The mystery of pie

Willem_Claeszoon_Heda,_Natura_morta_con_brocca_d'argento_e_torta,_1645-325px

Willem Claeszoon Heda, Still life with silver ewer and pie

A single-crusted pie pronounces its identity at a glance. Immodestly uncovered, it is open to any gaze. Whether boasting berries or garnished with cream, whether lined with graham cracker crumbs or a pale pastry, its is no subtle ploy.

It begs for the knife, the server, the plate, the fork, the mouth. It wants nothing but to be eaten, and the pie plate to be scattered with a few last crumbs for scavengers.

A double-crusted pie, though—what wonders hide beneath its golden upper crust? What potential awaits? What dinner or desert signifies? Modestly draped and carefully sealed, a lone slender slit hints at its filled glory.

Perhaps a fortunate fragrance will waft from pie to nose, offering olfactory fulfillment.

Perhaps the smell of savory sage promises poultry—a soothing, homey mix of meat and sauce and vegetables. It is a remedy for sadness, an invitation to stay cozy indoors.

Perhaps the gentle double-punch of woody cinnamon and budding cloves portends sugar-sweetened apples. The provenance of the apples is the pair of trees in the backyard; they offer their abundance as the leaves around them flame and fall.

Perhaps, instead, not smell but sight suggests what mind and mouth ought anticipate.

A dark dribble suggests steak—and ale for the cooking and the drinking. The sweet tang of sauteed onions and garlic fills out the flavor.

A trickle of indigo betrays blueberries. Ah, blueberries! Finally, after the long winter wait for their fresh-bursting flavor. The farm is only a short drive away, and the blueberry bushes stand row upon row. Wildly fecund, they give generously to both sparrow and picker.

Perhaps (again) the roundness of pies speaks to their infinite perfections. What culinary rule, after all, requires they inhabit a circular dish? Cobblers, crumbles, casseroles, cakes—round, rectangular, or square—no matter. Their substance is the same, whatever their shape.

Not so with pies. The plate that contains them also bears their name. Is the essence of a pie, then, bound up in its roundness?

How does one open the mystery? It offers no single starting point for slicing. Turn the plate and turn it again. Seek some slightly more pronounced flute in the crust, and see what success it offers the knife.

The first slice is always the most difficult to extricate. It is sloppy, usually, and set aside for the server’s serving. Still, sweet or savory, it satisfies.

Going back to the beginning, consider the crust. Finicky pastry! Keep it anything but cold, and it pulls apart, torn between counter and rolling pin. Over-handle it at your peril—its tenderness quickly turns tough. Fail to encase its edges in foil, and it burns. It tends toward chaos. Coax it carefully toward perfection.

In my beginning is my end, said the poet, and in my end is my beginning. So for the pie. Created for consumption, its mystery is fleeting, forgotten by the forkful.

 

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