Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Pie People

We are pie people and that’s just a darn fact. 

This goes way back through the generations on both sides of the family tree.

For Thanksgiving, while the rest of the relatives contributed apple, pecan, and pumpkin pies to the feast, my family of origin was known for chocolate cream. The others loved to joke and tease about that - "Who eats chocolate pie for Thanksgiving?!" they would heartily chortle. But when the knives began to flash and the pies were offered up, their tune changed. "I guess I'll try a little piece of that chocolate."


In many areas of his life, my father lacked in common sense and good graces. But one of his few-and-far-between redeeming qualities was that he always requested lemon meringue pie for his birthday instead of the usual cake. 

I approved. 

* * * * *

Over on my husband's childhood dining room table, his mom ceremoniously baked a pie every Saturday for his dad, grandfather, and bachelor uncle to enjoy for Sunday dinner. (You know, the midday meal in farm folk language.)

My father-in-law was not otherwise a demanding or picky man, but for him, it was fruit pies all the way. 

Black raspberry.

And of course, apple. 

Most of the fruit came from local farms and orchards, lovingly frozen in mass quantities by my mother-in-law so she could pamper her husband with his favorite flavors all year long. 

See what I mean? This is serious devotion to pie. 

Often, for her birthday, after a year of endless fruit pies, my selfless and soft-spoken mother-in-law treated herself to her own favorite flavor of pie: coconut cream. I love that she indulged in this little act of rebellion for her special day. Fruits be damned; the queen of all pie bakers wants custard!

* * * * *

My husband inherited the fruit pie gene, and I've done my best to step into his mother's enormous pie-baking shoes. He sure hasn't enjoyed the weekly pies that his mother provided but  I've done my best to whip him up a half dozen or so every year. My special addition to his family-of-origin pie tradition was a la mode presentation; although he disdained the idea at first, even my father-in-law couldn't say no to a bit of vanilla ice cream on the plate. At my table, pie and ice cream share an inviolable bond. 

Of course, it goes without saying that our family pies must be made from scratch. We've learned to make do with a certain type of canned cherry - they're extra tart! - but otherwise the fruit must be fresh, and the pastry of course home made and hand trimmed. 

Don't even joke about bringing a store-bought pie into this house. That would NEVER fly. 

As my daughters grew up, I wasn't a bit surprised when they became little pie fanatics all their own. Though normally we did our best to instill reasonable table manners, pie nights were the one time when my girls were allowed - even encouraged - to pick up their almost-empty plates of pie and ice cream, and lick up every last drop. 

As parents, we felt responsible for modeling the proper technique. To this day, we all six heartily lick our pie plates clean. 

I also took it as my duty to be sure that each of my daughters could turn out a hand-made pie. Happily, I can report that they have all successfully done so, but it's my fourth-born who has really taken to the challenge.
My daughter's rhubarb masterpiece, ready for the oven, 
complete with her grandma's fluted baking pan. It lives with us now. 

For my husband's recent birthday, she gifted him with the promise to bake him as many pies as he can eat, as fast as he can eat them.

There has been a freshly baked pie popping out of the oven every three or four days.


And this week, rhubarb.
Pretty as a picture. 

Not only are my daughter's pies delicious but they are immaculately designed. She perfects every element of the process - fruit sliced to precisely uniform size, juices thickened just so, and crusts woven to delicate perfection. 

She also bakes them on my mother-in-law's special aluminum drip pan, and we think of her every single time we use it. 

* * * * *

For Mother's Day, my daughters asked me what I wanted for dinner. 

Nothing fancy, I said, just the usual steaks or salmon on the grill.

But what I really wanted, I told my youngest, was a pie.
Happy Mother's Day to my pie-baking mother-in-law, 
whose traditions live on in our pie-loving family. 

Coconut cream, please. For my mother-in-law and me. 

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