Failings with pie, et. al - Beside the Point


It's late Saturday night and I'm stuck fighting that anxiety of the darkness... again.

It's been happening for about nine months now and I'm trying to find something with which to anchor myself. This keyboard seems to be a regular therapy. Sorry, but I'm on the couch and you all get to be therapist, because I haven't found any others I can relate to.

It's weird really. I'm terrible in the one-on-ones, but I have less of a problem dumping on all of you.

As I've said for years, it takes a certain courage to throw a bunch of words together and let other people take it in. I fear that people get 10 or 20 words in, crinkle up their faces in a bit of irritation, and swipe away.

This may be one of those Sunday mornings.

I teased it a little last week, but I kinda like pie. I've been baking more and trying different things. Tonight was caramel apple. It was too runny and that bothers me because the thing about pie is... it's defined. Well... it's supposed to be.

It has a crust and ends right there. It's not something taken out of the middle or scooped from a dish.

I just haven't figured it out yet. And I'm not looking for tips. It'll happen and the joy will be ridiculous.

"Use a damn recipe," Lee shouts across the kitchen with a laugh as I lean against the kitchen counter with arms folded contemplating the warm apple juice that soggied up my crust. (No, that's not a word, but 'soggied' is the grammatical penalty I pay for not using a recipe)

Pie is defined. I don't really like cake. It has no boundaries. It's loose and dry most of the time, and it's 6-to-5 and pick 'em if the frosting is too heavy or too light. That fondant stuff should be saved for the carpenters.

The dryness of cake mandates ice cream. Think about it. You have to have ice cream to help the cake go down. Or milk... but it just doesn't happen on its own.

Now pie....pie hits all your taste buds if it's done right. The sweetness and warmth and acidity, lays on the sides of your tongue and the back recesses of your taste buds. And there's never any left over. You always finish a pie.

How many times have you thrown out half a cake? You do that because deep down, in the dark recesses of places you don't like to talk about... you only like it a little....don't you. Think about it.

But pie, you can do that in the morning with a cup of coffee because it's eerily similar to pastry. Lunch - a ham and cheese sandwich, some chips, and a glass of milk... oh, and that last slice of cherry pie.

So I've tried lots lately. Strawberry. Blueberry-lemon. A gorgeous bourbon peach/cream thing with a sugared crust. Yeah...that thing was the stuff of literature right there, but it was runny, and soggied up my damn crust. The flavor was on point, but I can't get the density right.

Now when all is said and done, it all gets chewed up and taken down the gullet like everything else, so density isn't necessarily a priority when it comes to flavor profile, but I want it to hold up to its reputation... ya know?

And how many times do you get a piece of cake at the lunch counter. No...It's the pie in the dessert display that grabs your attention. Oh sure, sometimes the big slice of the Death by Chocolate makes you think about it. But then you realize that at least the pie has fruit... so there's that.

Then you see that slender cut of strawberry-rhubarb with a full crust. Not any of that lattice crap, might as well call a lattice pie a crumble. I mean, one gentle downward push with a side of a small fork and you've got a crumble.

Anyway, I'm a pie guy. Lee and Taylor enjoy eating them, but I think they get more enjoyment out of watching me struggle with density and tilt their heads with a smile at my stubbornness about using a recipe.

My great-grandmother Margaret never used recipes... at least when I was around.

She was a beautiful woman that carried a tattered rag around in her brazier she used to wipe the sweat from her forehead throughout the day, well into her 70s. She always had baked sweets for us, but then made us eat asparagus and red apples and other healthy options.

She taught us the best decorations for Christmas trees were made in the kitchen.

On Sundays she sent her granddaughters out to the "Colonel's" for a large chicken lunch after church. She was a warrior and died at the age of 90 when I was 22. I thought I knew heartbreak then.

I hope she's holding hands with my daughter as the two laugh at my struggle with the perfect pie.

In my faith, they are together with Lee's mom Sam, my dads. and the whole group cheering me on, knowing I'm scrambling day-to-day to find things to ease the pain.

There's no recipe here.

Speaking of pie, with the Community Thanksgiving dinner succumbing to the ravage of the coronavirus, Hy-Vee announced Friday the Fort Madison store will be donating 50 Thanksgiving meals to the Food Pantry. With Iowa Fertilizer taking literally a ton of food over there, they're stocked pretty well. No one should go hungry on Thanksgiving... But that's Beside the Point.

Chuck Vandenberg is the editor and co-owner of the Pen City Current and can be reached by email at

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