Evolution of a pie


by the light of a single yellow shop bulb

A few days yonder I had the honor of baking summer’s last blackberry pie. It took all my courage to keep the hungry toddlers at bay, and to keep enough berries in the basket for a whole pie, but we persevered. And in honor of a great summer for blackberries I decided to make a lattice crust, which takes a bit more time than rolling out a full crust and cutting some slits in the middle.

That got me thinking about time devoted to this creation, and all the extra minutes started to add up.

In 2008, in lieu of starting our family in the way that we wanted, we turned our full energies on something we thought we could control: the garden. We ordered 200 1-year-old berry plants that arrived on our doorstep in a very delicate state. There was a very strict time table for receiving the well-traveled berries, soaking the roots and getting them in the ground, so we found ourselves planting 200 berries in the freezing rain. When it got dark, we kept planting. When it got pitch dark, we stayed up in the field until we were finished. Because you can do things like this before you have small children.

Then came the seasons of weeding and tending to the plants. Something like 198 of those berry plants survived. That is pretty amazing, considering our mortality record around here. Finally, after summers spent tearing out wild blackberries, thistles and ragweed that tried to take root in their path, the berries started to produce enough crop to eat. And then we got some goats.

We waited for Rose the Goat to give birth, and then eventually I started collecting her milk and skimming a quarter-inch of cream off the tops of the Mason jars in the fridge until I got a pint or so to make some butter. I stood with the hand mixer for 30 minutes, waiting on the lumps of cream to separate from the buttermilk and adhere into a small pad at the center of the bowl. After it was rinsed and cooled, I cut in the dry ingredients and let it sit in the fridge overnight in little balls of dough.

So when I rolled it out, I thought I might as well weave some strips of dough over the top to dress it up a little.

All this for one pie.

Imagine if we had milled our own flour or used our own honey instead of sugar. Imagine if we didn’t have an electric blender and had to use a churn. Or if we had raised the berries from seed instead of buying them already established.

The hours, days, weeks, years that it took to make this pie felt heavy. I brushed some milk on the crust, added a sprinkle of cinnamon (that I bought from the store! I have no idea how I would produce this otherwise!) and placed it the oven with a reverence that I never felt for a pie before. Reverence most pies probably always have deserved. And then suddenly I panicked because 5 or 10 minutes too long could ruin the entire history of this pie. Mr. Seth Teter started in about the centuries it took to decompose enough organic material for the soil to support the berries and I began to lose my mind a little.

It only made sense, then, that when the pie came out of the oven, we devoured the whole thing in about 8 minutes. Even the most profound reverence can crumble at the sight of blackberry pie.

There are two kinds of people in this world: Those who recoil at the evolution of a pie, and those who find religion in it. As for me, I’m in a place where I the grocer’s freezer seems like something close to an abomination. I’m sure at some point soon I’ll be back to buying from somebody else’s freezer. But I’m glad for the time spent away. ;)

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