Reflections: Pie = Art + Love + Lard
May 25, 2010 in: Reflections on the River
Baking can be divided into two realms.
On one side is baking a cake. This is a science. You put in the same ingredients and you get the same results every time. Measure exactly and mix precisely. Don’t deviate from the formula and get a uniform product.
Pie baking, on the other hand, is an art.
Two bakers, side by side, can use the same ingredients and follow the same directions. But one pie will come out like a paint-by-number catastrophe and the other like a Picasso. Except better, because no one really understands Picasso while pie is a universal language.
Cake says, “You’re all right.” This is why cake is served at graduation receptions and retirement parties. It’s dependable, functional and a perfect complement to polite applause.
Now when someone bakes you a pie, the pie says, “You make my life worth living. I would walk across broken glass just to be with you.”
You may do something to earn a congratulations cake. A pie, though, is like love. You can’t do anything to earn it, just be sure and take care of the person who gives it to you.
Like all masterpieces, a pie bares the artist’s fingerprints. The edge of the crust is pinched together – fluted is the culinary term. The baker squeezes the dough between her finger and thumb, leaving her distinctive mark, much like numbering a commemorative print.
I’ve known a few pie maestros who could mix up lard and goodness, bake it to perfection and serve up a slice of heaven, with ice cream on top.
Grandma Pierpoint worked at 71 Café and her crowd-sized recipe for pie crust was one dishpan of lard and two dishpans of flour. One of her tricks was to brush the top crust with milk and sugar so it would turn brown.
Grandma’s birthday usually fell close Mother’s Day. Her favorite way to celebrate was to invite us over to her place, where we sat on the back patio surrounded by her beautiful flower beds and she cooked for us. Cherry pie was the specialty of her specialties.
My Grandma Mires was also a pie baker. There is a somewhat famous story of the time she pulled a container of what she thought were gooseberries from the freezer and baked a pie for family dinner. Aunt Rosella took a bite and discovered that it was not gooseberry pie, but baked with peas instead.
My dad had already eaten a piece of the pie without a word of complaint. Mom said it proved her theory that he would eat anything between two pie crusts.
Pie – it’s as American as, well, apple pie. Everyone wants a piece of the pie, if not that pie in the sky. There’s a reason it’s called a pie chart, not a pizza chart. When in doubt, shut your pie hole.
Have you ever heard of anyone who didn’t like pie? Certain types may not rate as high as others, but everyone has their favorite. For the record, mine is pumpkin. The last pie I baked was raspberry, Dad’s favorite.
All great art involves a certain level of frustration and I’ve had my share. Crust has come out tough and chewy, so I’ll be careful the next time not to handle too much or press too hard on the rolling pin. Then it will fall to pieces before it gets to the pan. My dear friend Peggy Smith could roll a pie crust so thin you could read a newspaper through it and then drape it in the dish in one graceful move.
I’m hoping that’s with patience and practice, my pastry flair blossoms. Dad seems more than happy to eat art in progress, but he has already proven he’s not too discerning in this area.
Aunt Mildred kindly shared her recipe in the Mires Family Cookbook. I’ve tried it and had some success. Now, to get that little extra spin on it.
You’ve got to hold your mouth just right and pie is a sure-fire way to put a smile on someone’s face. I’ve yet to find a painting that can bring as much happiness to a room as a single deep dish pie.