We called my mother’s mother Nonnie. Not because my family is Italian—we’re basically the Mousekewitzes from An American Tail, give or take a hundred years of assimilation—but because that’s how Queen Victoria had her own grandkids address her. At least that’s the story I remember.

In any case, “Grandma” wouldn’t have seemed appropriate. Nonnie wasn’t exactly the warm and fuzzy type; she smoked like a chimney, dressed like a model and didn’t hesitate to tell people when she thought they were acting like idiots. Which was often.

Obviously, she could be tough, but as my brother said in his eulogy for her, when Nonnie told you she loved you, you knew she really meant it.



She also had a surprisingly sentimental streak. As we sifted through her belongings after her funeral last summer, we discovered a treasure trove of mementos—not just loose pictures and lovingly assembled photo albums, but yellowed Mother’s Day cards and birth announcements and programs from each of her children’s high school graduations.

And on her kitchen shelf, I discovered the real mother lode: a busted green binder containing dozens of hand-typed recipes. It was the original copy of the homemade cookbook Nonnie gave my mom as a wedding present, a fascinating time warp featuring old-fashioned, largely Jewish-themed recipes delicious (chicken soup with matzah balls), disgusting (“Sauerbraten and Ginger Snap Gravy”) and everything in between.

Which brings us to And Such Small Portions. Each week, I’m cooking one of Nonnie’s recipes and recording the results on my blog.

Some have been hits; some have been misses. One of my greatest triumphs so far, though, was Nonnie’s apple cake—a welcome addition to any dessert spread, whether it’s a high holiday or a normal weeknight.

“Cake” is right there in the name, but it’s more like a marvelous mess of softly yielding apple chunks just barely held together by a tender crumb base—one that only gets more lusciously fruit-saturated as it sits.

Rich as that sounds, the cake is also surprisingly versatile; even though it contains plenty of butter, sugar and eggs, the final product turns out to be neither too rich nor too sweet. You can (and should) have a slice for dessert, of course, but you can also eat a big old hunk in the morning without feeling too guilty about having cake for breakfast.

Let’s put it this way: For 27 years, I thought I was firmly on Team Pie. Then I made this cake—and I wasn’t so sure where my loyalties lay anymore.