America’s forgotten dessert
When I was a kid growing up multiple decades ago my family ate dinner together at the dining room table. Back then people still did that. As far as I can tell, today many people eat their dinners together either on the couch in front of a TV or in their car.
My mother sat at the head of the table across from our father. On the other two sides of the table were us four kids; two boys and two girls. We had assigned seating and always sat in the same chair. The two boys sat on one side and the two girls sat on the other side.
At the end of most every meal our father would push his plate forward and lean back in his chair. And then he would say, “Man, that was deeeelicious. Okay, now I’m ready for some apple pandowdy.”
Even though we probably heard him say that a few thousand times, every time he said it we kids broke out in laughter and giggling (while our mother rolled her eyes). Seriously, what kid would not laugh at that? ‘Pandowdy’ is a funny, goofy word.
Our father was always making up words and always trying to make us kids laugh. He was the family comedian. Everything that came out of his mouth was either a joke or a Zen koan.
Since our mother never once served apple pandowdy for dessert I assumed that apple pandowdy was something that our father made up; something he said for the sole purpose of eliciting giggles from us kids.
After growing up and leaving home I forgot all about apple pandowdy. I certainly never saw it listed on any menu at any restaurant I have ever eaten at. I never heard anyone talking about apple pandowdy. For me, it remained something that my father made up which I proceeded to forget all about.
But then one day, several decades later, I was dining out with some friends. I was not eavesdropping on the conversation at the next table but suddenly I heard one of the older gentlemen at that table utter those two words, ‘apple pandowdy.’ What?! How did that man know about the two words that my father made up decades before? Was it some kind of freakish coincidence? Had that man once known my father?
That is when I realized that maybe — just maybe — my father did not make up those words. Maybe apple pandowdy was a real thing!
So when I got home I did some research. I googled ‘apple pandowdy’ and was surprised to see numerous links pop up. It was indeed a real thing!
I learned that apple pandowdy was quite a popular dessert in America back in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. It consisted of ingredients that most Americans had in their kitchens at that time; apples, old stale bread and molasses. And that is all that apple pandowdy is; apple slices layered with old stale slices of bread and topped with molasses or heaping amounts of brown sugar.
My father was a kid during the early 1900’s so he no doubt ate apple pandowdy many times. He grew up in Pennsylvania and that is why he called it apple pandowdy. If he had grown up in Georgia he would have called it ‘brown Betty.’ Apple pandowdy and brown Betty are essentially the same thing.
I also learned that by the mid-1900’s the collective American palate had grown weary of apple pandowdy and people stopped preparing it and eating it. The popular American dessert quickly faded into obscurity. Nowadays most people have never heard of it.
In my research I came across a recipe with directions on how to prepare apple pandowdy in the old traditional way. I briefly considered making it so that I could finally taste what my father tasted in his childhood almost a hundred years ago. But the combination of apple slices, old stale bread and molasses really does not sound very appealing to me.
More importantly, I never tried making apple pandowdy because when I hear the words, ‘apple pandowdy’ (and I only hear those words in my own head and not very often) I do not want a mental association to pop up in my noggin that is tied to a memory of what it tastes like. Instead, I want a mental association to pop up in my noggin that is tied to the memory of childhood laughter at the dinner table. And to my father.
To this day, so many decades later, whenever I hear the words, ‘apple pandowdy,’ I simply cannot help but chuckle.