Pie as Antidote
In my coming up years, no matter the occasion or the event: joy-filled parties to graduations, national holidays, and even a few birthdays—there were pies. There were always pies at gatherings before and after funerals—my mother’s pies, my grandmother’s pies, pies made by aunts and sisters, and new to the family daughters-in-law.
In fact, my first marriage ended with a pie dropped onto the floor. I scooped it up and served it anyway. It was a dour Thanksgiving; my husband would be moving out the next day. Like any omen, good or ill, ten years later I joined my soon-to-be new husband and his family for Thanksgiving dinner. I brought a mile-high apple pie, which my future mother-in-law dropped onto the floor.
I laughed and laughed—bookended incidents and the irony of it all. We scooped it up and served the damn thing.
Pie was my challenge, my nemesis.
My mother was an excellent cook and baker in almost every way, but her pies were like most pies made by 1950s homemakers, a crust made of vegetable shortening, bleached wheat flour, a pinch of salt, and ice water, and then bursting with store-bought pie filling—unless it was summer or apple season, with readily available berries and fresh fruit. The filling was always tasty, sweet, and spiced just right, but the crust was mostly tasteless, merely a vehicle for the main attraction.
My grandmother’s pies were another story. Her piecrusts had more flavor and were tenderer and flakier. I wanted to know why? Claire Elizabeth Agatha Barry White, my Dad’s mother, was a simple cook with a limited repertoire, but like her mother, my Great Grandmother Barry, Claire was an excellent baker. She took me under her wing and taught me to make piecrust her way: a measure of flour, half again as much shortening, and that halved again for ice water—with vinegar, an egg, and a bit of sugar too.
I used that formula for years, including the ten years with my former spouse. His mother was a pie baker as well. On the tops of her apple pies, she would prick vent holes that read, “Tis A.” Her son loved her pies, and commented often enough that mine were not as good.
So I worked at pie making, trying to perfect technique, spice combinations—always trying a method with a different twist, but it was never quite right or good enough.
Pie making can teach deeper lessons too. I would never measure up in that relationship. I would never be good enough, and I was too young, too unschooled to understand how wrong that effort was. Nonetheless, it instilled in me the joy of seeking excellence, the ability to self-critique in a way that became positive and fun. I continued to refine and change the way I made pies. I had tried for so long—there was no reason to give up—I was no longer seeking approval or love; it was now a journey of self-discovery and personal achievement. And I happened on to an unusual recipe, which instead of using ice water as the liquid in piecrust, the directions called for sour cream.
“What? Sour Cream, you say?!” Of course I tried it—and was amazed. And then I tweaked the recipe, because that is what I do.
I won a local pie baking contest, and blew the professional judges away. I had a pie booth at a fall festival and baked 300 pies, tarts, and galettes, and did much the same for holiday festivals, year after year.
It was no stretch of the imagination that the protagonist in my novel, Stony Kill was a pie baker.
Writers write what they know.
We are coming on high pie season—late summer and early fall when local fruits are succulent and ripe. I hope you will download a copy of my free pie recipe book, Miss Euphrates’ Pies.
From my publisher . . . “Click here to download a free copy of Miss Euphrates’ Pies. This delightful collection contains nineteen recipes for pies, piecrusts, tarts, fillings, sauces, and more, all based on the kitchen wisdom of the fictional character Miss Euphrates, a central figure in the novel Stony Kill.
The real-life author of Stony Kill, Marie White Small, is in fact a skilled baker and the prize-winning composer of a plethora of confectionary offerings. These recipes represent some of Marie’s most popular creations, including her famous Salvation Pecan Pie, the sumptuous Chestnut Crème Anglaise Tarts, and her savory Heirloom Tomato Tarts.
This free download is available in PDF, ePub, and MOBI (Kindle) formats. Enjoy! Note that if, as suggested in the basic pastry recipe, you cut back on the sugar, which results in a beautifully flaky piecrust, you must cut back in an equal amount on the sour cream.