Apples and potatoes are two staple food sources in Europe in the last hundred plus years. And in Dutch, potatoes are called Ardappel: earth apple, or apple of the earth. Potatoes can last through the winter in a cellar, and apples can be dried or preserved. They are both extremely versatile. Apples make delicious jams, sauces and pie fillings. Potato chips in the oven are my favourite, along with soups and oven-bakes. With some basic herbs and spices, salt and sugar, you can survive a winter on those two as your main source of nutrition. I would not be surprised if a favourite apple pie or potato recipe would be a good place to start mutual understanding and common ground.
My mother’s maternal grandmother, Helena, was said to have been a formidable woman who captained a tightly and well run household. Not only that, she got her clothes made at a seamstress and made Apfelkuchen; oh yes, and she only spoke German, ever, even when living abroad which she did for most of her adult life. I’d like to think that she was a woman who had big soft heart who did her best in a harsh world, making her firm on the outside, and soft on the inside…much like her Apfelkuchen.
My father’s mother, Henia, survived a WWII concentration camp. The horror stories were past down to me at a young and tender age, and being a sensitive child I took in the whole of the stories with all the feeling and imagination as if it happend to me. I have now been able to make peace with the monsters and feel there will be a time to tell them in a different way. I will carry her story inside me and will do my best to release bits and pieces gently, like snowflakes, in the hope that none will be burdened by it in the way I have been; but perhaps, find her tale to be a source of resiliance, kindness and hope.
I have often felt a deep connection to the stories of Henia and Helena. Their stories of perceverance in times of great struggle and hardship have for me been a sword with a sharp two-sided blade: sorrow and strength. I feel very deeply the horrors Henia lived through in a concentration camp, and the habits Helena endured to keep the family home running through the waves of uncertain times. At the same time, I know I have the strength inside me to endure, as well as thrive, with apples and potatoes.