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Pensive Person

Pensive Person
December 05
A quiet guy up here in the Midwest, waiting to be seen. Most of the time my days are filled with sarcasm, anger, and general malaise--so, this is my inexpensive form of therapy.

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MARCH 27, 2012 7:23AM

Trial by pie: a step toward my family

Rate: 24 Flag

 "I made a pie today."

That is a simple, five word sentence. Only one of the words is multisyllabic, yet with that simple sentence I elicited the wheezing laughter of a proud, chain-smoking mother on the telephone last night.

My childhood was spent among the pie makers. My mother would drag my sister and me out for long walks where we would pick wild strawberries from the ditches that lined the country highway where we lived.  In my memory, it was always a quiet but scorchingly hot day when we picked them, and my sister was constantly complaining about being thirsty and bored. 

Together, the three of us would slowly work our way down the road, and cars that passed would honk and wave at us--my mother using it as an excuse to stand up and give her back a break from bending over for so long.

My grandmother, my mother's mother, lived a block down from a cherry orchard. The old man who owned the farmland that included the cherry orchard always allowed my grandmother to come and pick as many cherries as she would want. My grandfather, a carpenter, would return the gesture by fixing odds and ends and building small furniture for the old farmer. 

Again, my sister, mother, and I were sent out to pick the dark red berries off the trees. My memory, here too, is filled with heat. We would walk to the orchard across the unplanted field overgrown with milkweed that I loved to pick; ripping it open like corn husks, I'd throw the sticky white stalks at my sister who would scream, running for cover behind the solitary tree that stood in the middle of the field. 

Getting back to Grandma's house, she would set to work. With a dip of her sifter in that sea-foam green plastic tub, she would sprinkle a snow shower of flour down onto the kitchen table. Smacking the start of dough on the table, her hands would kneed and slide around the floured table. The wooden rolling pin would push the dough out, and if it were too sticky, she'd dust the table with a smattering of more flour. It was as if it were choreographed to music, but instead of music, we would hear--"Hello, Americans, I'm Paul Harvey..."--as her wedding ring would fill with flour and pie dough and she'd spend an hour cleaning it out with a toothbrush as the pie cooked in the oven. 

With that paper thin crust complete, she'd gently place it in the glass pie plate and cut around the edges. In the meantime, my mother would have been pitting the cherries. I never remember seeing those cherries get mixed together or heated on the stovetop to thicken--I just remember them being placed in the pie plate as Grandma worked out another pie crust for the top.  

Though it was the filling that tasted so good, the crust was magic.

I have never been able to master the pie crust. My grandmother did it, my mother can do it, my cousin Joey who looks like he could be my twin brother can do it, but I can not. Strike that. I could not, until last night. 

In my apartment, I have no kitchen table and I have about one square foot of counter space. I have attempted the pie crust before. I have rolled out the dough just to get it stuck to my rolling pin like glue, crusting over and drying out before I could even attempt to fix it. I have made crusts too thin, too thick, too wet, too dry...

My attempt last night had me taking everything off the coffee table that I use as a kitchen table in the living room area. I figured if flour gets on the floor, well, that's why God invented vacuums. I turned off the television, and with a surgeon's attention to detail I rolled out a perfect pie crust--twice.

Much to my dismay, however, after I put the crust in the bottom of the pie plate that has NEVER made its way into the oven, I realized that I hadn't bought anything to put in the pie. You see, I have failed so many times that I had forgotten there was a step after the actual crust.

"I don't have a recipe, I just mix it together..."--my grandmother told me on the phone. That was no help.  My mother didn't answer her phone until I finished the whole ordeal.

So, I did what any modern shopper does: I went to the grocery store to read labels of canned fruit to find a recipe for pie filling.  I was not disappointed; the can of cherries had a lovely little recipe with almond extract and cinammon.  Perfect.

I raced home, afraid of what the temperature could be doing to my pie crust. I was paranoid. I had never gotten this close before--it's like running a marathon and right when you see the finish line on the horizon, you just collapse to the ground.

But, the Fates smiled down upon me. I whipped together that filling recipe, placed my filling into the crust, put the top crust on, popped that pie in the oven and waited for 40 minutes--pacing the floor like a father waiting for his baby to be born. I resisted opening the oven door, because Mother always said that would mess too much with the temperature of things and could potentially cause burning.

When that buzzer went off, I opened the door. There it was. No bubbling over, no splitting off of the crust--it was a golden brown and smelled like buttery goodness.  

Waiting hours for it to cool, I had that first piece before calling my mother. Do you know how it is when you bite into certain foods and your entire mouth starts salivating to the point where you almost drool on yourself? Yeah, that's what this pie tasted like.

"I made a pie today," I told my mother before launching into the entire story. Like I was a little kid picking berries, I again understood the importance of being part of the process; nothing tasted better than the success brought to fruition by hard work.

I shared with my mother how good my pie tasted and how it was too bad that she's over a thousand miles away or I'd share a piece with her. 

"I bet it's good; better than that store bought crap. That stuff'll kill you," she scoffed in disgust, but hidden among that disgust, I could also hear a small morsel of pride.

Better, indeed. I only hope I can do it again. . . .  

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Oh wow. There are so many metaphysical lessons in this adventure of yours.

Cherry pie is my favorite.

Proud of ya', dude. I'd give you a sock in the arm, but you're too far away. :)
Your justifiable pride comes through in every syllable. Congratulations! Can you tell me the secret to the filling? I always get them too runny so the bottom crust ends up soggy.
I love how your story evolved from being young and part of the pie making to finally getting it done! If you can do it once you have it down for life :)
you know you are going to have to take that coffee table with you if you move - I was salivating while reading
"My childhood was spent among the pie makers."

Mine, too. You've inspired me. Maybe I'll make a pie this week!
And mine too. I ate so much of it in college that I gained a lot of weight. But then I ate a lot of cheeseburgers, fries and drank a lot of beer. All contributed to my coming home at the end of freshman year looking like Friar Tuck. (according to my mother). It is still the only pie I enjoy.
Thanks everyone :)

Phyllis, for my thickening, I used tapioca. I mixed it with the filling ingredients and let it stand for about 15 minutes before continuing with the recipe. It worked well for me....but, who knows, though, it may have just been dumb luck.
Your days are filled with malaise, sarcasm and anger, you appreciate good people like vdo store guys and hoarse folk singers that are passionate abt what they do and do it with love, you enjoy concerts, you notice and do not hesitate to call out on lemon yellow and lacy people that make out at public places in your blog, you bake perfect pies, and call it a step towards your family, youcan look at a chicken or budding spring trees and feel happy, you can communicate your joy, you feel droopy when you meet with resistance but can write your way through bad phases, get everyone to smile with you - you are an amazing piece of work yourself :) a very good human pie - nicely baked, warm, tasty and interesting, your mom shd be proud of. Rated unreservedly all the way till your next post.
it sounds kind of weird when I read it now, but you know what I mean and if I try to fix it I know its going to get worse, what I meant is like your pie they took pains to raise you and you turned out pretty nice and your folks ought to be proud of you
awwwww, Rolling, thank you.... :)
You've succeeded at something I've never managed to do. My grandmother and aunt were great pie bakers, with the one exception that my aunt's cherry pies often held surprises since she almost always forgot to pit the cherries. Nice post. And congratulations.
I enjoyed your story so much. I felt like I was right beside you picking berries!

very cool. this made my mouth water! nicely done.
Keeping the tradition alive. That's a noble and, in this case, tasty enterprise. Cherry, blueberry, peach, apple - in that order.
I wish I knew how to cook, stories like this always make me think I am missing something. Added you to favorites.
I swear Pensive Person. First . . . Congratulations.
I viewed hyblaean-Julia's (typo) New Post. Oho, ay.
My son shocked me. He likes to make pies with crust.
He freezes (Jacob Freeze - no) berries and red cherries.
I ate two slices of his home made buttered crusty pie.
Mt daughter is extra grouchy because of poison oak.
She needs to see a family ornithologist. Taxidermist.
She rarely cusses. I taught her to not say Poop Pants.
I'd prefer my family members not join 'Core' Cusses.
She cuss like a VAMC troop (no say Troop like Bush).
Bush use to cause me to put a clothespin on my nose.
My daughter cusses like a Army brat (hyblaean-Julie.
Offspring of career military people are called`brats.
Army brats children are very lovable. Their mature.
They see the wild world. The love Wild and Wonderful
West Virginia.
I was there yesterday.
Then ~ A Cherry Pie!
At the VA is a solder.
He's gravely ill. Sad.
He utter Afghan slang.
He cuss in old Yiddish?
He curse in Arabic too.
I may take a Pizza Pie.
I hope I conveyed?
I Love writ @ OS.
We sure do learn.
I'm a berry picker and pie maker, so I much appreciated your post. I love the details in your writing, especially how you describe your grandmother's ring stuck with pastry dough. Nostalgic and yummy. You're on your way to become an excellent pie maker. I pick berries in summer, make pies, and freeze them unbaked. All winter, there are pies that taste like summer. I can share some recipes sometime, if you aren't too ornery.
Cynthia, I would love some filling recipes (only fruit pies...and NOT blueberry, yuck....)

Feel free to send me lots :)

Thanks for the offer, and thank you everyone else for the nice comments, as always :)
I love this...all your memories, the hard work, the perfectly delicious pie...and then your mom's pride to top it all off. I have yet to make a delicious crust from scratch, so I'm happy to share yours!
Lovely reminiscence (well, except for the Paul Harvey) and true life adventure. You had me salivating just that way. lajd (Ooops! Fingers slipped on the keyboard.)

The "oh my God I forgot the filling" moment was perfect. The understated "waiting hours for it to cool" as well.

Congratulations!! (You could FedEx her a piece. Just sayin'.)
This is a delightful, evocative warm story. It brought up all kinds of memories of me, my siblings and mom conducting various types of berry picking. We too, bickered with each other, threw things, swatted flies and complained of heat. My mother was aalso a master pie maker and flawless crust constructor. She put a handful of sesame seeds in her crusts which gave it a unique flavor. A couple of times a year, we also made baklava together. Now THERE'S some stories! Thank you for taking me back to those happy times. Rated with RRR
This is extraordinary.

Darn, now I have go and make a pie. I loved this story. Thank you/r
Thanks all for stopping by and reading, I know it this is a lengthy piece of writing...glad it was worth it for some of you out there in the cyber world ;)
Great post, Pensive. Really nicely written, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.