In the white-tiled kitchen accented with blue and red, baking an apple pie is a family affair for Fresno State President ​Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval, his wife Mariana Anagnostopoulos and their two sons, Arion and Leo. It’s a crisp fall morning at the University House, and the sun lights up the space – it’s an uncharacteristically relaxed moment for an ordinarily busy family who relishes their time spent cooking. 

As Jiménez-Sandoval describes the types of apples he uses in the recipe, the passion in his voice is evident. “I use opal, honeycrisp and envy,” he said, explaining the qualities of each variety. “You need firm apples,” he shares excitedly, “but the secret is in the sauce.” 

The thick, golden apple pie sauce, the product of boiled down unfiltered apple juice, serves as a secret ingredient in the delectable finished product: a golden, delicious apple pie fit for the warmest of Thanksgiving tables. It took over 12 years for Jiménez-Sandoval to perfect his recipe, which he is now sharing with the community. 

Jiménez-Sandoval immigrated with his family from Mexico to a small farm in Fowler when he was 10 years old. He reminisces about being introduced to the food and, more specifically, the abundance of produce he discovered when he came to the United States. “We grew up with tropical fruits, such as guavas and mangoes. Pears and apples were very expensive, and we didn’t use them,” Jiménez-Sandoval said. “So, perfecting an American pie became my way of relating to this classic dish that represented being an American and belonging to the U.S.,” Jiménez-Sandoval said. 

Food has always been a central part of Jiménez-Sandoval’s life, and as a self-described “foodie,” he lights up when he shares about the “memory recipes” his family has created over the years. When Jiménez-Sandoval went away to college at UC Irvine, he missed his mother’s cooking. He would spend time recreating the recipes that had become so meaningful during his childhood, revisiting the memories they evoked.

For Jiménez-Sandoval’s family, food became an intersection between honoring loved ones and building foundations for future generations. After Jiménez-Sandoval’s mother passed away, sharing her recipes became an important way to honor her memory. “I had this desire to show my children the food that my mom perfected, because knowing the food of your grandmother, means knowing your grandmother,” Jiménez-Sandoval said. Baking this apple pie recipe now represents an opportunity to create new memories; it’s one of Jiménez-Sandoval’s contributions to the special recipes that bring them together in their love as a family. Indeed, the dish has now become a quintessential memory recipe for his family. “I was making this pie when Mariana’s water broke right before Ari was born,” he said, and since then, the apple pie has become a centerpiece for many family celebrations and milestones.

When asked what sharing this cherished recipe with the community means to him, Jiménez-Sandoval reflects.

“The recipe, in many ways, is a gift,” Jiménez-Sandoval said “It’s a gift and a token of my appreciation for the United States and everything this country and this community have done for me. I think this recipe represents a story of belonging. This recipe reflects my journey as an American, and my feeling that I belong to this Valley specifically, not just to America as an abstraction, but to this Valley. That, to me, is very special.”

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