My mother threw another pie into the garbage.
Don’t judge her. She was trying to duplicate her aunt’s piecrust—a nearly impossible task. After this attempt, the last of many, she gave up.
My Great-Aunt Myrtle, just Aunt Myrtie to me, was widowed shortly after I was born. She supplemented her small pension by baking for a local restaurant. She made the best sugar cookies I’ve ever tasted and pies that melted in your mouth like meringue, crust and all. And her meringue—well the only word that comes to mind is mist. People patronized the restaurant just to eat a slice of her pie.
Her home had a parlor and a porch in the front, and a kitchen in the back that ran the entire width of the house. She slept in the parlor, which was heated by an oil stove, instead of using the unheated bedrooms upstairs, sat to read her Bible in a wooden rocking chair beside her bed, and worked in the kitchen, which was warmed by a coal stove right in its middle.
On one side of the stove was the treadle sewing machine where she taught me to make quilted hot pads, and on the other side was the Formica-topped table that was her only work surface. With grey hair in a net-covered bun and an apron protecting her cotton housedress, she set to work.
She covered the tabletop with flour and rolled out the piecrusts with a huge wooden rolling pin. The crusts always came out perfectly round and just slightly larger than the pie pan. Usually the trimmings went back into the dough to make another crust, but sometimes she let me sprinkle them with sugar and cinnamon and eat them like cookies after they turned golden brown in her oven. No cookie was better, not even her sugar cookies.
When I was about 10, I told her that when I started junior high, my school would be only a couple of blocks from her house and I could come eat lunch with her. She smiled at me sadly. “I don’t think I’ll be around that long, Angel.”
I hadn’t yet experienced the death of a person I loved, so I shrugged it off. But her premonition was true. She died of a massive heart attack a year later.
I thought of her every time I left school to get lunch and had to walk past the bakery to get to Mike’s Ice Cream Parlor where most of us ate. Sometimes I didn’t even get to Mike’s, but stopped in the bakery for lunch. They made great fancy pastries, but their sugar cookies didn’t measure up to my Aunt Myrtie’s.
Years later, I, too, tried to duplicate her piecrust. Not as much of a culinary perfectionist as my mother, I kept trying and gradually got better and better. I discovered that those tasteless plums that grow nearly wild around the neighborhood make tasty pies, that grapes make a surprisingly good pie, and that yellow crook-necked summer squash make a better pumpkin pie than pumpkin does.
And one day, I pulled a pie out of my oven that looked especially promising. The crust was ugly as a mud fence, with cracks and bubbles all over the top, but something about it made me snap off an edge and lay it on my tongue.
Oh. My. God. It was almost perfect. At least it was the best piecrust I’d tasted since my Aunt Myrtie died. And my family didn’t even complain about how it looked.
I never did learn to make a pretty pie, and I don’t bake much any more. The kids are grown and have their own families that are nearly grown, and Hubby and I both have enjoyed way too much good food in the past. I’m proud of many things I’ve accomplished in my somewhat mundane life. But I will always feel a special rush of exultation when I remember that pie that was almost as good as my Aunt Myrtie’s.
copyright Angela Parson Myers 2011