kathi appelt: a sweet memory

#9 in the Poetry Potluck Series, celebrating National Poetry Month 2012.

Poetry is the home for all my yearnings
each poem a separate room
where wandering words
find a cool bed, a bowl of soup

where names of trees and cities
and people I know who want to know
knock on doors, ring bells,
invite me in for coffee and a rhyme

~ from “Homeroom” by Kathi Appelt (Poems from Homeroom: A Writer’s Place to Start, Henry Holt, 2002).

I’m thrilled and honored to welcome multiple award-winning poet and author Kathi Appelt to our Potluck today. As you can see by the opening stanzas of “Homeroom,”  Kathi is a poet after my own heart.

A good poem makes us feel as though we’ve come home — to our own doubts, sorrows, joys, fears, wonder, gratitude. There is nothing quite like a room of carefully arranged words that invites you in for a quick visit, only to inhabit your soul forever.

I love the poem Kathi’s brought today, not only because it’s about pie — but because of its transcendent beauty. It speaks of that quiet inner space where love, memory, and longing converge. How would you build a room strong yet gentle enough to hold a fleeting moment in time? This poem is a flutter in the heart, a sweet reflection hovering in our imaginations.

Emma on her wedding day.

Kathi: I adored my husband’s grandmother, Emma. She was a wonderful cook, and her pecan pies were a staple of our holidays. Right after we were married, she wrote down her recipe for me, and I’ve had it ever since. Several years after she passed away, at the age of 96, I found myself baking her pies for Thanksgiving. Seeing her handwriting, with the faded ink, made me want to “toast” her in the best way I knew — with a poem.

via Dan’s Photo Art


Pecan Pie

Emma was my grandmother too,
tied through wedding vows to
her youngest grandson my one true love.
On her back porch, she held my
hands and sang ancient
nursery rhymes in German, her very
first tongue. The songs, her soft,
steady voice, called up hummingbirds
hovering just above
pots of lantana and marigolds.
Now what’s left is a scrap of paper,
the whispy blue ink
turned brown, her recipe
for pecan pie. Each time I fold in
the butter, chop the
pecans, measure the light brown
sugar, same shade as the ink,
she holds my hands,
hums an old tune about the
little girl down the lane. My kitchen heats up.

Next thing I know, there are hummingbirds.
A slice of pie, a cup of coffee,
a language I don’t know, but still it comes
to me. We hover there,
our tiny wings, our rapid hearts,
our solitary belief in sugar and pecans.

Thanksgiving, 2002
Copyright 2012 Kathi Appelt. All rights reserved.



I can’t even imagine the fall holidays without baking one of Emma’s pecan pies. And whenever I bake one, I feel like Emma is right there in the room with me. It’s a sweet feeling, like I have an angel on my shoulder. I make these pies every year for Christmas and Thanksgiving.

via LOL

Southern Pecan Pie

1 cup light brown sugar (packed)
1/2 cup granulated white sugar
1 tablespoon flour
2 tablespoons milk
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup butter (stick) melted
1 cup pecans, chopped
1 unbaked pie shell

Mix sugars and flour, beat in thoroughly, eggs, milk, vanilla, butter. Fold in nuts. Pour into pie shell. Bake 40 to 50 minutes in 350 degree oven.



Kathi Appelt is the award-winning author of more than thirty books for children and young adults.  Her picture book, MISS LADY BIRD’S WILDFLOWERS:  HOW A FIRST LADY CHANGED AMERICA (HarperCollins, 2005) was given the “Growing Good Kids Award for Excellence in Children’s Literature.” In 2003 Appelt won the Irma and Simon Black Award for Excellence in Children’s Literature, given by the Bank Street College of Education, for her picture book BUBBA AND BEAU, BEST FRIENDS (Harcourt Brace, 2002).  Her memoir, MY FATHER’S SUMMERS (Henry Holt, 2004) won the Paterson Prize for Young Adult Poetry.

Her first novel, THE UNDERNEATH, a haunting story of love and survival in the pine forests of East Texas, has been described by reviewers as a “classic.”  It was named a National Book Award Finalist, a Newbery Honor Book, and most recently awarded the PEN USA Literature for Children Award. 

Ms. Appelt was presented with the A.C. Greene Award by the Friends of Abilene Public Library, which named her a “Texas Distinguished Author.”

In addition to writing, Ms. Appelt is on the faculty in the Masters of Creative Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Her newest book is KEEPER, published by Atheneum, 2010.

She and her husband Ken live in College Station, TX with four adorable cats, Django, Peach, Hoss and Jazz.  They are the parents of two even more adorable sons, Jacob and Cooper, musicians who both play the double bass. For more information, check her website:  www.kathiappelt.com.



Kathi has generously offered to send one lucky reader an autographed copy of her beautiful picture book, My Father’s House, illustrated by Raul Colon, published by Viking (2007).

For a chance to win, please leave a comment at this post no later than 12 noon (EDT) Saturday, April 14, 2012. Winner will be announced on Sunday, April 15th, along with the other door prize winners.


Previously: Menu/Giveaway/Door PrizesApril Pulley SayreMary QuattlebaumHelen FrostLinda AshmanGail Gerwin, Martha Calderaro.


This post has been linked to Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking, where all are invited to share food related posts (fiction/nonfiction/cookbook/movie reviews, photos, musings, recipes, etc.).


Copyright © 2012 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

65 thoughts on “kathi appelt: a sweet memory

  1. How I’ve waited for this post…Kathi is as sweet as those pies, as kind as a hummingbird, generous as a gathering of grandmothers, and–wait on it–funny! I’m honored to call Kathi my teacher and my friend. Run, don’t walk, to get My Father’s Summers. Prose poetry at its very best. Oh, heck, get all her books. You won’t be sorry!


  2. I love pecan pie – the pie and the poem!!

    The first time we went to our babysitter, Lupe’s, house…somebody threw a rock at us! We waited in the car, and we heard ANOTHER rock hit the roof. We got out to investigate. Pecans. Falling off a tree and hitting the car! We gathered some and made a pie and pecan pies have been my oldest son’s favorite ever since 🙂 We will try this recipe!


    1. Another great story, Libby! I’m glad your car didn’t get dented from the pecans like it does with hail stones. Great idea to make a pie with those fallen pecans :).


  3. Wow-Kathi, you are a writer touching my heart with the history of your pecan pie & songs. What memories to keep safe! I especially love that stanza at the start: “Poetry is the home for all my yearnings/each poem a separate room/where wandering words/find a cool bed, a bowl of soup.” Every bit of this post today is wonderful, Jama. Thank you!


  4. So much loveliness of home and fleetingness and ways to preserve in a way that keeps moving. And I love how good poems in their particular way send you to yours. My Grandmere did not bake pies, but this made me think of how she ate squares of chocolate for breakfast every morning, something my mom did not approve of. But with grandmothers, whatever your mom thinks, you can go straight to love. Thank you both!


    1. Jane Austen also had chocolate for breakfast every morning so your grandmere was definitely onto something. Kathi’s poem reminded me of my Aunty Ella, who also made great pies and whom I’ve blogged about before. Pecan was one of her specialties.


  5. Oh, this whole post is just delicious. Thank you, Jama and Kathi – already a huge fan and I love this peek at family history. I love that when Kathi measures
    ” the light brown
    sugar, same shade as the ink,”
    her grandmother is holding her hands.


  6. “a language I don’t know, but still it comes
    to me”

    I’m still holding my breath a bit..so lovely.


  7. Oh, just look at that wedding photo (and magine a world without photographs – we would be so impoverished, wouldn’t we?) Kathi’s work gives me the same feeling as a good photo – as if I’m there, seeing the real people, in a world where every detail has been conjured up and delivered to us. Reading both The Underneath and Keeper was a revelation to me – Look! I thought – real storytelling that is poetry. Kathi is a treasure, that’s for sure, and I plan on baking a pecan pie tonight in her honor, even though I don’t think anyone in my family has ever offered one up on a special occasion (for my grandmother, it was always blackberries – the tiny little wild ones that grow around tree stumps after a logging crew has been there…it takes a million of them to make a pie!)

    Kathi, I adore you – you know that.

    Lovely post, Jama – thanks.


    1. Great idea to make a pecan pie tonight, Julie! I know it’ll be extra delicious since you’ll be adding your love for Kathi and her work to the recipe. 🙂 Mmmmmmmm.


  8. Oh, the power of the handwritten recipe. Seeing my mom’s old recipe cards brings her back like few things can. And as for sugar and pecans, I, too, believe. Thanks, Kathi and Jama, for a tasty and heartwarming post. And pass the coffee please!


    1. More coffee, coming right up! I feel the same about my aunt’s handwritten recipe cards, and am keeping my mom’s cards in a safe place.


  9. What an enjoyable read! I’m so enjoying each day with a new poet — and some food. I loved today’s post because there is something special about pulling out the recipes of our loved ones, seeing their handwritten message in “whispy blue ink”, and trying to recreate a dish we treasure.


  10. It’s always a treat to read Kathi’s poems. She was my mentor at Chautauqua some years ago, and what a wonderful encourager she is. Thank you for this lovely post. I can smell the pecan pie baking.


  11. I came to this post after reading the upbeat and highly energetic Charles Waters – now I feel more sedate, appeased by words that hum and sing and lilt in all its crispy pecan sweetness. This is one of my favorites thus far. This is the first time that I am led to Kathi’s poetry, I shall definitely pin her books in my Pinterest Board so I can start looking for them in our library. Thanks Jama! 🙂


    1. Enjoy Kathi’s books, Myra. You’re in for such a treat! This is such a lovely, lovely poem — I can easily see why it’s one of your favorites :).


  12. Kathi,

    Yours is both a sweet and touching story of someone who was special to you. I love your poem and the memories evokes. Many of my fondest memories of my maternal grandparents revolve around holidays, traditional Polish dishes my grandmother made, and my grandfather’s vegetable garden.


  13. What a great post. I have many recipes in my grandmothers’ handwriting. Not sure I have pecan pie from one of them because we’re all northerners 😉 But I did learn to cook from them, my mom, and my aunts.


  14. I missed the deadline for the book but the pie recipe made it to my pin board. Thanks for these wonderful recollections of your family, Kathi!


  15. So many things to love about this post! The photograph, the poem, the handwritten recipe, the picture of pie. I ADORE pecan pie–one of my favorites. But I’ve only made it once. I was a freshman in college and the pie spilled over. Was terrible having to clean it up so I’ve never attempted it again!


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