Let me start by saying I don’t like pie. I like the idea of pie just fine, in fact I really love the idea of pie. I also like the making of the pie. It is the eating of the pie portion of the pie experience that I don’t enjoy so much. Perhaps it is genetic; my paternal grandmother is a baker of pie but not an eater of pie. I suspect that geneticists would tell me I’m crazy and that one’s enjoyment of pie has nothing to do with inherited traits, but it’s a kind of funny coincidence. Also, I’m built a lot her and that we do know is inherited.
So, focusing on the theme of today’s story: the dislike of pie, or the, if you will, conflicted relationship I have with our traditional American food. As I type I have sitting on my counter a beautiful apple pie (my daughter and I spent an hour carefully cutting out leaf shapes for the top), and in my refrigerator a sour-cream pumpkin pie with graham cracker crust (I know, less traditional yet oh so California). And I can unequivocally say I thoroughly enjoyed making both of these pies. Under normal circumstances I cook pretty much only what I like. I am the primary cook in the house and I don’t have particularly odd taste so most of the time that works out well for the people I live with. Now that we get a weekly farm box from my son’s school there are more frequently times that I cook something I have never heard of and that I may not like, but we are not adverse to an adventure here and then we can speak with knowledge about what we do and do not like.
I don’t like pie. Perhaps you heard? I have spent a great deal of time, though it probably feels like more time than it really is, thinking about why I don’t like pie. And I have taken many bites of pie because it looks so darn good only to say, “nope, still don’t like it.” I do like fruit, though generally unsweetened, unless I am making sorbet in which case a little sweetener is nice, and I do like pie crust. I also like savory pies which I probably should have mentioned at the outset. I like fruit galettes in the late summer and fall (yes it is seasonally specific) which have a lot in common with a pie. But there is just something about fruit pie to which my body says “no thank you.”
Why then do I make pie? Well the obvious and easy answer is because it goes well with the meal, it is the traditional and expected accompaniment to the turkey, stuffing, mashed potato feast we all so enjoy. And then there are my additional answers as you dig deeper, it is a nice showcase for the seasonal fruit, and frankly a way to use that fruit before we bred apples to fall from the tree in the form of sugar cubes (they used to be nasty, sour little things that were good for turning into cider or required copious amounts of sweetener to make palatable). Pies could be made and kept in the larder for days on end, they were easily transportable and fairly cheap to make (a little flour and some kind of shortening, read fat, and whatever bits of this and that you had laying about the house that might be edible – or…remember sweeney todd – oh dear). They are a very flexible food, in many ways the first fast food: warmed, cold, sweet, savory, breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack. The pie is a beautifully American symbol: it can be so very many things, look so many different ways, be composed of an unlimited variety of ingredients, it can be elegant or simple, and it can be served at the finest table or sustain us in the most humble home. I make pie because I am an American, my ancestors were making some of the very first pies in this land; I make pie because my family likes pie and I like them; I make pie because I like to bake; I make pie today because I can.
And on this Thanksgiving Day we will close by acknowledging the lesson we can learn in the simple pie: I am grateful for the people that I love and for whom I can deliver pleasure in the form of a pie; I am grateful for the bounty of food with which I am blessed, that I have the ability to make this food; I am grateful for the history of my people and this place, I am and we are not alone in this journey; I am grateful for pie.