(Happy July Fourth! This was written October, 2008):
I believe in pie.
My favorite food, bar none, is warm, fresh wild blueberry pie a la moded with good vanilla bean ice cream.
But my faith transcends simple taste. When push comes to shove (as it so often does in life), I trust what lies within flaky crust.
I honestly believe that if we all sat down and ate pie together, we’d find common ground. Our nation would be a better place if we made pie, not war. Each of us deserves their piece of the pie, not pie in the sky.
We like to brag on things that are “as American as apple pie,” which is really to say that pie, like all us citizens, emigrated here from elsewhere and found a home.
America’s allies and its enemies also understand pastry in its myriad manifestations. They believe in baklava, empanadas, samosas, b’stilla, hammentaschen, pasties, tarts or quiche. No matter what you call it, pie epitomizes abundance and celebration.
Years ago I believed in pie so deep-dishedly that I took it on as my mission. I yearned to be America’s Pie Guy. I was the first executive director of the American Pie Council, the only organization devoted to saving our national dessert.
I taught pie-making classes, celebrated National Pie Day on Jan. 23, devised pie charts, and judged innumerable contest pies for their crust, their filling and their lovability. I tasted a whole lot of badly made apple pies in my time.
While I certainly talked a good pie, it wasn’t until this summer that I truly understood the meaning of pie. My dear mother, Rose, passed away in July at the age of 91.
One day afterwards, I stood alone in my kitchen. I spied some peaches on the counter. I knew I had some frozen blueberries and blackberries. They needed to become pie. More critically, I desperately needed to make pie. I worked quickly and as always without a recipe or a net.
After I pulled it golden brown from the oven and the pie perfume wafted about me, my eyes abruptly gushed with tears. I would not be able to bring mom a wedge, and enjoy her enjoying it.
Not now. Not ever.
The next day, my 14-year-old son walked in the house and his eyes lit up like Christmas morning.
“Mmmm, pie,” he mumbled. Later, as he grabbed seconds, he added: “Great pie, Dad.”
Ah, pie. It’s a continuum that keeps on giving, as long as we keep making it for those we love. No wonder mathematicians also believe in pi, or 3.14159265358… etc., involving as it does, the perfect geometry of an unbroken circle, the shape of a pie.
Before the greatest generation of pie-makers passes on, I urge everyone to record your family’s most precious oral history. Stand in the kitchen with a flour-sprinkled, pie-baking elder and learn first-hand when pie dough crust “feels” right and is ready to be rolled. No database contains this knowledge. Pay it forward by passing the zen of pie-making (and the rolling pin) to the next generation.
This fall, I will go to Pie Night, which takes place annually in an old Grange hall on the plains. About 60 friends gather and each person — including my son and I, brings a homemade pie. It’s a beautiful sight, all those pies in a line on the folding tables surrounded by pie-eyed people.
Admittedly, my pastry devotion comes at a cost. I suffer from a permanent case of pie thighs, a small price to pay for the healing power of mince, pumpkin, green chile tamale, lemon meringue, sweet potato and chicken pot pie.
I believe I’ll have another slice.
Pie Tips: denverpost.com/2014/01/20/life-with-pie-ten-tips-from-a-pie-expert-on-vercoming-pastry-phobia/
Pie Blog: johnlehndorff.wordpress.com/2015/01/18/why-is-there-no-national-museum-of-pie
CO Pie Shops: colorado.aaa.com/encompass/archives-2014/colorado-first-pie-altitude/