Wednesday, September 23, 2009
"Me Making all the Pies for the Holidays" Rhode Island, 1978
I spoke to my mom tonight and she was ready to go with a topic. She said she had been thinking of many. She started to suggest something fun that families can do together and that started her talking about cooking together.
"Maybe baking cookies, chocolate chip or peanut butter? Maybe baking a pie? How about... me making all the pies for the holidays?"she asked.
"Great idea!" I told her.
My mom was the best pie crust maker in our family. She made all the holiday pies until she lost her ability to stand long enough to roll the crusts. My dad helped her for a few years and even took over for a while. I tried twice—after years had passed since she rolled a crust—to have her instruct me.
The first year we tried to make a crust together, my mom and I used a bad can of Crisco. It had been left in the cupboard probably since the last pie she made. I was not aware of the age of the Crisco, my mom on the other hand "did think it smelled a little funny, but figured it would be fine." We served our chocolate cream pie that Thanksgiving and immediately almost everyone knew that something had gone horribly wrong. I turned to my mom for some explanation and she said something to the effect of, "I was worried about that." At which point my brother-in-law looked up from his empty pie plate and asked "worried about what?" My sister quickly razzed him, "You didn't taste anything funny about the pie?" Needless to say, my sister, dad, and I are much better about checking dates on food now.
The next time my mom and I tried to make a pie together was for Christmas. I relied on my mom for the recipe. We got the pie to my aunt and uncles, I was very hopeful—after all I bought the new Crisco myself— as my Nonnie, who always did the pie cutting and serving, went to cut our pie first. She suddenly looked to me in a panic as she absolutely could not get the knife to go through the crust. I got very mad at her for not "trying hard enough." It took my trying to cut the pie myself to accept our failure, and apologized to my non. My mom and I had forgotten one ingredient—water.
Don't worry though, my most recent pie crust experience was a success. I made it with my 4 year old. We signed on to allrecipes.com watched an instructional video and got an actual recipe. I spent much time thinking back to the disfunction of my first two pies, pre-internet.
Now back to my mom. I asked her to tell me more about her ability to make a delicious crust. Here's what she said.
"I didn't learn to make a crust until I married your father (age 21). I had cooked meals for my whole family growing up by age 10 and was always a baker, but I never tried crusts. Your dad used to make 50 thousand pies when he worked with his dad at Valley's." (Valley's Steak House, was by the airport in Warwick, RI. My grandpa Edge was the baker there, my dad a baker and grill man, my mom a waitress, and her mom, my non, a waitress/hostess/matchmaker. It's there that my parents met, there that my dad asked my non for my mom's phone number and there that my mom said to her mom, "don't you ever give that guy my number." The rest is history. I ate there before they closed it down and actually have a visual memory of the kitchen and my grandpa baking there.) "I thought if your dad could do make a pie so could I," she continued. "And so I tried to make a crust, he came home from work and found me with a crust that wouldn't cook and walked me through all he knew. It took me a while to get good, but I finally got the feel of it and then it was really easy. I made all the pies for the family on the holidays because my crusts were the best. My crusts tasted great because I used Crisco and not lard."
As for this little illustration, I have a photo on my desk of my mom, my sister, and me. I'm maybe 4. I used this photo as a guide to my mom's face. I put her in my favorite shirt of hers, the grey bunny shirt, and as I painted it, I saw how young she was when she had me, how gorgeous, how passionate about a clean house and delicious pies. I understood as I did when she was in the hospital last year, how much her presence ads to my parents' house. She was not a playful mom when I was young, but she was always busy making a stable environment for us. In the painting she is maybe 26, 10 years younger than me right now, and yet to me, I will never be as old as she was then and I'll also never have a brown fridge.