Oy, the World Cup is playing hob with my work. If I don’t put the livestream behind me on my laptop, and turn the sound way down, I’ll never get anything done. Brazil is tied 1-1 with Croatia at half-time.
Let’s talk about pie instead.
I have often extolled the virtues of pie as one of the great glories of American cuisine. No other nation produces pies that resemble those of the United States. Yes, the French have their tartes, some of which are delightful, but give me two thick, flaky and buttery crusts enclosing a sea of blueberries or sour cherries, or a real pecan pie, filled with nuts instead of just a niggardly layer floating on top. Or one of my favorites, the hard-to-find sour cream/raisin pie. Pie is the perfect dessert, even more perfect because it also makes a terrific breakfast. And no other nation has anything like it (don’t waste space in the comments touting your pallid alternatives).
And if you’re a pie fan, and live in or around Lawrence, Kansas, you’re in luck. Reader Marc alerted me to the impending opening (in July) of the Lady Bird Diner at 721 Massachusetts St, Lawrence, Kansas 66044. The establishement will, so they say, specialize in classic diner fare. And on their Facebook page is one of the most elegiac and mouthwatering odes to pie I’ve ever seen. It’s apparently written by either the owner or a cook, but the love of pies evinced below bodes well for the place. I know there must be some reader in the area, so please visit the diner next month and report back.
In the meantime, here’s their paean to the pie:
Someone recently asked me, Why Pie? Why not diversify into a more elaborate bakery production? The truth is that I could bake 250 cookies in the time it takes me to make one single apple pie. By the time I’ve made the dough, chilled it, rolled it, rested it, peeled and sliced the apples, filled, baked and cooled the pie, I’ve invested about six hours into eight pieces of pie.
So why bother? Pie is never going to be as pretty as its more postured peers Cake or Tart. When roused from its nap on the cooling rack, a piece of pie will likely slump, undignified and oozing its filling while its once perfect crust slips out of alignment in rebellion at having been manhandled by a spatula. Pie is testy, its dough cantankerous (sometimes downright mean) in the hands of anyone who overlooks either the precise chemistry or the matronly patience to yield a pastry neither too flaky nor too firm. “Touch me,” says the dough, “but not too much, and not there, now back away, don’t even look at me!”
And the fillings! Of a million combinations of fruit and custards, each has its own fussy notion about what kind of thickener it wants and at what ratio. Too much and it looks like your pie is wearing too-small pantyhose. Too little and it’s in a muumuu. I’ve spent many years trying to refine my pies’ wardrobes so that they each have their own perfectly fitted Ann Taylor pantsuit. There are good days and bad…
But even on a bad day, even when I’ve plated a piece of pie that I’m not particularly proud of (and a few that I’ve been downright embarrassed of), I can always count on people to taste the effort. I can’t even take credit for what they’re tasting. I’m only one of many pie bakers in their life, perhaps beginning with their own mothers and grandmothers, who spent more time than is reasonable in the kitchen making something that was going to be consumed in under three minutes. Those mamas and grandmas, they could have made instant pudding, and sometimes they did, but those times you’d hear them early in the morning, padding around the kitchen delicately on their tiptoes… and you’d hear the light click-clack of the sifter and then the chunk-chunk of the rolling pin on the counter… soon there would be the smell of warm butter and cinnamon… and then the most perfectly imperfect dessert would emerge from the oven, bubbling fruit through vented pastry, custard cooling and waiting to be topped with cream. It’s the tremendous effort involved in creating something so ordinary that makes pie my favorite dessert to make and to eat.
And so the answer to the question: Why Pie? is: Because Pie.
Now that is food writing! If this person is as good with pie as with words, the Ladybird can’t open too soon.
To whet your appetite, here’s some photos I posted at the local South Side Pie Challenge in November of last year:
Turtle (carmel, nut, and chocolate)!
Hungry yet? And remember, folks. . .