You must not work the dough too much.
Fine flaky crust
requires a light touch.
I cut the shortening into the flour,
rocking the cutter as I go.
There was a time, though,
when I would grasp two knives
and cleave the ingredients,
both pressing them together
and slicing them apart.
When young, I did not remove my rings.
I don’t even wear them now.
I liked the look of gemstones
dappled with bits of dough.
Grandmother would not have approved, though,
and even now,
I know she is watching me.
Not that grandmother taught me how to bake.
If anything, she showed me that I
could be a real woman
and never cook a god damn thing.
But that’s another story.
She did, however, make a pie crust
that was so flaky
I could peel it apart
with my silver dessert fork,
and find a new horizon
in every translucent layer.
My grandfather was talented with pie, too.
No matter how many people
sat at his table,
he could cut a pie
so that everyone there
had a slice of equal size,
and he always had two.
Somewhere along the line
I learned to lay down waxed paper
instead of a pastry cloth.
I think that is a Nebraska trait.
And when I make my pie crust now,
I travel back there for a moment or two.
I visit the women at my welcoming church
who invited me, the young mother, to join them
in cookie packing one holiday weekend.
One after another, the women came in,
brushing the snow from their sensible boots,
dropping down bags of store-bought cookies,
and saying, “I really don’t have time to bake.”
I knew I was in the right place.
Long ago, for a rolling pin, I chose a wine bottle
that drew me in with its rich green glass.
Now I wield the wooden pin
that I have carried with me for years.
I wonder when the handles broke off?
I wonder why?
It hints of violence in the kitchen, doesn’t it?
I don’t recall any—at least not involving pie,
I did once throw
a fairly hefty farm-grown watermelon
at my fairly hefty farm-grown husband.
But that’s another story.
Now for the best part:
The crust is elegantly thin,
and ready to be transferred to its vessel.
Sometimes I choose the glass pie plates that I bought
when my favorite bar went out of business
and sold off all its cookware.
I don’t believe I ever ate a pie there,
though I would, sometimes, sit at the bar and drink
Glenlivet scotch, and toast the memory
of my late great father-in-law.
My war with him was never open,
but I still think I won.
I’m here now, am I not?
We can only speculate on his whereabouts.
So, where were we?
Ah, the pie crust,
submissive in its pan.
My mother would have me
prick it with a fork,
but I say no.
I go another route,
more seductive, more sublime.
I pull out my crimper
and begin the ritual
of pressing the dough,
embossing the crust
with rosettes and with stars.
It’s a gentle motion of marking territory:
if I am making a single-crust pie,
this effort remains hidden,
like wearing your best undies
when you go out to play.
I’ll do a two-crust pie,
and then I get the pay-off:
My crimper is a sacred object.
I rank it high in holiness.
Perhaps it is as holy as –
please don’t laugh –
my bean pot.
Both were gifts from Hazel,
wonderful, funny, austere, searching Hazel,
a city girl
who had learned to navigate country life
but never lost her style or poise.
I was barely in my twenties, and she was …
well she was just a little older than I am now.
I was in training to marry her long-haired poet son,
but I never did.
I’ve always felt
that he would have married me
for my incestuous pie crust alone.
It looked like his mother’s.
It tasted like his mother’s.
But in the end,
pastry was not enough.
I triumphed in pie crust, but I did not win in love.
I excelled in pastry, but I failed in common virtue.
And now I know,
pastry is never enough.
And yet, there are days …
there are days
when nothing will console me,
nothing will hold me,
nothing will soothe my fretful soul
quite like making a pie.
And as for the boy I did not marry,
Well, that really is another story.
Copyright 2000, Barbara Jean Walsh