|Pies I have known and loved
||[Jan. 2nd, 2011|08:51 am]
I'm always intrigued by phrases like "I'm a dog person" and "I'm a cat person". Sometimes, it's true, this kind of distinction makes sense--a few people love to walk dogs but cannot abide cat fur, perhaps. Yet often these little boxes into which we place ourselves merely divide our categories without sorting things out. I own and love dogs but also love cats. I might, if asked, say I prefer cake--but I love pie. I was talking about pie on a different social media with 1spirit, and now share my thoughts in more than 160 characters.
You may have been to a Sue's Pie Shop. I don't mean a literal Sue's Pie Shop--go with me here for a moment. I mean the kind of pie shop that is neither a chain emporium, dishing out Nestle chocolate pie in vault-thick crusts, nor a hipster paradise, with uncomfortable but stylish chairs and pie names like "blu radley eclair pie". Sue's Pie Shop was a converted hamburger place with simple tables, simple chairs, simple cleanliness, and pies that were just right. A friend in Little Rock took me there during my first year of law school. I don't remember how long Sue's stayed in business. Pie shops like this often come and go. But I remember having amazing coconut cream pies there, with meringue guided in via helicopter, directly from Heaven, and placed on the filling by loving aardvarks.
When I think of pie, I also think of older, widowed women from the churches I attended in my boyhood. In this day and age, one could add "widowered men" to that phrase, but in that era, pie-making was practiced by both genders, but the true savants were all women living alone. Perhaps it has to do with the silence required to get a meringue to whip and then set correctly--a silence many men cannot achieve in this era, much less in that differently enlightened time. I remember pies served in activities at church basements--lemon or banana or chocolate. These same bakers could also generate fried chicken devoid of grease but filled with a flavour unknown to colonels and church officials (excepting, of course, small town pastors).
Pies are like daydreams--you can awake from contemplating them, but they are vivid and real. I love a cherry pie, provided the cherries are neither too tart nor the filling too sweet. I love blackberry cobbler, though it is not pie at all, but should be. I believe that pumpkin pie, particularly if served as simply as possible on a low-fat crust with Cool Whip, is about as close to perfection as one can come. A sweet potato pie is so much better than a baked yam that I am convinced a cherub cries each time a sweet potato is misused as a mere starch.
Even the improbable things called pies work wonders. Mincemeat pies are far better than many other traditional English dishes. Peanut butter pie sounds like a sacrilege, but its heresy is actually quite appealing, rather like arianism.
I confess that a few pies I cannot eat. Pecan pie, and its better cousin the Karo-Nut pie (for those not from the American south, the latter is a pecan pie made with a form of corn syrup included prominently in the admixture) are beyond my ken. My aversion, though, is not the pie's fault--I just over-indulged in them when I was very young, and now cannot abide their winning flavor. Peanut butter cookies are the same for me, thanks to a turkey baster full of dough, but I digress.
Of the mainstream pies, I am less attracted to apple than any of the others, but a really good apple pie captivates me. I feel the same about peach and peach cobbler.
There are almost as many species of pie as there are species of butterfly--and like butterflies, I love most that I have been allowed to see--lemon, lemon chess, rhubarb, coconut creme, chicken pot, the list could be dozens upon dozens in length, if I had but world enough and time that this pie-faced coyness would be no crime.
I think of huge slices of Boston Creme Pie at the regal Frankie's cafeteria in Hot Springs, Arkansas, in the 1960's--a manic, elegant cross of pie, cake, grace and sin. I ponder why oranges barely make for good cake, and don't feature in the best pies. I'm puzzled why pears make good filling but not good pie filling. I long for an entree pie.
I love fried pies, and in particular I love that in my part of Texas, and in particular in the countryside both east and west of us, little fried pie companies toil away making little regional fried pies to be sold at truck stops and non-chain burger barns. I love the idea of pie contests and pie tastings at county fairs.
When we were in Kansas City for Christmas, my wife's step-mother served us tasty, unique applesauce from a jar by a small comany called Grandma Hoerner's, Inc., in Alma, Kansas. Needless to say, the company's website proclaimed that she lived in a distant past, rather like Mothra, only with better baking skills and a more pleasing face. When I checked out its URL, grandmahoerners.com, I found that the company sells not only sauce by mail at a low price, but also cherry pie filling. I make few detailed resolutions for the new year, but I do plan in 2011 to buy a jar of that filling for 6 dollars and 95 cents and use it in a pie.
In rhyme, people are always baking the European starling into pies. I have some sympathy with the bakers, as in this country some well-meaning wag--from New York, of course--decided to release all of the Shakespeare birds in Central Park in 1890. For most species, this is casual cruelty. For the starling, it was like a work permit for an alien invasion. Still, I do not wish to eat pies based on European starling. I'd rather instead support bluebird boxes as a hedge against starlings. A chicken or turkey pie,though, is, I admit, another matter.
I wish my neighborhood had a Sue's Pie Shop, or even one of those little places with a name like Earl's Cafe, where the pies are displayed under glass. But I will settle for a stray piece of pie from time to time, as pie, like the lottery, is probably best enjoyed in smallish fortunes rather than in endless riches. I see that I have but scratched the surface of the meringue of pie, but words, too, are best dolloped in edible size slices.
But I can close by saying I am grateful for pies, and for those who make them, whatever the filling and the crust.