Pie as Antidote

A secret writer from a pragmatic blue-collar neighborhood, Marie White Small brings her skills as a florist, waitress, antiquarian bookseller, bookbinder, cook, and pie-baker to the page.

shutterstock_100022297In my coming up years, no matter the occasion or the event: joy-filled parties to graduations, national holidays, and even a few birthdays—there were pies. There were always pies at gatherings before and after funerals—my mother’s pies, my grandmother’s pies, pies made by aunts and sisters, and new to the family daughters-in-law.

In fact, my first marriage ended with a pie dropped onto the floor. I scooped it up and served it anyway. It was a dour Thanksgiving; my husband would be moving out the next day. Like any omen, good or ill, ten years later I joined my soon-to-be new husband and his family for Thanksgiving dinner. I brought a mile-high apple pie, which my future mother-in-law dropped onto the floor.

shutterstock_99664604I laughed and laughed—bookended incidents and the irony of it all. We scooped it up and served the damn thing.

Pie was my challenge, my nemesis.

My mother was an excellent cook and baker in almost every way, but her pies were like most pies made by 1950s homemakers, a crust made of vegetable shortening, bleached wheat flour, a pinch of salt, and ice water, and then bursting with store-bought pie filling—unless it was summer or apple season, with readily available berries and fresh fruit. The filling was always tasty, sweet, and spiced just right, but the crust was mostly tasteless, merely a vehicle for the main attraction.

My grandmother’s pies were another story. Her piecrusts had more flavor and were tenderer and more flakey. I wanted to know why? Claire Elizabeth Agatha Barry White, my Dad’s mother, was a simple cook with a limited repertoire, but like her mother, my Great Grandmother Barry, Claire was an excellent baker. She took me under her wing and taught me to make piecrust her way: a measure of flour, half