Tuesday, March 17, 2009

School For Pies

In the warm afternoon yesterday, there's a clamor from the north, east and south. Because the Kickapoo bends and twists more than an Italian bread stick, geese and ducks fly from one slough to another for a night-time roost. One sandhill crane calls from a marsh along East River Road to another flying overhead. There's a distinct difference between the call of the crane on the ground and the one flying past the house. Blackbirds-purple martins, grackles and starlings chatter in the tops of our tall trees. On the ground two grackles face off by the bird feeder. With their beaks pointing skyward, they puff out, flutter and strut. Over the winter mice gnawed a highway in the grass to seed scattered by messy sparrows. The Pooch makes his own silent statement to the bird population when I see him squat and pee on the mound of sunflower hulls and discards from the feeder.

Yesterday was pie day. I need to pick up my ailing truck in the repair shop, so I accompany Dawn to work. First, I stop at the Amish. "What time is class today?, " I ask. The elder's wife tells me, We''ll wait until you return to begin making the crusts." When I pull in with my truck, I pop into the workshop and hand over a tool catalog. In a corner of the shop is a stack of eggs six feet high. Each layer holds over two dozen eggs separated by colorful plastic egg holders. In the house, the principal pie maker has a large measuring cup full of flour. I slip off my shoes because the designers of the Converse All Stars never thought about waffle soles, mud and dirt in the country. All the daughters are barefoot. Some are outside hanging wash. We all laugh when someone says they thought they'd heard geese honking.

The pie lady opens a tin of cold shortening. Next to the mixing bowl is a glass cup of cold water. Her movements seem like magic, because I do not catch her adding the shortening or water. She's already molding the dough. I must have been distracted for a moment when the youngest son hands me a cup of coffee. Sprinkling a bit of flour on the oil cloth covered table, she patty-cakes a section of the dough. Then, she adds more flour and rolls it out in equal motions, left and right. These pies are for a trucker. He eats at a restaurant 6 miles south of Readstown. When he asks the waitress for desert, the answer is, " Ain't none." From now on he'll bring his own.

Pie woman carefully folds the crust in half and drapes it over an aluminum, 9 inch pie tin. The elder's wife has a pan brimming with what looks like apple sauce. On top are freshly peeled apple slices. The sauce is a special base. When that is poured into the crust, the daughter rolls out the top crust. She moistens the edge of the bottom crust. Next, she drapes the top crust over a plastic form which punches a pattern of holes in the crust to allow the steam to escape. She arranges the perforated crust over the top, pinches the edges and trims excess dough. It all seems so easy. I tell her she's really good at making pies. "I make all the pies in the summer," she says. That amounts to hundreds of pies for the tourists and locals who stop for bakery along the highway.

In the course of under an hour there are four pies in the oven. Titus comes in from the workshop looking for a slice of pie. I decline the pie, but sample the leftover crust. A small segment of crust too small to make into a pie is sugared and slightly sprinkled with Cinnamon for a cookie. It's flaky and tender. I reserve my pie making until I've gone through two tankfuls of gas cutting firewood for next year. After lunch I assemble the ingredients.

I won't describe the trauma and cussing that ensues. Pie lady lady didn't have to contend with Japanese beetles waking from hibernation in Monday's 60 degree weather. One lands directly on my bottom crust. The strawberry-rhubarb filling never thickens after I prepare sure-gel according to the directions. Corn starch doesn't help. When I drape the crust over the 10 inch glass pie plate, it doesn't completely cover the pie pan. In desperation, I patch the top crust with two small pieces of dough. I rationalize that numerous cracks in the crust will allow steam to escape. "Darn these bifocals," I cuss. In the oven, the pie runs over on a tin cookie sheet I placed on the rack below. Sheet! In the end when I remove the pie from the oven, it looks good enough to eat. I had coated the top with melted butter and sprinkled sugar liberally before popping it in the oven. It's nicely browned.

To soothe my wounded pride, I work on a rustic wood shelf that's been lying dormant for a year. The out of square recycled doors discouraged me. I add a new blade to my skil-saw and trim the edges. In the warm afternoon, I open the overhead door to the workshop and sand the shelf without covering every tool in the shop with a layer of dust. When Dawn pulls up in the drive, I brush off my jean jacket and walk with her to the house to describe my pie making adventures.

No comments: