This week the subject is pies
This week the subject is pies.
Right: in this season of heightened political partisanship, I'm opting for a topic not just uncontroversial but delicious... and crusty.
Since last spring I've baked forty pies. Yes, yes, with these floured hands of mine, an exaggeration (the floured bit) since I have favored store-bought frozen 9" deep dish crusts. Barbara is the expert with the real thing; but in the interests of getting on with the project I decided not to enlist her aid and use a shortcut.
I favor fruit, although on celebratory occasions I've baked lemon meringue and German chocolate pies. I prowl the fruit stand in the supermarket picking whatever seems freshest. I have baked this year one or more of each of the following: raspberry, strawberry-rhubarb, peach, cherry (using a dental plaque scraper to remove pits), apricot, nectarine, plum, key lime (the real thing, tiny bruising-my-knuckles-in-quest-of-zest limes), grape (bad, bad!), and, of course, apple, both Granny Smith and Cortland.
Consider them a memorial to my mother. She was famous in our local church for her devil's food cake, which I enjoyed, but not with quite the exquisite pleasure I found in eating grandma Ross's blackberry pie, made from fruit her grandson and I picked from a vacant lot. Without calculating the enormous benefit I might reap, I asked my mother after I returned from the Ross's just whey she (my Mom) didn't know how to bake pies. The rest of that summer there was pie on my plate every supper. She plied me often with a pie I have yet to bake, Graham cracker cream. Maybe this Thanksgiving.
My pie obsession started me thinking about literary references to pies. Like Little Jack Horner, who sat in the corner eating his Christmas pie; he stuck in his thumb and pulled out a plum, and said "What a good boy am I." Jack has frequently appeared in my homiletic endeavors as a model of self-righteousness, but never, until this essay, have I seriously considered the improbability and near impossibility of doing what he is purported to have done. He could file his nails to a sharp point and never pluck a plum from my pie. The plums are sliced. Besides, the thumb is a blunt instrument. Sorry, it just doesn't pass the reality test. And, please, don't tell me it's a fictional reference to a bishop's steward and his larceny in the time of Henry VIII.
Then there's "Sing a Song of Sixpence" and the blackbirds that somehow survived beneath the crust baked in an oven. The English, of course, are fascinated with meat pies. I didn't enjoy as much as I thought I should a shepherd's pie served me this summer at Simon Pearce's in Quechee VT. Maybe I was nagged by a residual memory of the pies cooked by Sweeney Todd.
Considering the nonsense of most epigrammatic wisdom, I can, however, from personal experience heartily endorse the observation that "the proof of the pie is in the eating." Not all of the pies baked this season passed the taste test. A banana cream pie languished in the downstairs fridge for a couple of weeks before we in pity put it out of its misery and into the garbage. Same with a pie made with grapes from China and not the Concord grapes the recipe called for. When I bake a pie nowadays I will not pass judgment on it, despite the beauty of its caramel-colored crust oozing with juice, until a wedge has been sampled.
Which leaves the cliché often derided by Robert the pieman and former pastor, about certain theologies that are tantamount to a "pie in the sky." As if that image was just short of blasphemy. After this crusty and fruity summer I reconsider my objection. In fact, the great banquet feast of heaven would be less than that (great) were not a sizeable and succulent wedge of fruit pie included on the dessert menu.