I grew up in my Southern home on pound cake, cheesecake, layer cakes with frosting, chocolate chip cookies and two kinds of pie: pecan and key lime. We didn’t do fruit pie in our house.*
But when I met my husband, and more specifically, ate my first holiday meal with his mom, dad, sister, and two pies for the five of us, I discovered the gift of cherry pie.
Until his mom’s cherry pie, I had only eaten frozen or pre-made fruit pie, or pie made with filling from a can, where the fruit was mush or mealy, and the only flavor was sugar. From those experiences – at diners? on all-you-can-eat buffets? as a guest in someone’s home? they weren’t my mom’s, so I’m not sure where I tasted them – I assumed I did not like fruit pie, and I turned my nose up at it. But at this meal with my then-boyfriend’s family, the only dessert option was pie, and the pies were beautiful, and I didn’t want to offend his family, and so I ate pie.
I remember the crust, homemade and flaking, and the fruity burst of tart and sweet when the cherries touched my tongue. My limited experience with fruit pies in the past had not prepared me for this. I was transformed. Into a pie-lover. I ate the whole piece, then served myself another. Ate pie for breakfast the next day, because they do that in my husband’s family.
My husband is a Midwestern man, and in his family, pie is as vital to life as laughing. Over the years I’ve eaten every kind of pie they served up (except mincemeat): apple with a double crust, apple with a crumble top, apple with lattice work, pumpkin, sour cherry with a double crust, sour cherry with a crumble top, peach, strawberry rhubarb, loquat, pecan, chocolate pecan, and the most legendary of all, Aunt Sue’s grape pie. At nearly every holiday – Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas – during the pie eating portion of the meal, when everyone is sinking forks into golden crust and warm fruit, three pieces of pie on their plates (a slice of each – my kind of people), someone will inevitably say, “But have you tried Sue’s grape pie?” Eyes will roll in pleasure. “She always tries crazy stuff, and boy, that one is the best.”
Over the years, I have watched how they do things, building my pastry repertoire. Grandma Janet, the matriarch, advises not to cut the shortening all the way down to pea size when you’re making your crust. She says the secret is to leave some bigger chunks. Sally, my mother-in-law, uses a waxy rolling pad, with guiding circles printed on it to show how big to roll your dough, depending on whether you’re making a 9”, 10”, or deep dish crust. Aunt Sue (yes, I have had her grape pie, made from grapes she grows on her vine out back in Chicago, and yes, it is as good as they all say) uses a tea infuser – the $1.99 stainless steel kind with a handle that you squeeze to open the ball – to sprinkle flour on her board to roll out the dough.
But the best part of all is that there is never, ever shame associated with eating pie. At that first meal with my husband’s family, the meal with the life-altering cherry pie, there were actually two pies to choose from: cherry, and chocolate pecan. I stressed, plate in hand, about which one to try. The pecan was a sure bet, but the cherry was golden and red and glistening and beautiful. I wanted both. Then, talking and cutting, like nothing strange was going down, nothing greedy or gluttonous or shameful, my husband put one of each kind on his plate. So did my sister-in-law. And my mother-in-law.
I looked up at them, “So I can have them both?”
And they looked at me like, “Who is this woman Brian has brought home with him? Doesn’t she know how to eat pie?”
And I knew I wanted to marry this man. And his family.
Last year, we went to Aunt Connie’s for Thanksgiving, where the second incarnation of the family cherry tree still produces. It, or its predecessor, has stood in the same spot in the Columbus, Ohio yard since my mother-in-law and her six siblings were children. When they were growing up, Grandma Janet would harvest the sour cherries and make pies and cherry jam, just as Aunt Connie continues to do now.
When we arrived for Thanksgiving, Connie had two cherry pies on the counter (one with a crumble crust and one with a pastry crust), along with an apple and a pumpkin. I added my pecan pie to the spread. Our children, then 6 and 8, stood at eye level with those pies, and they drooled. Cousin Joe, in his mid-40s, immediately recognized them as competition.
On Thanksgiving day, after we feasted on the savory portion of the meal, we got to the part everyone was waiting for. The pie. Our son wanted apple. Our daughter wanted pumpkin. Cousin Mikie, in her early 40s, watched as our daughter squirted whipped cream on her piece. “That’s not enough, girl!” she said. Our daughter looked at me for permission, and I tipped my head. She grinned, flipped the can back over, and kept squirting.
I served myself a piece of cherry, a piece of apple, and a piece of pecan. I don’t know what everyone else ate, except that our son went back for a second piece of apple with Aunt Connie’s blessing.
Afterward, as we slouched in the dining room with our heads lolling on the chairbacks and our tongues hanging out of the sides of our mouths, totally spent from our day of gorging, Cousin Joey wandered through the kitchen. He didn’t know I was watching him, but I was. He surveyed the mostly empty pie plates, calculating how much was left, how much we would eat in a couple of hours, and how much might remain after that. He planned to go home for the evening and come back tomorrow. He looked up and I was looking right at him. “There were five pies,” he said. “Five.” His shoulders slumped. “I hope there’s some left tomorrow,” he said as he picked up his keys to leave. It didn’t look promising.
Sure enough, a few hours later, when we could move again, we hit the pies for a second round. Our son sliced yet another piece of the apple and I chided him. “Dude, leave some for everyone else.”
Aunt Connie swatted her hand at me and crouched down to our son’s level. “You eat as much as you want. I’ve got an extra one in the freezer.” Our son’s eyes widened, and he showed a bunch of teeth.
“You have another one in the freezer?” I asked. I didn’t know you could freeze pies.
Aunt Connie shrugged. “Yeah, you know, for emergencies.”
I heard the squssssshhhhh of the whipped cream can, then Mikie and our daughter giggling. Our son looked at Aunt Connie and gave her one of his sweet, soul-felt smiles, where his eyes crinkle and his irises clear, and you can see down into his deepest, gratitude-filled, awe-inspiring depths and you wonder, how many lives has this little boy lived? How ancient is this happy, Buddha soul? Then he turned his smile to me, holding his pie-filled plate in both hands, and he said, across the golden brown crust and with his silly open mouthed grin, “I love my family.”
* Apparently my dad loves apple pie, but for some reason I don’t remember apple pie from my childhood. Maybe my brother and I complained so much my mom threw her hands up in frustration and quit making them. If so, I’m sorry Mom and Dad. I didn’t like tomatoes either, but now give me a tomato and a salt shaker and I can make a meal. Likewise, I certainly appreciate apple pie now.
19 thoughts on “No shame in pie”
My dad, a committed, confirmed pie-lover and an Ohioan, let my daughters have pie for breakfast at his house, with ice cream! “You got your dairy, you got your fruit…” Grape pie was his very favorite, with applecherrypeachblueberrycoconutpumpkin next.
That’s what I’m saying!
What a wonderful story about a beautiful American tradition. In France, pie is ‘tarte’ but it differs in that there is no ‘lid’. Also no tradition of eating ice cream with it…sadly. Fruit is the star of the tarte…bursting with flavor from berries to apples to apricots. Also we have ‘tarte tatin’ where the apples are caramelized to a lovely consistency. That said, give me a pie of key lime or pecan chocolate pie any day. 🙂
Yes, your dad loves apple pie and I used to make it from scratch many years ago. I must have stopped making it when you and your brother turned up your nose at it. It’s the only fruit pie I ever attempted.My mother made lemon meringue pie from the box and my grandmother used to tell her that wasn’t real pie. I know cobbler doesn’t count but I did used to make peach cobbler!
Mmm, cobbler totally counts. Let’s make pie at Christmas. We can make apple for Dad.
Yes, pies at Christmas! Your post made us want an apple pie so I found my mother’s hand written recipe cards and made her apple pie. I really messed up the crust so it looks ugly but as long as it tastes good, who cares? As a special bonus I found Blue Bunny vanilla ice cream was on sale at Publix! Can’t wait for dessert tonight! I doubt if there will be enough left for emergency pie!
This was wonderful. Love the graphs too, though I’d have to have it smaller on the crusts part, not my favorite part of pie. I’m a big fruit pie lover, especially cherry or apple. I like the “emergency pie”…lol. I’ll have to remember that. 🙂
I know! Isn’t that awesome? I fear it would never make it til an emergency situation, though. We’d eat it before it came to that.
Please share some good pie recipes & photos of your own home made pies in one of your posts in the future. I have made some pumpkin pies and apple pies in the past but would love to learn all the family kitchen secrets for the best pie! 🙂
You know, it’s funny. All the best ones are the simplest. The cherry pie recipe comes straight off the box of Minute Tapioca, and the pie crust is from the can of Crisco. I still haven’t perfected apple. I tried one with a shortbread crust a few weeks ago and it was DELICIOUS, but my family was lucky anyone made it out alive after I worked with that damned shortbread dough. Never again.
Have you tried Banoffee Pie before? It’s selling like hot cake in the restaurants here. I found it quite easy to make with the recipe from the Carnation condensed milk website. Just to save time, I had both the cheat version using Pillsbury ready made pie base and the digestive biscuits version. It was to-die-for (a little bit of self assurance here 😉 plus the proof from seeing the kids finished the whole pie in a day!) simply because the perfect combo of banana and caramel are just heavenly.
My mother used to make one called a banana chiffon that was transcendental. I’ve always wanted to try mincemeat, but, I’m not familiar with an animal called a mince.
Ooooh, banana chiffon sounds divine. I was talking with a Southern friend today about the pie thing, and we realized that Southern pies tend to be custard based icebox pies – banana cream, coconut cream, lemon merengue, etc – because, duh, who wants to turn on the oven for an hour or eat warm pie in a place that’s hot most of the time? And the Midwest, you know, you need that warm comfort food its cold and wintry out. We were unsure about where New England stands on pie, though. Any New Englanders want to weigh in on this?
I love this post on so many levels and I’m going to save it and reread it again every time I miss my family…or pie.
I want pie.
And thank you. I’m glad you love it 🙂
Wow. Now I can truly TRULY appreciate the joy of pie. I love the descriptions of Connie and Mikie’s interactions with your children. Oh the joy and wonder. I will have to remember that with my little one 🙂
Thank you for sharing.
Fantastic post – love the anecdotes and the pie charts! 🙂
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