Caviar and Apple Pie

to-dad-on-fathers-day-with-dog-in-convertible-print-c10327714.jpg My late grandfather, Daddy Bill, was tall and skinny and uniquely dedicated to his habits and interests. He was a very snappy dresser – I vividly remember a purple wool sport coat that he once wore to Grandparents’ Day at my school, impressing my female teachers enormously – and he loved cars and taking painting classes and going swimming at the beach, even (or especially) when the water was way too cold, even for polar bears. But what he really loved was food.

Daddy Bill’s birthday was March 25th, and he liked to celebrate at breakfast. My brother and I were frequently on spring vacation during the latter half of March, and we usually spent the break in Florida with our grandparents. Therefore, we often had the privilege of celebrating Daddy Bill’s birthday with him, which is how I acquired some rather expensive tastes at a very tender age.

Daddy Bill believed that a proper birthday breakfast ought to be built around caviar. My grandmother, who is a classically trained gourmet cook, was all too happy to oblige by providing excellent black caviar and all the trimmings: white toast points, sour cream, chopped egg yolk, chopped egg white, chopped onions, and capers. Alongside these delicacies there were also some scrambled eggs, and Champagne and orange juice for mimosas.

caviar.jpg Naturally my brother and I were expected to enjoy the caviar and accouterments, even though we privately wished for French toast or pancakes or even some plain old cereal. But we were rewarded for our valiant efforts to choke down the salty caviar topped with the pungent raw onions, because the other thing Daddy Bill liked to have for his birthday breakfast was homemade apple pie.

My grandmother has a recipe for piecrust that calls for a great deal of shortening. You start with butter and you add Crisco and flour, and everything goes into the Cuisinart, and then there’s some ice water and sometimes some sugar, and then you have a heart attack and a proper paté brisée. As a result of all the shortening, her piecrust would fall apart at the slightest touch, a fact in which she took great pride. Her pies did not look as pristine as the pies on the cover of the Betty Crocker cookbook. But she would turn her nose up at a perfect-looking pie – any piecrust that was easy to work with was, in her view, inferior.

applepieslice.jpgSo in the fall, there was mincemeat pie, and in the summer, there was blueberry. Nothing would make Daddy Bill happier on any given weekend morning than to have a slice of leftover pie for breakfast. But no one else in the family could get away with this, no matter how pleadingly we asked. Only on Daddy Bill’s birthday were we proffered a piece of the coveted pie. We were told that pie was not an appropriate breakfast for children, and that Daddy Bill had earned the privilege by being the oldest family member. In truth, he just didn’t like to share.

But this was a rare instance of miserly behavior – in fact, Daddy Bill was decent and kind and generous almost to a fault. Every time he pulled the car into the garage, he would sing out, “home, James!” and then, when you yawned, he would sing, “slee-py time gal!” Like clockwork. He kept cases of soda in the garage but also installed an old-fashioned soda machine in the cabana next to the pool. A galvanized metal door hinged opened and you could scoop out perfectly crushed ice, and the red lever produced Coca-Cola, the green one 7-Up, and the yellow one ginger ale. My friends marveled at the soda machine as though it were on loan from Willy Wonka’s factory. We were not permitted to touch or use it unless it was a special occasion, but the simple fact of its existence was thrilling enough for us.

As a youth, Daddy Bill worked at a soda fountain, and he took great pride in his sundae- and float-making abilities. At one point he was gifted with a device that made milkshakes, and he would concoct brown cows while explaining to us that using vanilla ice cream and chocolate syrup was a different process altogether from simply using chocolate ice cream. He was absolutely certain that the suggestion he had made sixty years prior – that Coca Cola combine cherry syrup with their product to make “cherry Coke” – must have been overheard by an executive at Coca Cola, for in the 1980s this product arrived on supermarket shelves. But he had thought of it first! Let this be a lesson to you, children, he’d say. Get a patent!

Every time the Academy Awards roll around, I think about Daddy Bill, because his birthday typically coincided with the Oscar broadcast. We’d stuff ourselves silly with caviar and Champagne and pie – with each passing year, as our palates grew more refined, this repast became less of an ordeal and more of a treat – and then we’d spread out on their huge bed and watch the awards. Pie for breakfast and Cher in Bob Mackie – what could be a better birthday?


Emily Fox writes both feature films and television when she is not whipping up the same three recipes over and over again (chili, coq au vin, and Tollhouse chocolate chip cookies). She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and baby girl.