Pie Thoughts

I’ve been thinking a lot about pie lately.  I don’t bake very much since I gave up all gluten a couple years ago.  (Okay, if I am honest, I gave up nearly all gluten, but sometimes things do pass my lips that contain the evil substance for which I am usually sorry a few days later.) I used to love baking.  I miss making cakes and cookies from scratch.  Buying them just isn’t the same as patiently following the recipe, creaming sugar and butter, folding in this and that, mixing just right all the ingredients.  And then the smells that come from the oven….oh my.  And when the timer rang out, it was announcing great things to sample.  Cakes, cookies, those were my thing. But pie, that was always more involved a project than I liked to take on.

I remember making it once when I was living in a small apartment.  The challenge was that pies tend to be a steamy bake and the smoke detector was wired into the ceiling in the kitchen.  I had to set up a complex system of fans in order to keep the steamy heat from setting off the alarm.  Even then I ended up on a chair ripping the alarm off the ceiling to avoid the unwanted attention.

My mother made cakes for all of our birthdays and for special occasions. She always had one or two in the freezer in case of a picnic or company.  Banana cake with chocolate fudge frosting always freezes well, in case you were wondering.  An apple cake was one she could just whip up quickly that looked like a lot of work went into it.  We had a great recipe for what we called crazy chocolate cake.  All the ingredients went into the bowl at once.  The final ingredient was a cup of boiling coffee.  Once that was in, you beat it all together and poured it into pans to bake.  It was a very moist, dense chocolate cake.

My mother also made great pies.  Pie was a more seasonal dessert.  Blackberries we gathered in the summer around our house.  Elderberries towards the end of summer we might find along the highways. Her Apple Crumb Pie with a wonderful buttery, cinnamon crumb topping was everybody’s favorite.  I liked it too, but I preferred Cherry.  It had two crusts and that was my favorite part, the crusts.  I had it instead of birthday cake.  I think I first asked for it because I thought it was a way to avoid the whole candles and singing part of the birthday.  Nothing is worse than seven people singing that song with absolutely no enthusiasm.  It failed to eliminate the song from my birthday dinner, but the candles were gone.  And there was pie, cherry pie.

My mother used her mother’s pie crust recipe.  It may sound unusual but it contained vinegar, just a tiny amount, and shortening or lard as it was then known.  It wasn’t actual lard, from that can in the fridge that contained the drippings from bacon that she saved.  It was shortening, Crisco, same as it used in some baking today.  It was the best pie crust ever.  She always mixed it up and then refrigerated it overnight so that it was easier to roll out the next day.  She would even make them ahead and freeze them.  It can make the crust even flakier.

When she was ready to roll it out, everything was removed from our kitchen table.  It was a small kitchen and the table was used for everything, not only meals, but homework, reading the newspaper, playing board games, craft projects, meetings, visiting and more. It had to be cleared and cleaned thoroughly.  The area was then staged with the canisters of both flour and sugar, a towel or two, pie tins. And Mom’s rolling pin – the star of this project.

Mom’s rolling pin was a white porcelain one with pink and red roses on it.  It had an old cork on one end and a ring loop on the other for hanging it to store.  It was heavy and strong but delicate and fragile at the same time.  I lived in fear of dropping it on the floor and breaking it.  Flour and sugar were sprinkled on the table in a large circular area and rubbed onto the rolling pin to keep the dough from sticking once rolling began.  A ball of dough, predetermined to be one crust, was placed in the middle of the flour-sugar prepared tabletop.

And the rolling begins.  Gently, back and forth, back and forth, the ball lowers.  About halfway down, my mother would turn it ninety degrees and begin to roll again, gently, back and forth, until it was the right thickness – about a quarter of an inch – and the right diameter to fit the waiting pie tin.   On the final roll, she would let one end of the flattened dough catch on the rolling pin and roll up over it to allow her to lift it easily from the table and gently position it in the pie tin.

The dough then had to be nudged into the bottom and then the sides of the tin until it was well fit.  Once the base was all snuggled in, the top edge would need to be smoothed out and a knife was run around the edge of the tin to cut of any dough that might be hanging over the edge.  This dough was important to us kids.  It would not be rolled into another pie crust.

Once the base was in, if it was an apple pie, the raw apples, already peeled and cut would be Apple Crumb Pieplaced inside, sprinkled liberally with a sugar and cinnamon mixture to ensure a nice flavoring. If there was any concern that the apples might be too juicy, we would add a tablespoon of flour to this.  Then the crumb topping of butter, flour, cinnamon and sugar would be piled on, coaxed to the edges without spilling over and into the oven it would go.  For Cherry, after the filling was in, the top crust had to be rolled out, positioned and pinched between fingers around the edges to seal the top and bottom crusts together. Small cuts would be made in the top crust for steam to escape during baking and into the oven it would go.

After the pies were in the oven, the scraps of dough that were left would be gathered together into a small ball and rolled out.  Softened butter would be smoothed over the dough usually with the fingers of a small helpers.  Then cinnamon and sugar would be sprinkled onto the butter and the length of dough would be rolled up tightly.  A knife would make even half inch cuts into this and create little pinwheels to be baked when the pies were done.

Nothing went to waste.  The kitchen was warm and almost glowing as the pies would bake.  The table would have to be cleared, canisters put away, utensils into the hot soapy water in the sink to wash. Then the table was swept off and wiped down clean again.  Wire racks took the place where the previous work had been done so that when the timer rang out, the pies would be removed and set to cool.

Unlike cookies cooling on the wire racks, cakes and pies were agonizing to us as children because you couldn’t sneak over and steal one to sample.  You had to wait until the cakes were cooled and iced or until the pies were cooled and set. Sometimes you had to wait until it was time to serve them, much later. Agonizing.

It was a process with many steps that taught patience and focus.  When I think about it, I realize that the number of skills required to bake a simple pie is actually phenomenal.  Reading, following direction, understanding the science involved, using the tools, adjusting for temperature, humidity, season and to do all that while five children were in need of attention or a snack or a fight over what was being watched on television was going on is equally amazing.  My mother was a genius, hidden in an apron constantly washing dishes.


#multitasking #raisingafamily #baking #pie #feedingafamily

The Recipes:

Pie Crust

3 c. flour (we only ever knew all-purpose existed)

1 ¼ c. shortening (Crisco)  or 1 c. lard  (yes that is what it says)

1 tsp salt

1 egg, well beaten

5 Tbsp water

1 Tbsp vinegar (white was all we knew at the time too)

Cut the shortening into the flour (My mom did this with 2 butter knives) and salt.

Combine egg, water and vinegar.  Pour into flour mixture. Blend with a spoon until moistened. Work with fingers and then roll out with rolling pin.  Will stay 2 to 3 weeks in fridge if needed. Chill overnight for easier rolling. Freeze if you don’t need them right away after rolling out.

Yield:  Enough for 2 covered crusts.

She rarely blind baked anything but the recipe indicates it can be done – at 400° F for 10 to 15 minutes and prick bottom with a fork.   With filling you will want to follow the instructions for your fillings as it will be different if filling is already cooked or is raw fruit, meringue or other.


Crazy Chocolate Cake

Put the following ingredients into a mixing bowl in the order given.  Do not stir until the boiling coffee is added and then beat 3 minutes with electric mixer (5 minutes by hand):

2 c. sugar

2 eggs

1 c. sour cream or buttermilk

¾ c. cocoa

1 c. butter or desired shortening

2 tsp soda

2 tsp vanilla

1/8 tsp salt

3 c. flour

1 c. boiling coffee

Makes 3 – 9 inch layers or 4 – 8 in layers or 1 large 10 x 15 inch sheet (and likely a whole lot of cupcakes!)  Bake at 375° F for 25 to 45 minutes depending upon pan you choose.  Toothpick for doneness.

(I make no guarantees as to the outcomes of these recipes.  Never eat something you aren’t supposed to eat.  The pictures attached to this blog are not photos of my mother’s actual pies.)

Statute of Limitations on Grief

I moved away from home late in life.  I knew I needed the distance or I would suffocate.  I needed a chance to see who I might be without all of “Them”.  I recall planning it.  I pinpointed three or four places I thought I would apply for jobs and see which came up with the best options.  I interviewed by phone.  I got a job and I moved.  It’s been 16 or 17 years now.

Prior to moving my mother gave me all the genealogy work she had accumulated and boxes of old photos.  Not the immediate family albums, though, those were on a shelf in the living room and she and my father looked at them frequently.  The ones with pictures of me, I did not get even after they passed.  The people who emptied the house either have them or relocated them to dumpsters. While I was not fond of my immediate family a large part of my life was invested in them. They are after all part of the genealogy. We have a connection.

This past weekend I was working on some of the hints at Ancestry.com where I put the tree and every couple of years spend time on it.  You hit a wall, you get busy with work, you let it go for a while.  Around the holidays, it always seems to rise up and demand some attention.  So I attend to it.  I added a bunch of scanned images to the profiles at various levels.  Then I started to go through the hints.

There are more divorce and obituary records available now than there were before.  Recent records that while they do not include a lot of specifics and documents, do include dates and some links to memorials on other sites.  This holiday I discovered that some not at all distant relatives had died, a first cousin and his wife.  One in 2010 and one in 2012.  They were only slightly older than I was. I remembered how my cousin used to come to our family picnics. He always made me laugh.  He was a good guy.

It made me sad that I did not know at the time. No one called.  No one emailed.  I did not see it on Facebook. I am not an avid reader of the obituaries back home.  Perhaps I should be.   Would I have made the trip for a funeral?  Probably not.  So what right do I have being sad?  They were related.  I did know them.  I did like them.  I had enjoyed family picnics with them. I had been at their wedding.  I guess it is a sadness slightly removed.  And it was years ago, so why be sad now?  The statue of limitations on some crimes starts only when the crime is remembered by the victim.  I say that it is the same for grief, it is a fresh grief the first time you hear it even if the actual death was years earlier.  Perhaps not as “fresh” as with someone you are with at the time of their death, but still new in the heart regardless of time.

My emotions, my rules.




#grief #sadness #genealogy

Two Libraries and a Book Nook

I remember two libraries from my childhood.  The first was our local library.  It was a small town so it was a small one room library, a branch of the library from a larger city nearby.  That one room, opened the year I turned seven (1968), was roughly 12 by 20 feet contained old wood shelving that soared over my head.  The shelves were shiny with varnish and worn smooth from years of books leaving and returning.  I wondered if the books came back and discussed the families they’d been to visit.

There were just two shelves I was allowed to draw from.  Two shelves for my age.  Two thirty inch long spaces with hardcover books that contained the potential to take me to other places, other countries, other worlds.  When I was older, there were more shelves for me.  I quickly read through all that was available to me.  Then I read them again.  And again.  There was always something more to discover in the words, the language, the imagery.  This must be where my acceptance of reruns on television arose.  Just as I read and reread books, I will watch and watch again movies and shows that catch my attention.  The characters become friends, family, company.  The locations become familiar as if from actual memories of having been there.

I can still feel the dusty road underneath my bare feet from a story I read as a child.  I can still smell the fried chicken and biscuits from fairground festivities in another.  I can hear the winding down of the music from an orchestra as we wandered home in the dark in another.  I read the books available to me so many times that I lived them.  The memories of the characters in those books are my memories.

I lived on My Side of the Mountain by Jean George, struggling through that harsh first winter of learning how to adapt to not only the cold, but the hunger and the loneliness.  I rubbed my fingers raw on the abalone shells on The Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell.  I laughed and worried when Mrs. Coverlet went away and left the Percival children alone – oh the antics they and their tortoise shell cat got up to.  I solved many mysteries with the Boxcar Children and the Happy Hollisters and some with Nancy Drew, but she just didn’t appeal to me as much as others.  Things came to her too easily.  I didn’t respect that.

I sprouted wings in Black and Blue Magic and learned what my strengths were.  You have to grow into your strengths you know.  Sometimes it requires that you fall down wish a painful crash.  And get back up.  And fly.

When I was about ten, the little one room library doubled in size.  They’d built on an entire room just for the children’s section.  That was like the most amazing gift ever.  Every shelf was mine, all mine.  It was like visiting old friends.  I would even spend a moment or two making sure some of the ones that were too young for me were still there.  Just checking in on them before checking out a stack of new things to read and some repeats.

As I grew up, there was a need for a library with books I could use for homework in addition to recreational reading.  What the heck is that anyway?  Recreational reading- all reading is knowledge and exploration and growth.  It just seems that to call it recreational is to cheapen it.  A larger library in the small city next to our town was our next regular stop.  Other than its size there was one major difference.  The librarians there were frightening.  Children there clearly should be seen and not heard even in the children’s department on the second floor.  I would have to contain any excitement or joy for fear I would be banished.  This was not what I was used to.

On the first floor was the adult section and a reading area where adults sat like statues reading current magazine issues and local newspapers.  The shelving was metal and far too easy to accidentally make noise if books fell over while I was gingerly trying to pull out the one I wanted.  It had a basement where squirrelled away were all the old items, back issues of magazines bound into large heavy books, newspapers on microfilm and other research items that all required special supervision.  Even though secluded, talking was low and at a minimum down there.

Old school library behavior required.  No one wanted to attract the attention of the librarians.  No one wanted to be shushed.  Everyone would look.  To keep a book overdue required an apology and a nickel.  After all you kept that book from someone else who might have wanted to read it also.  Going there was formal, less fun.  But there were so many more books to disappear into.  I was thankful for that.  And the smell was the same – that wonderful smell of cloth bound, well loved, many times read books.

FavoritesIn addition to the two libraries was another very special place – a tiny used bookstore called the Book Nook.  There shelves were unfinished, raw and sometimes splintered wood.  But who cared – it was about the books.  Used books lined every available inch of space, wall to wall, floor to ceiling.  The best part was I could buy them and bring the books home and keep them!  Or exchange them back later.  Once a month they had a day where you could fill a bag with paperbacks for a buck. A paper grocery bag – they were bigger in those days then they are now. Better than Christmas that was.   I still have some of those books.

That first library moved into a shiny new open concept space of its own just after I graduated from College in 1984.  My mother had been part of the “friends” group that staged fund raisers and ice cream socials year after year to make that happen.  I never felt as drawn to the new building as I did that original little single room. It wasn’t as warm and welcoming as that first space, my introduction to reading, was.  The old building became first rented to accountants, then a lawyer, then was torn down.  It was, after all, prime real estate in what had over time become a small bustling city instead of a town.  It was sort of hallowed ground to me.  Like moving a cemetery, it seemed wrong to me to tear it down, destroy a monument to something so beautiful as reading.  It was an ugly little plain cinderblock building with space to park maybe three cars, my monument to reading.

I lived there and still do in every story I have read and have yet to read.  I should frequent my local library now more than I do.


#shoutaboutbooks #readingisfun #readtome #readaloud #memories