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Pie in the Sky but Not on the Plate

A friend, just days after a knee replacement, wistfully mentioned craving a slice of custard pie. How hard could it be? I promised to make and deliver one within days. For Mother, baking was effortless, and her family regularly feasted on pies fresh from the oven that morning. Somehow, she kept basic ingredients in ample supply: eggs, milk, shortening, sugar, and flour. One of her many specialties was custard pie.

Knowing I had better figure out what was required in order to keep my promise, I consulted The Joy of Cooking. Every topic is preceded by a few paragraphs giving basics and, I eagerly read “About Pies.” The familiar words were as comforting as if Mom was speaking: cinnamon, nutmeg scalded milk, vanilla, blind baking, beans, pie weights, crust shrinkage, oven temperature, timing, on and on. I was primed and pumped. It was time to get to work. I set my oven temperature and began assembling ingredients.

The pie crust question was already settled at the supermarket where pre-made crusts abound. Half the battle was already won. Par-baking the crust, I noted that walls of it had partially collapsed forming a saggy, irregular, fluted pattern. I looked in disbelief but didn’t break stride and quickly poured the custard mixture into the shell pretending I didn’t see it seep under the bottom crust. Reminding myself that I was the daughter of a truly skilled baker, I popped the pie into the oven. As it baked, the crust darkened while the filling remained jiggly in places and liquid in the middle. I added more time and finally removed my pie to cool on the counter top.

My wise husband's take on things is predictable. He stands back and silently observes. You can almost see images of delicious pies hovering over his head since the aroma had teased him for over an hour. I felt awful to disappoint my friend whose one simple request was a slice of custard pie. Admitting defeat, I sadly cut into the custardy mess but lifting it out was another matter. It was “super glued” to the pie plate. My husband dug out a reasonably recognizable but sad slice and ate around the bad spots.

The season of pies is upon us. Is there a Thanksgiving table anywhere that lacks pie? There are unlimited choices of flavors and ways to effortlessly bring tasty, respectable pies to the table. If you don’t feel like baking, you can get them ready to serve. Custard pie, however, isn’t commonly available. Today, my Mother could get rich sharing her pie-making secrets or by selling her delicious, silky creations.

What are your family’s favorites, who brings the pies, are other desserts commonly served at your house on Thanksgiving? Tell all in a journal. Do it while the information is still at hand. Do it as if your value as a human being is at stake. I have a personal challenge to master making a custard pie. It’s as though my worth is measured in flour, sugar, and eggs. Write it all down, the successes and most definitely the failures. Holiday memories will be treasured IF you write them down as unique and wonderful as that group you call family.

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