Do you remember the first pie you made? Not the pie that was pulled from the grocery freezer and borrowed your electricity to turn it into something edible. But the pie that came from individual ingredients that were painstakingly mixed together to create a triumph at a special occasion, like Thanksgiving.
A truly homemade pie is not just a demonstration in preparing a dessert, but a two-part dessert – the crust and filling. Both need to be correct for perfect results. You seek out the best cookbook, friend or sage relative to harvest their recipe file for the one true crust recipe that will catapult your pie into holiday legend.
My first pie was mediocre, actually terrible. Both crust and filling were bad. I neglected to mention that the crust needs to “feel right” to the touch. The pie dough is manipulated by hand to roll flat, mold together for a top and bottom crust and the edges need to be pinched evenly with index finger and thumb for a lovely presentation. The top needs to have vent slits for steam to escape. The baker makes the design. Slit design is personal and could be a flower and leaves, the family initial or even simple holes poked with a fork.
Getting back to my first pie, it was a fresh cherry pie. I had rolled, re-rolled and formed the crust too many times resulting in a tough crust. The filling was too juicy and contributed to an already tough crust to become soggy. Two brave souls ate my pie. At least they put the pie on a plate. The remainder of the pie came home and went to the garbage.
That was many pies ago and after needed tutelage I received from my mother-in-law. She made pies weekly and shared with everyone. At church dinners, the workers would cut her pie and hide their slices to eat after the guests were gone.
Sitting across the counter and watching her pie baking business was like watching the hands of a pianist move across the keyboard making delightful music. She expertly mixed the crust ingredients that quickly became a disk, rolled on a lightly floured board or cloth and defied any attempt to stick to the surface. The size was exact and was slid gracefully into the pie plate. The crust was then filled with remarkable fresh ingredients or created from scant fixings from the cupboard, like lemon juice, sugar and egg whites to make a mouthwatering lemon meringue pie. Her hallmark pie was pecan.
My mother-in-law is gone but her skills and my visual recall of those pies being created are part of her legacy. Her love of family and cooking make me smile. I am very thankful for her many generous bits of giving of time, wisdom and lessons over the years.
She was from an extremely humble and poor West Virginia family with a sometimes coal mining father and siblings just shy of a dozen. Basic life needs were not always available or in sight. Much going without and improvising was done to get by and survive. Common kitchen staples, such as granulated sugar was a luxury. Their sweetener was sorghum molasses. Rendered and boiled from the juice of sorghum cane, a tall grass-like plant. The resulting molasses was preserved in jars and used to smother a homemade biscuit. Cheap, filling and satisfying at the daily table when everything else was scarce or accompanied by something caught or gathered from the woods.
I do not attempt to make pecan pies. That was her pie masterpiece. As skills, confidence and practice increased I have partnered a couple pieces of her wisdom and information. I can make delicate light pie crust with uniform eye appealing fluted edges. I have also taken her love of sorghum and created a sweet potato sorghum pie. The pie is a kissing-cousin of traditional pumpkin pie, but more moist and tasty.
With every visit to my mother-in-law’s home, I came away with something. Many times, it was scrumptious food prepared by her loving hands. She was always generous and giving. I am thankful for her lessons and try to mimic her behavior.
Thanks and Giving –
…hope my choices will create a positive ripple effect in the lives of others. This is my choice.
-Mike Ericksen, Upon Destiny’s Song
Thankfulness and giving are free commodities. The personal return on the investment is great. Enjoy Thanksgiving and try a new recipe. Make a Sweet Potato Sorghum pie.
The best, June