Of Pie and Doing our Best

Of Pie and Doing our Best

“I was thinking of making some lemon tarts,” I say as I put down my book on the couch beside me.

My sweet husband looks up from his laptop and smiles. “There’s a soccer game coming on in 15 minutes,” he says, “that’s probably a good time for you to make them.” He winks.

There have been added stressors this past month. Stress from work, from relationships, from world news. We have a few welcome days off and are spending our time puttering around the house and doing whatever we feel like doing in the moment. Mid-afternoon movies, cribbage games, coffee, reading, writing, cooking, baking tarts.

Baking, for me, is a form of decompression. The ritual of mixing and measuring, pouring and watching surfaces turn golden brown in the heat of the oven has always made sense to me, sometimes helped me make sense of my world.

I measure the flour, sprinkle some salt and sugar, feel the powder on my fingertips as I stir before cutting in the cold fat. My recipe is the same as my Aunt’s. I could never duplicate my Mom’s pastry. I sprinkle water, watch it pull together, gently knead it as whispers of flour puff up from the surface and land on my sweater. Roll, cut, roll, lay circle in the tart pan. Repeat.

My mind flows. As the rolling pin pushes against the soft dough I am transported and my memories sharpen and come into focus.

My Uncle. He visited shortly after I moved out here to the west coast, discontent because the drop-in visits had suddenly ceased. No more stopping by while out for a bike ride for a cup of coffee and a chat. He hadn’t been on a plane for 40 years and he boarded one for me, arriving on a cool June day. We make butter tarts the next afternoon and he tells me stories of my Grandmother and the pies and tarts she made, how my pastry was different (but still good), how a Sunday meal was never complete without a slice of pie at the end, even in hard times. We eat those butter tarts for breakfast the next morning and he tells me the story of the happiest day of his life, and it brings tears to his eyes, so we each have a wee dram of whiskey while we remember the people we had loved and lost. Over butter tarts we realize that we lived far too far away from each other and how this moment needs to last until I could get on a plane to return the favour.

I am then thinking of my Grandfather. Of his moments of sobriety. A coffee shop and it is 11:00 am and I am 11 years old and he orders a coffee and a “hunk of pie”. The cherries are bright red and glisten in the golden crust and I think that when I am a grown up, I am going to eat pie at 11:00 am and not worry about “ruining my lunch” like Mom says I will.

A trip down the Oregon coast with my husband and the cherry pie I ordered for lunch.

Then I am with my Aunt and she is teaching me how to make meat pie, step by step. She confesses she doesn’t make pastry like my Mom, that it “never works out for her” and she shows me her method. The one I still use.

We are at Mom and Dad’s all together as a family, which hasn’t happened for years, so I must be newly married. The nieces and nephews are little. We are giggling. Someone takes a picture. Then out comes the pies Mom has made – apple, in the ceramic pie dishes we have had forever – and my husband takes a bite and says, “Love, you are a good baker, but you can’t hold a candle to your Mom’s apple pie.”

person holding brown wooden board

I am little. So little that my eyes and nose just reach over the counter. There are 6 balls of dough. Mom is rolling out one and she gives me some scraps she has trimmed and lifts me up on a chair at the table, places a wooden board in front of me and dusts it with flour. My rolling pin is a diminutive version of hers and I keep one eye on her and one on my dough and I roll it into a ragged circle. There is sunlight coming in from the window and Mom brushes the hair out of my eyes and leaves a trail of flour on my cheek. She tells me my dough is perfect. She piles sweetened sliced and spiced apples into her pie shell, effortlessly rolls out a top crust and places it, crimps and trims. She gives me the scraps to practice on again and lets me puncture with a fork the top of the pie she has made and I think about the pin cushion in the sewing kit. Her pin cushion pie goes into the oven and she gets out the jam jar and we make “fatty cakes” with the ragged dough circles I have proudly made – uneven turnovers that always leak out onto their trays and form a sticky puddle of candy we are allowed to pick at when it cools, leaving a hollow flaky pouch behind.

I think of all these people and moments. I think about my Mom as a young mother, a woman with a Father that was rarely sober. A woman with undiagnosed Tourette Syndrome. A woman who did her best.

Pastry doesn’t always cooperate. Too much water, too much kneading can make it tough. Too much flour can make it dry and it crumbles the more you roll it. Sometimes it rips right in the spot that you can’t afford to have it rip and the filling leaks out and the whole pie is ruined. With patience, with practice, with experimentation, there are improvements. Then confidence is built. And doing your best is rewarded more and more.

And I think that good times are like those perfectly golden apple pies that never seem like they can be duplicated. And bad times are like the ragged-edged “fatty cakes” that leak all over the trays and you need to pick out the sweet parts while you can because there’s always a hollow space left over.  

Later I will eat a lemon tart made from a recipe my Aunt had written “Outstanding” on the bottom of the page. And I will be grateful for pastry, grateful for family. And grateful we are all just doing our best.

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11 Replies to “Of Pie and Doing our Best”

  1. “Soccer game on in 15 minutes…prolly a good time for you to make them”😜😆
    Great composition in your writing, Lori! You definitely have a gift for writing! ❤️

  2. Aw my sweetheart. Your writing has always touched my heart and brings a tear to my eyes. Ever since you were young. I loved this. It brought back many precious moments. Keep it up sweetie. ❤️

    1. You’re so beautiful, Mom. Thanks for always being my fan. All the way back to my “Silly Scarf” poem. And thanks for the baking lessons. I love ya! ♥️

  3. Loved reading this Lori:) made my heart happy and I smiled at your memories… I think my mom and I made fatty cakes too with the jam that leaked through sticky like candy…. I’m also now craving pie lol.

  4. Loved reading your sweet memories! I too made fatty cakes and the kids loved them as much as the pie. Looking forward to the next story already sweetie! 😘

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