“Our church has lost so many of our bakers this year that we may have to forgo serving pies at the Seed Show luncheon,” Bev told me recently. “We might have to substitute cheesecake or something.”
“No! No! You can’t give up pies.” I lined up my arguments. “It wouldn’t be the same. Pie at the Montana Seed Show is a tradition. Pie is expected. Pie is an institution. Besides, what about Arnold? He hangs out at the Seed Show just for pie. That’s what I’ve heard. Sometimes he has six pieces a day. That’s what I’ve heard.” I went into a state of minor panic. I really didn’t care about Arnold. I cared about me!
The Lutheran Ladies have served homemade pie at the Seed Show forever. Whatever else they serve is incidental; people show up for the pie. Why else would hundreds of people stand in a line which winds twice around the hall and through the cafeteria, if not for homemade pie. Once the Civic Association finishes serving breakfast, the Lutheran Ladies set out mid-morning pie and coffee. And they serve mid-afternoon pie and coffee until the pie is gone.
As you stand in the lunch line, listen to the conversations around you. The merits of pies are debated, discussed, decided, studied and redecided. “I want blackberry this time.” “Not me. My favorite is chocolate meringue. I hope they’re not out.” “Mmmm. I like apple.” Finally the line moves forward into the serving area and there you are, standing in front of at least 50 delectable slices of pie. The choice is overwhelming. Just as you decide on peach, the man in front of you snatches up the last slice of peach pie. “Dang napple-snapples.” Now what. Oooh, the coconut cream looks rich and, well, creamy. You point, “That one.”
I can’t imagine being at the Seed Show without a slice of pie. In my consideration, cheesecake is not a viable alternative. Now I make a mean homemade cheesecake, fresh and high and light and rich. It is expensive to make, takes forever and dirties every dish in the cupboard. And I’ve had cheesecake at a few doings, fundraisers for one event and another. What Bev was talking about as an alternative to homemade pie was the insipid cheesecake made from the easy-squeezy store-bought mix. I won’t say they are inedible but they don’t make me want to go back for more, especially when they are topped with plops of glommy pie filling straight from the can.
Pie is considered as American as the Fourth of July. But, actually pie is universal. Historical evidence points to numerous versions of “pye,” mostly filled with meat, as in four and 20 blackbirds. But during the early lean and hungry years in the colonies our pioneer mothers turned to baking pyes with the simple foods at hand. They lopped the tops off pumpkins, scooped out the seeds and stringy stuff, filled the pumpkin bowls with milk and set them on the open hearth to bake. In later years they added spices and put them in a grain-based “coffin.” The first pye pans these pioneer women devised were round “to cut corners.” Flour was expensive and less flour was needed to make a round crust. These pans were flat and shallow so the “pyes would go a long way”.
“There’s got to be a solution,” I told Bev. “I’ll become a volunteer Lutheran for a day and help bake pies. I bet you can find several others in the community willing to pitch in and help you through this desperate situation. How many pies do you want me to make, two or 20?”
Yesterday, I donned my Lutheran apron, the one I wear when I roll out lefse, and made two apple pies. I like a fat, fruity pie with a thin flaky crust, even though they always bubble over in the oven. After I baked the pies and let them cool, I wrapped them tightly so they wouldn’t lose moisture and popped them into the freezer where they will be safe until the Seed Show. Then I had to clean the oven.
Later this week I’ll bake a couple rhubarb pies and next week I’ll make Juneberry. As a lapsed Catholic helping out the Lutherans, does this doubly fulfill my obligation for Lent? After all, I’m baking them, not eating them. At least, I’ll abstain from pie until the Seed Show when I plan to stand in the slow-moving line along with everyone else, thinking about which pie most makes my mouth water. I sure hope somebody bakes peach.
Easy as pie. Crisis averted. Well, yes, but I will have to clean the oven again.
(Sondra Ashton graduated from Harlem High School in 1963 and left for good. She finds, upon her return, that things are a little diffeent. Keep in touch with her at http://montanatumbleweed.blogspot.com.)