I believe in pie. Apple, peach, blackberry,
pecan–it doesn’t matter what kind, although home baked is preferable. The taste is key, but the real gift is the solace pie brings to the heart.
My grandmother rose early to bake for farm hands. She could disengage herself from conversation and reappear a short while later with lemon meringue. She turned raspberries, reputedly too fragile for baking, into pastry of legend.
My mother inherited the gift. She baked when time allowed but never nagged me to learn. She figured I’d come around when the need arose.
Sure enough, one summer day, newly engaged, I decided to make an apple pie for my love. I told Mother she could stand by with advice but I wanted to do the work. “Okay,” she said. “Start with the filling.”
I quartered, cored, peeled and sliced Gravensteins from the back yard tree. I measured sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg.
She huddled closer for the crust, telling me to cut Crisco into flour and salt with dinner knives, add cold water and divide the dough into two balls.
The hard part was rolling out the dolugh. I floured every surface in sight and set to work. She showed me simple tricks like using a spatula to lift the crust if it sticks and patching holes with the trimmings.
My technique continues to evolve. A pastry cutter and pie bird are among my tools now. The dough rolls better when it rains and taste trumps appearance. I know not to rush the process. On the best days, the experience can be meditative.
Years after the first baking lesson I learned this truth: pie is a gift of time and comfort.
Mother had cancer of the esophagus and we spent hours shopping for foods to overpower the metallic radiation taste in her mouth. We tried clam dip and strawberries and lamb chops and asparagus. Nothing seemed right. She grew noticably thinner and one day, weary and hungry and desperate for something that tasted good, she said, “Could you make me a pie?”
She napped while I measured and mixed, rolled and assembled, not wanting to interfere. I carefully patched places where the dough crumbled, wishing it were that easy to patch her body.
She woke up and nibbled at dinner, eager for dessert. I served a generous piece of apple pie onto Gram’s rose patterned Haviland. Mother took a bite and then another and another. I held my breath. Had I left something out? Were the apples mushy? Did I use enough shortening?
Surprise spread across her face. “It tastes just like mine,” she said with wonder. “I think it might be better than mine.”
I don’t know about that. I do know it was the best pie I’ve ever made.
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