Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Fear of Pie

Some days ago, my children and some others and another parent, the generous driver, and I went to Vermont in a wonderful kid-filled Suburban. (It's not my Suburban. I was but a comfy, cozy front-seat passenger.) As the first stop on our packed itinerary, we were on a mission to Putney's sugaring house (Harlow's), where we were to pick apples, get maple syrup, peek into the cider press room, and buy Vermont cheese and postcards depicting iconic local scenes. And lots of other wonderful fall activities.

When they arrived home, many of the Cortland and Northern Spy apples obviously wanted to be made into pies. I got them onto the countertop in their bushel bag and immediately had a panic attack. This thought of actually baking pies has been a lifelong problem for me. For although I am a champion at apple and peach cobbler, I was instructed early by my mother to FEAR pie making! It was right up there with the Bay of Pigs, expecting the Russkies to bomb us daily, and Why We Had a Fully Stocked, Ridiculously Huge Can Cupboard Just In Case (since we did not have a clever underground shelter, the three of us might have time to--what--run around the house aboveground carrying hundreds of cans of food and bottles of water?).

My mother was a fascinating, funny, very intelligent woman who lived and loved to learn. She read the whole town library and exasperated the librarians because they were constantly caught unable to furnish her with adequate new books. She would get on the phone with them twice a week. I'd hear her say, "Virginia! You know I've already read that! Get me something else." She was not such an aficionado of cooking. Nor baking. Especially baking. And though it was not one of her strong suits and you'd think she'd want to learn how to do it better, since she was such a learner, she would not EVER check out a book on baking. Especially how to make pies.

She had long ago thrown her hands up about pies.

In my family we rarely had dessert, mostly only on holidays, so whenever the calendar would start to indicate a niggling, impinging holiday--say, frickin' Thanksgiving--Mom would regale me with her pie-making fiascos. Also, when holidays came around, guests or the local grocery or or the local Bavarian baker were charged with providing the dessert. Mince pie was the preferred, but anything in a pinch, even the shameful frozen. Mrs. Smith's was not unknown. My paternal grandfather, father and I loved apple but we were nearly always overruled, even though we constituted a majority bloc. (If my mother were alive today, I would certainly ask her why.) Other family members loved strawberry-rhubarb, which, in my opinion, was so horrible that whenvever it appeared I felt compelled to leave the room. Now, that was a pie to be feared! The adults put up with my leaving, because then they could talk about whatever they wanted without worrying about sullying youthful ears. And they got all the ice cream to themselves. I was happy to go without ice cream if it meant I could escape strawberry-rhubarb. Ice cream made me sick anyway.

Anyway. The story that taught me to Fear Pie was the following. When my parents were first married, my mother had been warned that one of the major expectations of her cooking would be The Perfect Pie. After all, my father's mother, Mom's mother-in-law, was an expert pie maker. Mom resolved, and I quote, "I decided that I would make one pie a week for fifty-two weeks. Eventually, I knew by chance I would have to make at least one pie that passed the test!"

So she fulfilled her word to herself, determined to declare victory, and baked a pie every week for fifty-two weeks. Some came out soggy. Some came out greasy. Some fell apart. Some were pale and doughy. Some, though she swore she made them exactly the same as others that had come out kind of, sort of fine, turned out burnt to a crisp. They overflowed into the oven, were lopsided, would not allow themselves to be cut, weren't quite cooked through, self-liquefied, and whatever other unpleasant result you can imagine. Fifty-two times.

She had set a record. And the moment she recognized this, she hung up the rolling pin for good.

Though reluctant, I thought I had to blaze my own trail. But it quickly became clear that I had inherited the Bad Pie Gene. While I can't claim to have even approached my mother's record,
I long ago figured I'd quit while I was ahead.

But this year, with the apples beckoning, I mustered a new resolve:

Pie prep

More pie prep

Yes, it's a lattice top! Going into the oven

. . . it's in the oven
and . . .


It worked! It worked! It really, really worked! And the during the entire time there was still some left, Tyke started a dodgy new tradition. He would approach me unctuously and give me a big hug and say, "I loooovvee you, Mommy!" Which I immediately interpreted as, "May I pleeeeaase have a piece of pie at this completely inappropriate time?" I told him he should not set that precedent; that from then on I would suspect him of wanting something instead of really meaning that he loved me.

But now that the pie is gone and we have no other desserts or yummies lurking around, he is still telling me that he loves me, with no food attached.



At 10/31/2006 11:09 AM, Blogger Tuesday said...

Well, I loved this post! And the pie looked delish.

So, what's it going to be for this week's pie? How about cooking a chocolate merangne (sp?) pie and giving the receipe AND pics of the steps.

Come on...

At 11/01/2006 10:04 AM, Blogger sputnik said...

Tuesday, so you're going to up the ante, eh? Chocolate meringue--I would have to go into hiding to make that. The Tyke has dessert antennae and would somehow rush home from school to eat the chocolate before I could get going!

At 11/13/2006 1:13 AM, Blogger Jack's Shack said...

Mom resolved, and I quote, "I decided that I would make one pie a week for fifty-two weeks

That is a lot of pie.


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