Thanksgiving Pie War, Part 4
By Justin Isherwood
Enter the warriors, the priestesses of pie, my mom’s sisters, her mother, her mother-in-law, the sisters-in-law, this living gaggle all who had been denied their sacred and zealous access to the Thanksgiving table. To the end resided an exceeding energy to prove themselves but worthy of gastronomic ascension. To include any residual sibling rivalry and sisterly meanness, all now inculcate to this pie course, this the conclusion of Thanksgiving. To call it war is on first glance an extravagant boast as none were actually killed or maimed, wounded perhaps, not maimed. The by-stander knows a lemon meringue pie well done can spill shrapnel ready as a hand grenade. The accented tart that penetrates the cheek and brings tear to the eyes only relieved at the balm of meringue. As in war, the pie course wasn’t about playing fair.
Pie war at Thanksgiving had its spies, dirty tricks, its acts of sabotage. However there were some rules. At the outset all the pies were arrayed on the table, intact. The pies to be viewed in the round before sabered to their death, a most delicate art form. Never mind no major art museum has hosted a pie exhibition, this omission is sadly arrogant of this American icon.
The sublimest aspect about pie as art is in the manner of materials, both sundry and sublime, as pie can be rendered from most vegetation, those edible at the outset and those not. Here the redoubtable American virtue that if universally deployed might rid the planet of vermin, weeds and other uncouth things. Rhubarb is universally known as innately inedible, never mind in some jurisdictions this vegetation is yet called pie plant. The tomato is a cross-dressing fruit as vegetable, not ordinarily used as pie filling, yet green tomato pie exists and thrives.
Here was the contest, to include all the war powers of the female sisterhood, a culinary zeitgeist caustically deployed on pie. Pie as the 3.1416 crust of something. Edible in theory.
There stood the enshrined pies, as we trooped back into the house, this host of the XY chromosome about to meet their maker, of pie, a dozen plus on the table, the exultant art of our own XX contingent. At least a dozen, pies. This the required viewing. An interval of stillness applied, just like a funeral, there too the dead are gussied up in perfect embalmed majesty, the short moment before worms had their chance. The same approximate fate as pie.
No sooner was this viewing observed than these magnificent orbs, these objects d’art were bled, sacrificed and slain, diced and sliced, their halos shattered, the good china pie dishes passed around, silver forks followed.
Aunt Eileen, priestess of lemon meringue. What nice things to be said about lemon meringue pie, a nearly toxic fruit reduced to pie. The secret is the delicacy of the balance between the lemon, noted as toxic, and the amount of sugar, the kind of sugar, the degree of cornstarch, and whether the salt is optioned as sea salt or from the deer lick. As for the meringue, it’s just egg white beaten to death. A simple pie, except where sibling rivalry occurs. Where pie war thrives. Eileen’s lemon meringue replaced the sugar with honey, more than a somatic difference. You don’t really chew lemon meringue pie as absorb it. The meringue standing like a mountain glacier over the jaundiced subterrain. Seems she grated the lemon peel. Her lemon pie was a contradiction of nature, the sour and sweet comingled. It was electric shock therapy via a fork. Our grandfather said it reminded him of Irish whisky, the chance to taste both ends of the dragon at once.
Pecan Pie, this Aunt Audrey. The one who on the face of the raw evidence couldn’t heat water. Turns out she could scale a pecan tree. Actually it was better than good. The syrup included crushed pecans and whole pecans. To the end a good pecan pie can out-perform any candy bar. If there is a world standard for delicious, that sultry kind of adulterous delicious, it is pecan pie. The Bible got it wrong, when Eve seduced Adam, it wasn’t by apple it was pecan pie.
Cherry pie, Aunt Grace’s forte. Our grandfather saying her cherry pie was as close as Grace would ever get to carnal disclosure. If so it was still good pie, it bled out on the plate like a streetcar accident just as a cherry pie is supposed to do. It caused every man and child in that circle to lick their plate. Certain sign of a good pie.
Aunt Madge was the classic pumpkin. To recall that Aunt Madge was an out-of-the-box cook. She was the aunt a kid could look at and be well-nourished. Surprisingly Aunt Madge could honorably slay a pumpkin. To suspect it was squash instead of pumpkin, a touch of maple syrup, an extra charge of cinnamon, good pie. The family legend is that on her death bed she confessed her secret, the day before to soak the squash in dark bay rum.
Aunt Marion, the sister-in-law, won’t you know, a quiche. Grandfather grumbled that quiche isn’t a real pie because you can’t put ice cream on it. It was eggs and onion, generous with green pepper, we think eggplant and horseradish were involved. Grandfather was right, a quiche won’t suffer ice cream. Still, it was good. Aunt Marion all the while smiling her superior, it’s-honestly-good-for-you grin, and her sisters had another reason to hate her guts.
Marjorie, the chain smoking proto-hippy, true blue apple pie. Classic cinnamon, double dose, triple dose probably, caught at a point of astringency that when double-clutched like any good four-speed transmission with a whammy of ice cream so mellowed the pie, it less eaten as absorbed. Collectively we believed Marjorie inhaled, because you could feel that pie flow through your gizzard, this as our grandfather said. Never mind people don’t have gizzards. To think it was the addition of applesauce and caramel as turned the trick. Aunt Marjorie probably wasn’t any better a cook for this as she was a scratch golfer, but she did slay a good apple pie at Thanksgiving.
Our mom of course did the deed, that pie of earnest well-proven ill-repute, meaning the mincemeat. Rumored the plural form of mouse. Its ingredients never known, uranium 238 probably, milkweed probably, field corn, something dead, road kill not out of the question, carrots. Funny thing is, it didn’t matter, good pie.
With the pies demolished, the crumbs consumed, the table fell eerily quiet as the last remnants were forked to some portal. We again toxically full.
Christian orthodoxy holds a vision of heaven with pearly gates, colonnaded mansions, gold paved streets, piped-in music, t-shirt weather, prayer circles. I have often wondered why a soul should pray in heaven. At that farmhouse Thanksgiving was another vision of paradise, its place around a well-fed table, and a teeming and screaming, alternately hating and loving rivalry. I have come to think heaven, the real one, is not a perfect place, but surely it comes with pie.