Lessons Learned from an Apple Pie

Thanksgiving is a big deal in my family. And, as is the case in many families, certain people are known for the special dishes they bring to the meal. When I was growing up, I always looked forward to my Aunt Neila’s squash casserole, my grandmother’s sweet potatoes, and my mom’s apple pie.

When I spent my first Thanksgiving with my husband’s family, I was introduced to his mom’s Jewel Salad and my sister-in-law’s cranberry mold. I love to bake, so I was happy to bring the pies (pumpkin, apple and pecan) and, among my in-laws, I quickly became famous for “my” apple pie (same recipe as my mom’s, of course!).

My niece and nephews were the biggest fans, and I delighted every year in seeing how excited they were when I arrived with the pies, and in hearing their rave reviews as they devoured them. I always made an extra to ensure plenty of leftovers and, on at least one occasion when my nephew was in college, baked one especially for him to take back to school. Being able to do something that brought so much happiness to people I love fueled me, and being showered with their praise made me feel special.

Eventually, my niece moved across the country and, in preparation for her first Thanksgiving away from family, asked for my recipe so she could take “Aunt Jenn’s Apple Pie” to her Friendsgiving dinner. That celebration became an annual tradition, and my pie earned a new group of fans.

After my nephew, Matt, got married several years ago, my niece passed the recipe along to his new wife, Amanda. She texted me the night before Thanksgiving saying, “It doesn’t look quite like yours!” The attached photo showed NOT a perfectly golden crumb topping, but instead a pie that looked like it was topped with flour, with scattered burnt edges of apples poking through. My response, of course, was, “I’m sure it’ll taste great!”

I was sorry that her pie didn’t turn out better but, secretly, probably a little bit happy that my pie would still be heralded by Matt as “the best.”

As I put my last Thanksgiving pie in the oven this year, at about 10:00 Wed. night, I heard my phone buzz. I was thrilled to find a text from Amanda saying, “I did it! Homemade crust and everything!” accompanied by a picture of an absolutely perfect-looking pie.

In that moment, the only thing I felt was joy. I knew she was proud of her accomplishment and was elated for her, and I was excited that Matt (despite being hundreds of miles away from me) would get to enjoy “my” pie. And I was excited for Amanda to share it with her family!

When I texted Matt a couple days later, he reported “She nailed it this time. Right up there with yours.” Two things about his response struck me immediately. First, I absolutely love how diplomatic he was. (Smart man!) And second, I realized that I no longer cared about my pie being “the best.”

By sharing my recipe, I’d given more people the opportunity to enjoy my famous dessert. But it wasn’t really MY dessert… My mom taught me to make it, so I thought about how many people SHE, unbeknownst to her, had touched. I was astounded that I’d never considered that before.

I thought about how important being known for my pies had been to me, and about how easy it was for me to let go of that. I didn’t want to believe that my need for recognition had come from a selfish or bitchy place, but how else could I explain it?

As I pondered this, I realized that it’s natural for us to want to feel special – to have something that sets us apart. For me, that was pie. Being in a place where I’m more confident in myself and in what I have to offer the world (aside from food) has freed me from needing to be the best at anything, other than myself.

So what’s my biggest takeaway from all of this? I think, the next time I catch myself looking for recognition, I’ll ask myself why I need it. And, hopefully, I’ll be able to remind myself that I really don’t.

Please drop me a note if you’d like my apple pie recipe… I’m happy to share!

With love and light,


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