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One sunny Sunday afternoon in early spring, with a fresh, crisp breeze blowing through the kitchen window, I made an apple pie.
I love pie. From the flakiness of the crust caving into the soft fruity centre, to the pastry as the perfect balance to the sweet or tart or creamy insides, this is my dessert of choice. My love for pie is rivalled by my dad’s, who claims it as one of his favourite things that my mom makes.
“Apple, peach, flapper,” he begins his litany of pies. He’s watching the Brier men’s curling championship as he talks to me over the phone, so his thoughts on pie keep getting interrupted by the disappointing performance of four-time returning champ Kevin Koe, who is about to lose his title.
“Lemon, mincemeat, butterscotch,” Dad says.
I won’t be sharing my apple pie with Dad – he lives 3,000 kilometres away, so we’ll be eating our Sunday pies separately. But our shared love of pie was born and fed to us by the same source – my mom, who, without fail, baked a pie every Sunday for our family of six when we were growing up.
“Saskatoon berry, cherry,” Dad continues. “There’s not many pies that I don’t like.”
My mom is a confident maker of pies. She learned her pastry-making from my grandma, a farm wife and homemaker who continued to roll out pie dough well into her 90s. But it was also part of Mom’s education – as a graduate of home economics from the University of Saskatchewan, she appreciates the science behind good food and its preparation. She served as a judge at 4-H Achievement Days, shared lessons and demonstrations as a District Home Economist and has been called upon by the life-skills teacher at the local high school to show her how to make pastry so she could pass it on to her class.
But what really makes the pies so delicious is – cliché but true – the time she spends on them and the love she puts into them. This was part of what made up our home to me, that weekly pie. Sunday afternoons meant a kitchen warm with the heat of the oven, the air hugging us with the rich, comforting smell of baking pastry. This was how Mom fed us, filling our bellies with some sweet, delicious love. I wonder if I will ever be able to feed my family of eight as well.
So when I’m homesick, I make a pie. I choose from Dad’s lengthy list. I pull out the pastry knife Mom handed on to me. I blend the flour and the lard and, in the mixing, I am home.
My pies are plain – no egg wash, no lattice crust. I just follow the basic instructions of my dad, who answered the phone one time when I called Mom to ask a pie question.
“Just get some dough, throw some blueberries in there and slap a lid on it.”
But in the making, I find my mom. I see her hands rolling out the pastry. I hear her voice in my head criticizing the quality of her own (perfect) crust. I remember being a little girl at her elbow, watching her twirl the overflowing pie plate around in one hand while the other trimmed the excess pastry off the edges. The scraps would plop onto the floured countertop, and I was always amazed how she could spin her hand just right to avoid nicking it with the knife.
Sometimes, if necessary, a flat grocery store pie will have to do in my house. Desperate times call for desperate pies. But I’ve learned that taste is in direct proportion to the effort made, and pie-eating the store-bought is significantly less satisfactory. So persist I must, if I want the taste of home.
As it turns out, I love the making of the pie as much as the eating of it (and I really love eating it). I do find it a bit of a risky process – there’s something dangerous about putting a lid on a pie and not being able to see inside until it’s time to cut into it. How am I supposed to know if it’s any good? It seems dangerous to not know how your pie turned out until it is time to serve the blessed thing. But the biggest compliment I ever received on my pie-making came when Dad, on a visit to my house, took a bite of my pie. He smiled, looked to my mom and asked, “Well who made this?”
Pies connect me to my mom – how she cares for our family, how she loves my dad, how she carries on Grandma’s traditions. We have a surprising number of phone conversations about pie. She tells me how many and what kinds she made to take to Easter dinner at my sister’s house. She reminds herself to make a peach pie for my brother-in-law’s birthday. She tells me about a flapper pie she started to make before she realized she didn’t have enough crushed graham crackers (she substituted bran flakes and she does not recommend this).
I miss my mom’s pies. I’m trying to replicate them, trying to carry on the traditions, trying to feed my family that same love. There are flops and crumbling crusts and too-tart tastes. But on that one spring day, with the breeze blowing in from the west, something worked out just right.
“This pie,” my 10-year-old declares, “is outrageously delicious.”
Just like my mom’s. Just like home.
Gillian Kantor lives in Oakville, Ont.
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