Grief, Like a Woman

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My friend died yesterday.

Now I find myself in the kitchen, ready to bake an apple pie to bring up to her family, which includes her husband, homebound with a debilitating disease.  My tiny and slight friend had cancer, and in spite of dealing with that and caring for her husband, she’d been in a good place.  A few weeks ago, she threw a party to thank all her women friends who gathered around her during the last year, drove her to appointments, brought food, and created a web of support during this challenging time. She called the party, So Far, So Good.

The apples I’ll use are the ones my husband and I gathered from the heritage apple trees at a local land preserve.  My friend served on the local land trust with my husband, and loved this particular preserve.  My husband called her the “welcome naysayer”  on the board.  That’s the kind of person she was: she saw things clearly, and wasn’t afraid to say so.

 I pull out the pie plate, gather the flour and butter.  Then I notice the stovetop is dirty, so I clean it.  The rings around the burners are spotted with black, so I remove them, and grab an SOS pad.  As I replace them, the stainless steel teapot, covered in a film of grease, catches my eye.  I never clean it.  Now I scour it until it shines.  I remember when we had to put down Abby, our first Springer Spaniel.  The vet was kind enough to come here.  It happened so quickly, they go so quickly, you know, once that needle goes in, they’re gone.  And then they took her away, zipped in a black bag.  My husband left for work, and I was suddenly alone.  I called a friend, crying, “I don’t know what to do.  She said, “Clean out a closet.”  And somehow it helped.

So I finish the stove, then tackle the sink and the dish drainer.  Grief, like all strong emotions, carries a physical energy. As my hands move from one task to the next, I think about all the women who cleaned through their grief.  I think about my mother, who was a cleaning fanatic, and how much grief and loss she may have scrubbed through.  Not just the grief of death, but the grief of life itself, the grief of loss and disappointment, of needs unmet and wishes unfulfilled.

Last night I woke up in the middle of the night and for a moment experienced the utter blackness of how death might feel.  I wondered how it was for my friend, in those final moments. I hope she went quickly. 

She’d become so thin.  Snall and slim to begin with, the chemo had worked her down to bones.  When you hugged her, there was nothing to hug, no padding on her skeleton.  But she glowed.  During her last year she grabbed onto life tighter than ever, she appreciated everything. The sickness brought her a radiance that I hadn’t seen in the few years I’d known her.

The cleaning calms me.  I can bake the pie now. My husband will peel the apples we picked.  I will fill that pie with all the love and compassion I can.  As I make it, I will think of my friend.  I will remember her tiny hands that could do anything: knit, sew, garden, edit.  She was both an editor and writer, had a meticulous mind able to deal with intricate detail with an envious ease. She designed her own knitting patterns, edited cookbooks, knit and sewed for the Muppets. At our monthly knitting group, when one of us had a problem with a knitting project, she would say, “Here, let me,” and fix it in a flash.  She was a wizard that way, a wizard with her hands.

My friend was elegant, savvy, and private, with a wide circle of interesting and intelligent friends.  Until she became sick a year ago, she took care of her husband single-handedly.  Last summer, I helped her clean out the garage in the house she had just sold.  Later, we drove over to her friend’s house to see the gardens.  

In the car afterwards, I commented on the friend’s high energy and the lovely design of the gardens.  “She’s one of us,” my friend said, and although I didn’t know exactly what membership in that club meant, I was content to be considered worthy of inclusion.

Welcome to Life With Pie

Because life without pie would not be as sweet, salty, buttery, or  delicious.

                     "We must have pie.  Stress cannot exist in the presence of a pie."                                                                                                                                                                    David Mamet, from his play Boston Marriage, 1999

I love pie.  Thinking about it, preparing, baking it, and, of course, eating it.  It is one of the consistent  pleasures in my life. When I'm not sure what to do with myself, baking a pie, especially with local fruit, never fails to ground me.  And pies are suitable for all occasions, and flexible enough to accommodate many forms.

I came to pie baking as an adult and went through a lot of trial and error before finding my pie-happiness.  I am an ordinary cook with no formal training who has always loved to bake.  On this page I will share my recipes, and some from friends, and tips for making foolproof pies from start to finish.  There is no need for pie fear!

Let's get started.  First, the dreaded crust.  I use an all-butter recipe which has the flavor and consistency of a tart crust.  It rolls out so beautifully that you can roll the crust onto your roller to transfer it to the pie pan, just like they show in the cook books and on the cooking shows. It browns up nicely and tastes heavenly.  I actually prefer it to the traditional crust, as do my taste testers, which have included a Culinary Institute grad. If you prefer a flakier crust, I'll refer you to Michele Stuart's recipe in Perfect Pies, which calls for Crisco.

All Butter Pie Crust

3 cups flour 1 T sugar 1 tsp. salt 1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks) 1 egg 1 T distilled white vinegar 5 T light cream (or half and half) Crust dust (a la Gisene Bullock-Prado) 1 T flour plus 1 T sugar, mixed

In a food processor, pulse flour, sugar and salt until blended. Cut up each stick of butter into about 8 pieces. Add to flour mixture and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. Separate the egg and set aside the egg white. Whisk the yolk and vinegar together. Sprinkle yolk mixture onto flour mixture and pulse. With processor running, slowly pour in light cream, pulsing until mixture holds together.

Note: You do not need a food processor to make this crust.  You can prepare it by hand using either two table knives or a pastry cutter to mix in the butter, then blending the liquids in with a fork, using a light hand.

Divide dough into two balls, one slightly larger than the other. Flatten into disks. (You can freeze the pie crust at this time.) Refrigerate smaller disk while you roll out the larger one into a circle larger than your pie dish. (Ex: roll a 15-inch circle for a 10-inch pie dish.) Roll onto your rolling pin and transfer to pie dish. Brush the inside of the crust (bottom and sides only) with the egg white. Allow it to dry before you fill the crust. Keep in the refrigerator until ready to use. Sprinkle the crust dust on the bottom of the crust before you fill it.

If you're preparing a lattice top pie, roll the smaller disk out into a rectangle to be cut into 10 strips.  If you're preparing a covered pie, roll the disk into a round a little larger than the top of the pie dish.