Grandma Aptaker and the Apple Pie

Even now, when I see an apple tree full of apples, I think of Grandma Aptaker and apple pie.

Grandma Aptaker was my husband’s grandmother.  She was originally from Russia, then Brooklyn, and then Pueblo, Colorado, which is where I met her when I was dating her grandson, Mel.  She spoke Yiddish and heavily accented English (like my own grandmother, who had died when I was twelve). At first, Grandma Aptaker didn’t believe I was Jewish because I made salami sandwiches with mayo and white bread, but  seemed to warm up to me when she discovered I could play gin rummy.  I used to like to watch her cook, and would ask questions so I could capture her recipes and write them down.

Back in 1975, Grandma Aptaker came to Kansas to visit us, accompanied by our young nephew.  By then, Mel and I were married and had two little kids. We had recently moved to Emporia, Kansas for our first “real jobs” teaching at Emporia State. We had an apartment on the edge of campus. It was summer, and summers in eastern Kansas are very hot and humid.

One afternoon, we showed Grandma the college.  On the way back to our apartment, she saw an apple tree on campus, full of apples. It was just across the street from our apartment and  Grandma thought we should pick the apples and make apple pies.

“Oh, it’s too hot, Grandma.”  That didn’t dissuade her. Neither did arguments that those weren’t our apples, that wasn’t our tree, and the campus was state property. Grandma replied that no one was going to eat those apples, and they were already starting to fall on the ground.

Grandma was very persistent, and I finally gave in.  Very early the next morning, before anyone was about on campus, I skulked out to the apple tree with a grocery bag and picked enough apples for a couple of pies, working quickly, trying to look casual, and hoping to avoid notice from by students, faculty, or campus cops.  I confess this now, hoping the statute of limitations has run out on this theft of Kansas state property.

Later that day, we made pies. We peeled apples. We sliced them. We made the filling. We made pie crust dough. We rolled it out. We made bottom crusts and top crusts. We crimped them all around.  We baked them in my little kitchen.  (Have I mentioned that summers are very hot in Kansas?) All this with three children watching, waiting, and whining. As the kitchen got hotter, I thought, boy, Grandma must really like apple pie!

Finally we were done, and so were the pies.  They looked beautiful and they smelled great.  And finally it was time to eat them.

“Have a piece of pie, Grandma,” I said.

“No tank you,” she said. “I don’ like apple pie.”

Well, I started to laugh, and couldn’t stop. I laughed till I cried.  And the story became a family legend.

* * *

So what was this about? Apparently not apple pie.  And not even about trying to make me crazy, which is what I suspected at the time. It was about apples on a tree, about to go to waste, and not letting that happen, even if it meant hard work and a hot oven on a summer afternoon in Kansas.

by Randa Dubnick

* * *

The image is by Randa Dubnick,  “Apples in Sunlight and Shadow” from


5 Responses to “Grandma Aptaker and the Apple Pie”

  1. Mindy/Minka March 18, 2012 at 4:47 am #

    I never heard this story before. I love it! Salami with mayo and white bread?! Maybe you DO need a conversion!

  2. Valerie Kates March 25, 2013 at 5:29 pm #

    Larry and I loved the story. Larry said he never heard of Grandma Aptaker. He also said to remind you that the border at the house was Mrs. Brewster.

    • Heather Dubnick March 25, 2013 at 5:41 pm #

      Hi Valerie,

      Grandma Aptaker was Mel’s grandmother (Rose’s mother). My mother can confirm, but I believe she stayed out in New York and just visited rather than relocating with the Dubnicks to Colorado, so Larry may not have met her (although she was at my parents’ wedding).


  3. Mindy March 26, 2013 at 7:24 am #

    Who was the third child?

  4. Bob March 31, 2013 at 2:22 pm #

    Cute story.

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