Tuesday, November 5, 2013
Let me make one thing clear before we start. I am not talking about my pie memories.
I don't have a lot of pie memories. My strongest memories of homemade pie are of the pumpkin pies that graced every Thanksgiving meal. My grandmothers did not bake many pies that I recall. Grandma Nelson, who was an amazing cook, had a serious fondness for those frozen cream pies that were a novelty back in the 1960s. Grandma Skatzes did not bake pies that I knew of, although two of her daughters did. My mom baked some pies during my youth, but that was not her dessert of first resort. I know at one point she made her own crusts, because I remember that when pre-made and frozen crusts came on the market, she was in seventh heaven. I don't think I made my first pie until I was in high school.
Memories of cakes and cookies, yes. But pies? Not really.
"Pie memories" is a revelation I had Saturday morning while baking a pie and prepping apples for the freezer. We were having supper with our good friends Margo and Gerald that evening, and I had promised a pie. Apple was my initial choice and I was ready to peel and slice the apples. But as we were having a typical early November day with sunshine alternating with gray skies and the air flipping between brisk and raw, something said "pumpkin."
I make my pumpkin pies dense and dark, loaded with spices, and while I rolled out and pinched the crust, I thought of pies in literature. There is the Deeper'n Ever pie in the Redwall series and the hot turnovers that Meg and Jo called their "muffs" in Little Women. Dorothy found a "small custard pie" in her dinner bucket that she picked from the tree in Ozma of Oz. Jamie and Claudia, the children who ran away to the Metropolitan Art Museum in E. L. Konigsberg's From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, surely spent some of their nickels on pie at the automat they frequented.
And let's face it: you cannot read The Little House series without being immersed in pies, including Ma's green pumpkin pie (The Long Winter) and the dried apple pie shared between the Boasts and the Ingalls (On the Shores of Silver Lake). Farmer Boy, the story of Almanzo Wilder's childhood, is one long paean to pie, including this wonderful passage after Almannzo had eaten most of his dinner at the county fair:
Then he drew a long breath, and he ate pie.
When he began to eat pie, he wished he had eaten nothing else. He ate a piece of pumpkin pie and a piece of custard pie, and he almost ate a piece of vinegar pie. He tried a piece of mince pie, but could not finish it. He just couldn't do it. There were berry pies and cream pies and vinegar pies and raisin pies, but he could not eat any more.
I want to reach in and bring out those pie memories, even for those of us who may not have them.
What does memory taste like? What does that memory taste like when we have no distinct memory of pie from our youth?
How do I bake a memory?
I don't know, but I finally realized that thoughts like these are what guide my hands as I roll the crust and fill it. I fill it with apples, or pumpkin, or sauteed vegetables, but what I am really filling it with is memories.
I have a card about pie. I keep it on the bookshelf (having not gotten around to framing it yet) so I can see it constantly. It reads: There are many types of food, some of which are pies and the rest of which should be pies.
It is a sentiment I share.
Saturday night, Margo, Gerald, Warren and I all ate a slice of pumpkin pie, thick and dense, topped with whipped cream laced with cinnamon. We had just finished a good and savory meal, then, like Almanzo, drew deep breaths and began to eat pie.