Hailed as the “Scone Queen,” Danielle Sepsy, owner of The Hungry Gnome, a wholesale and online bakery, and a cooking competitor on the series “The Big Brunch” shares memories of the woman who taught her how to cook: her grandma, who passed from Alzheimer's disease.
I’m from a big Italian family in Long Island, New York. Growing up, everything always revolved around our next meal. No matter how busy we were, my family always had dinner together every night. This made us very close (maybe too close, according to my husband!). I’m so lucky to have all our shared holiday experiences, traditions and memories that revolve around food. Today, we are making recipes that have been passed down for nearly 100 years.
The baker supreme, my grandma Rosemarie, was the epitome of selflessness. My parents share stories about going on vacation and returning to find me and my siblings with trays of snacks in front of us, TV blasting, and grandma treating us like kings and queens. That was her nature. She made everyone feel special and cared for. She taught me what family is all about.
When I was in high school, my grandma started becoming forgetful. It was then, over a 10-year period, that Alzheimer’s disease slowly took over her life.
Going away to college was the hardest. Every time I came home, I had to reintroduce myself to her, something that was so difficult for me and my sisters. Yet when she started developing Alzheimer’s, I knew I had to step in, and I took charge of some of the holiday cooking traditions she had always been responsible for.
My grandfather, who is 91 today, was the greatest caregiver for Grandma. She spent every day with him — and remembered him the longest. It was through his care that I saw how this disease impacts everyone on a daily basis — the person with the disease, their caregiver, their family. When someone is otherwise physically healthy and they have Alzheimer’s, it feels like part of them has left. Alzheimer’s is heartbreaking, and it’s hard for me to revisit that time.
I like to think about the good times, the memories I have of me and Grandma together in the kitchen. Of course, she was ALWAYS cooking. Her house was essentially a factory during the holiday season, when she made 1000s of cookies for family, friends and neighbors. Today, I live in her house, the house where she held her parties and was the hostess with the mostest. The house where I learned how to cook is now where I cook today for my own family.
Cooking up good memories
When I was 8 years old, my grandma saw the joy and focus cooking brought me. I suffered with anxiety as a child, and she noticed how cooking allowed me a sense of control, a calming effect which she encouraged.
For my 8th birthday, she bought me a KitchenAid mixer and a subscription to Martha Stewart magazine, the thrill of my life. I never left the kitchen after that, experimenting with recipes, reading tons of cookbooks, and watching cooking shows. All of this led to creating my own scone recipe at age 13.
I always had an entrepreneurial spirit (I was a doer!), so I brought samples to local shops in my town, which people loved. Soon I was making my products at home, and we were delivering them as a family. I would write handwritten receipts and keep notes about my orders and inventory in a little notebook, which I have to this day.
My grandmother instilled the value of cooking and community in me at a young age, helping pave the way for my future. I owe so much to her and I get all my confidence in the kitchen from her
Through my experience with Alzheimer’s, I learned that time is precious. When my grandma started to forget, my dad knew that we needed to cherish moments with her. It brought her so much joy to revisit the times she made recipes with her own family, and I spent time learning everything I could from her in the kitchen, while she could still remember.
Today, my grandma’s spirit and legacy carry on through her food. This year, my family will once again make an intricate Sicilian cookie recipe with my grandpa, who is so joyful when my family carries out Grandma’s traditions.
One favorite holiday memory that sticks with me is that each year on Christmas Eve, my grandma would make all of the kids a midnight snack — keep in mind, this would be just hours after a huge holiday meal! Each of us were allowed to open one gift and we feasted for the second time of the day, on sausage and peppers. I hold that memory close to my heart.
Memories carry on through the stories we share about those we love, and their food. I continue to entertain people and create community around the love of food, as my grandma always did. I hope you enjoy her classic apple pie recipe. It will be on my table when my family gathers this holiday season.
Grandma Rosemarie’s Apple Pie
2.5 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon fine table salt
2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
1/3 cup Crisco vegetable shortening
¾ cup cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
Approx. ¼ cup ice-cold water
6 Macintosh apples, peeled, cored and cut into quarters
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
Confectioners’ sugar, for garnish
1. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, and powdered sugar. Stir in the salt.
2. Using a pastry cutter (or a food processor on pulse) cut the butter and shortening into the flour mixture until it is pea-size pieces.
3. Add the ¼ cup of ice cold water and use a fork to carefully toss the mixture together until a dough begins to form. You may need to add a splash more water if the dough is too dry and not coming together. Once the dough forms, gather it together gently with your hand to form a ball.
4. Cut the ball of dough in half and make each half a disc shape with your hands. Wrap them in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 15 minutes until chilled.
5. While the dough is chilling make the filling. Toss the apple chunks in a bowl with the granulated sugar, lemon juice, 1 tablespoon of flour, cinnamon and nutmeg. Set aside.
6. Roll out each disc of dough until it is about 1 inch larger than your pie pan. Gently place one of the rolled out rounds into the bottom of the pie pan.
7. Pour the apple filling mixture into the pie pan.
8. Carefully place the 2nd rolled out crust disc on top and tightly flute the edges of the pie so the bottom crust and top crust are sealed together. Using a paring knife make a dime size hole in the top center of the pie or 3-4 slits. Place the pie on top of a cookie sheet just in case it leaks In the oven.
9. Place in the oven in the middle rack for 15 minutes at 425F. Then reduce the oven to 350F and bake for another 40-45 minutes or until the crust is golden.
10. Cool at room temperature on a wire rack (keep in the pan don’t try to remove, it is fragile)
11. Generously dust with powdered sugar, cut and serve!
: Chef Danielle Sepsy was featured on Dan Levy’s cooking competition series “The Big Brunch,” now on HBOMax. She is the chef and owner of The Hungry Gnome, which sells baked goods to 150 stores in the New York area, and direct to nationwide consumers online. Currently in the process of completing her first cookbook, Danielle has been married to husband Daniel since 2019. She is a proud member of Sigma Kappa, a sorority that has shown an unwavering commitment to end Alzheimer’s and supported the work of the Alzheimer’s Association for more than 3 decades. See what Danielle is cooking up on Instagram