Apple, Cherry, Chocolate, Banana Cream . . .
Can she make a cherry pie, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?
Can she make a cherry pie, Charming Billy?
She can make a cherry pie, Quick as a cat can wink an eye,
She's a young thing And cannot leave her mother.
She may dress in silk, she may dress in satin,
She may know the languages, Greek and Latin,
She may know fine art, she may love and sigh;
But she's no good if she can't make pie.
The first bit of verse is a song from my childhood, in which Billy Boy exults in the charms of his wife. In some areas she seems to be lacking, but she bats a thousand where it counts. She can make a cherry pie. The second four lines introduced the pie section of the Covenant Women's cookbook in Ceresco, Nebraska, back in the sixties. We didn't have to be politically correct yet, so even the women could be sexist about women. The poem sounded good to me, but then I am the son of an excellent pie maker, my wife is one and the daughter of one, then became the mother of two. Men blessed with such gifts exercised around him are not as common as they used to be.
I realized that my series of essays on favorite things would be lacking to the point of distortion if I didn't write about pie—almost any kind that doesn't have raisins in it.
I am sure there are people who don't care for pie, and others who don't dare eat it for various health reasons. Maybe they don't miss it, but I would. I had to give up nuts a few years ago for reasons I will leave to your imagination, and I bore that like a soldier; but giving up pie would be sacrifice of a higher order.
Restaurant pie has gotten better than it was when I was young, but then I don't get as much chance to compare it with homemade as I did then, and I eat out more frequently. F or a few years during my boyhood my mother had access to plenty of eggs and cream. We couldn't afford "boughten" cookies too often, so we endured this privation by eating our mother's pie. But guess which we liked the most, cookies from the store, or homemade pie.
I like some pie better than others, though. Last night I did a little research for this essay by downing a slice of French Silk pie at Perkins' Restaurant. If I were a true researcher, I would have worked my way through Perkins' entire pie menu—but then I would have missed my chance to order French Silk every time!
If you don't know what I am talking about, it is a chocolate pie—but that is something like saying a diamond is just a hunk of coal under pressure.
Some might have given up in disgust on this essay; is this middle-brow glutton the amateur metaphysician who wrote about the search for meaning in a world that doesn't want to bother with it? The very same.
Like all things of quality, pie has a point. Good pie is an achievement, not an accident. It is an intuitive skill as much as a learned one. On a humbler level, I cannot make pie, but I can pop corn. I don't understand why people say I can pop corn better than they do, but if they believe it I am willing to. But if you think that anybody can pop corn, you probably think that anybody can make pie: "All you have to do is follow the recipe." There is more to almost anything than that line implies. There is no "all you have to do." There is something in addition, that cannot be precisely explained: when to stop kneading; exactly how much sugar for this batch of apples, and so on.
Finally, and before this piece gets longer than anybody wants, it's important to note that pie is unnecessary. It is not a convenient way to prepare food, or to serve it. It is loaded with empty calories. But it is the perfect food for celebration precisely because it is not necessary. It is eaten to be enjoyed, preferably in the present of friends and a pot of excellent coffee. Of course you don't need it! You want it because you enjoy it, and that is just fine.