With her ramrod-straight back and short, stocky physique, our Oma's physical bearing rivaled that of a military officer, but behind her formidable stature was a kind woman who loved her "American grandchildren" beyond measure. She’d admonish us but then quickly after, proffer a plum or a piece of chocolate.
As children, visiting Oma in Germany, food was central to our holiday's most memorable moments. We used to stop at kiosks in town and along the Rhine to eat pommes frites with little plastic forks and a side of mayonnaise. My brother Stephen and I delighted in Spaghettieis, vanilla ice cream made to look like pasta noodles with raspberry sauce and white chocolate shavings on top. We ate cold cuts and bread for breakfast and big, warm lunches of pork chops, peas, carrots, and mashed potatoes.
Nothing compared, however, to my grandmother’s cooking, especially her apfelpfannkuchen, or apple pancakes. The sweet and doughy concoctions were the size of dinner plates, layered with sliced apples and sprinkled with sugar. Composed of only a few basic ingredients—flour, eggs, milk, apples, sugar—the recipe was far from complicated. Everything she made was prepared on a small counter and cooked over a tiny electric stove.
For years now, my mother and I have made this recipe over and over—but it never quite tastes the same. It's always delicious, but missing that certain something. "It must be the apples," we say, but secretly we know—it's Oma we are missing. —Kristina Henry