Wednesday, January 14, 2015


My mother was a lousy cook, when it came to entrees.

But she could work magic with pie.

Her secret, learned under her mother's tutelage (so I was told), was in the crust. Mom never measured anything when she made crusts. Just some water, flour, salt and a gentle hand pushing everything together.

But what resulted was flaky and perfect.

Every time.

She never shared her secret. I'm not sure she could even capture on paper the technique. It relied an awful lot on "a pinch of this" and "a skootch of that." And the technology didn't exist at the time to shoot her on video and replicate the success.

Mom made pies for large family dinners like Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter and, in addition to having delicious crusts, the fillings were equally as good.

No store-bought Comstock canned fruit here, nay! She made her own, coring and paring apples or cleaning summer berries. A little sugar, a little cornstarch and... Mmmm.

I do remember her deferring to canned pumpkin for Thanksgiving, but not the complete dump-and-bake variety. I also remember her making Mincemeat pie (with suet!), and only my grandfather (Dad's dad) would eat it, usually sprinkled with a shot of whiskey on the top.

I also remember her tackling a strawberry-rhubarb once a summer, and the results were out of this world.

As a result of her skill, I love pie. I lean toward somewhat exotic varieties (pecan is my favorite, I also love banana cream, coconut cream, lemon meringue, and chocolate mousse), but a slice of apple of blueberry is always welcome.

Today's commercially-baked pies are... hate to say it... lame. Tastykake used to make good fruit pies, but nowadays, the logistics of eating one have gotten too complex to be enjoyable. The packaging is hard to navigate (a pull-strip that merely shreds the box without releasing the pie), and then there's that whole tin plate thing.

Supermarket pies miss out on a key ingredient: Love.

Mom also made killer tapioca, and I miss that, too.

I learned many oddball skills from my mother, including the ability to make hospital corners when changing bed linens.

But I never picked up her talent for pie.

And desserts in our house are all the poorer for it.

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