She spoke little English and seemed embarrassed by her thick Acadian accent. I wish I could tell her I learned French, chose it as my university minor, because of her.
I love cats. My Mum says Nanny loved them too. Mum tells a story about a cat named Toni that visited their house on Wright Avenue. Nanny worked serving night lunches at the Victoria General Hospital. Each night Toni the cat walked with Nanny to the hospital and waited outside for her until it was time to go home.
I need these little stories because I’m afraid I’ll forget what little I can remember.
My paternal grandmother, Barbara Jean Anderson Ellis, was a great beauty.
When I was young she lived in Ontario. Today she lives with my father, her son, sucked into the vacuum of dementia. I never got to know her and I’ll never have the chance.
I have so many questions.
Who are these women beyond my perceived notion of them as grandmothers? What was it like to be in their shoes and face their choices? What would they think of me?
These questions fascinate me.
Diving into the past and dragging up old memories? It’s complicated and it hurts. But it helps.
Looking For More Apple Recipes? Try:
Old Fashioned Apple Pan Dowdy
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup water
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 4 cups apples peeled, chopped
- 1 cup flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup milk
- 2 1/2 tablespoons butter
- Preheat oven to 350ºF. Butter a 9 x 13 oven-safe baking dish.
- Place brown sugar, 1/4 cup of flour, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, water, and apple cider vinegar in a pot over medium heat and cook until thick, about 8 minutes. Remove from heat. Add 1 tablespoon of butter and vanilla. Mix well and set aside.
- Arrange peeled, chopped apples in prepared baking dish. Pour brown sugar sauce over apples and toss to coat.
- Make The Biscuits - In a bowl, mix 1 cup flour, baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt, milk and 2 1/2 tablespoons of butter just to make wet. Drop biscuit dough by the spoonful on top of apples in baking dish. Bake 40-45 minutes, or until biscuit topping is golden.
Did you make this recipe? I would love to see how you made out! Let me know on Instagram by tagging me @baconandbaileys and hashtag it #baconandbaileys so I can take a peek and re-share it in my Instagram stories! You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.