I have a strange recipe, left all the way through time from Home Ec class in high school. It's one of the oddities in the history of Southern cuisine, one of the I-Wonder-Who-Had-That-Much-Time-On-Their-Hands moments in recipe creation. And how they thought up THAT sequence of ingredients is beyond my solving.
We seldom ever had a fruit PIE---you dumped a buncha peaches or blackberries or cherries into a dish, slathered it with butter and crust, and called it cobbler. We were all raised making those, so the Pie Lessons were for real pies in a pieplate with a crust or two. And instead of learning mincemeat or black-bottom or sugarcream, so beloved of the Northern States, our teacher Mrs. Parrish broke out all the old Church Supper stand-bys---chess and lemon icebox and banana cream and orange chiffon, as well as the ODD ONE. Every year.
That one was an imaginative combo of Ritz Crackers, lemon juice, sugar, and butter, with a whopping spoonful of cream of tartar to give it that apple zing. Sealed into a double-crust pie, it was boasted to taste just like THE REAL THING. It was called Mock Apple Pie, and the thought of one particular one mocked me for years.
It’s been an eternal blush-provoking memory, that one pie-making class, the one when we all baked one pie from scratch, and so you were allowed to skip whatever-class-was-next after Home Ec, just on that one special day, by Sovereign Decree of the School Board, of which MR. Parrish was chairman. I disgraced myself and every lesson of kitchen technique and protocol I’d learned in all three years.
I made an Orange Chiffon (cue Knox theme music here)---a favorite of my Daddy, and we could take home a slice at lunchtime. My best friend made a two-crust beauty, filled with the above Ritz conglomeration.
Mine was pretty, a lovely tangerine shade standing high in the crust, with nice swoops of the spatula across the top, and little paper-thin twisties of orange slices arranged JUST SO. Hers was a gorgeous creation, a perfectly crimped, stunningly burnished golden brown, cooling in all its crusty perfection. She had made it from the skin in, cutting flour and Crisco, carefully rolling and lifting and cutting and doing those difficult finger-crimps. It was a marvel of piedom, remembered as the paragon of pies, partly because of its great beauty and tantalizing fragrance, and mainly because I practically destroyed it with one touch.
The crust was just the crispest, tenderest, flakiest of all time, with little separations evident just from the crimped edges. But in one spot, there was one little thinner-than-paper, almost-transparent marble-sized bubble of air trapped between two of the layers. My finger just reached OUT, for the most gossamer touch, and shattered a hole the size and import of a moon crater.
I must have been alone, or at least not the center of attention when it happened, but I had hypnotically reached out to that one little irresistible poof of air, secluded under its phyllo-thin roof, and I had RUINED HER PIE. I slunk away, joined several other groups in admiring their efforts, received kudos for my own, and did not return to that fatal pie zone til it had been cut and was being enjoyed by quite a large crowd.
I tried to blend in, and must have, because I mentioned it for the first time last year, and she said she did not remember a thing about it. That's a GOOD friend. I've never made one since, nor have I wanted to...I just have the notebook, with its Jello salads and bean bundles and my orange chiffon, but I cannot bear to look at that page for Mock Apple Pie.
But many years later, some Cosmic Force of Redemption found me in my tiny spot in the Universe, and smiled, through the innocent trust and confidence of a child.
When our Gracie was about five, she and Caro and I had spent the afternoon of Tuesday-before-Thanksgiving making pies---sweet potato and pecan and lemon, and she had punched out little leaves and flowers and all sorts of beautiful decorations. We arrayed them grandly around the margins, crimped them into the edges, and scattered them atop, crusted with sugar.
When we finished the three, there was one of the roll-up crusts left in the box. She said "Let's make a CHERRY pie!!!" I said I don't think we have any cherries; she smiled me the smile we'd reserve for a gently-addled aunt and said, "See, there they are---Cherries!" And they were, right where she pointed---on the crust box. So, as not to undo any child's fancy of the magical power of being in Grandma’s kitchen, I went unhopefully to the pantry, knowing I hadn’t bought a can of pie filling in a coon’s age.
And there, atop everything else, front and center, over the tuna and the Del Monte beans, the crushed pineapple and the Campbell's, with the beam of that 100-watt hitting it like the Gleam of Glory, sat a can of Lucky Leaf, shining in the shelf-light. Not a mote of dust, not a sign of its having lived a moment in that pantry---I'm convinced it sprang to life as I hit the light switch---soft strains of angel-song in the background, and a swell of harps.
And it was a LOVELY pie; we ate every bite for Supper dessert. And I know that I am shriven.