Averyell A. Kessler
Saturday was apple pie day at our house on Laurel Street. It was an essential part of my parents’ weekend traditions that welcomed little variation. On Friday night they played bridge with our neighbors, passing around bowls of mixed nuts, nibbling multicolored mints, and sipping Jack Daniels and coke in tall glasses covered with starburst patterns. My friend Martha and I played chutes and ladders in front of a blinking black and white Philco, cut out paper dolls, and clumped around in our mother’s high heels. Monday morning was a thousand miles away, as was Power School.
When the festivities ended and Saturday arrived, Mama lifted her Kenwood electric mixer from a high shelf and placed it on the counter next to our gigantic Chambers gas stove. Time for the apple pie ceremony. I’m sure delicious pies were available at the Jitney, but not as much fun. Mama and I put on matching aprons, while she gave the usual blood and guts lecture about keeping my fingers away from the mixer. Then she opened her baking bible, aka Joy of Cooking, took out a sack of flour and unwrapped two sticks of butter. Although an abundance of Blue Bonnet margarine rested in the fridge, Mama rejected it.
“I’m not about to make a pie with margarine,” she declared. “This family is worth the real thing.” She considered Crisco a sin against mankind as far as pie baking was concerned.
I stood back as the mixer roared, and the beaters flew like buzz saws until a sticky blob of pie crust dough formed. We were on the way. After we rolled out the crust, pressed it into a pie pan and sliced up the apples, we almost finished. As a final blessing, Mama sprinkled a blizzard of sugar over the top crust and added chunks of butter. At that, a four thousand calorie wonder was smiling and ready for the oven.
“Can I make a pie too?” I asked. I’d scraped together bits of leftover dough and squeezed them into an oddly colored lump.
“What kind?” Mama asked. “The apples are gone.”
“It’s a surprise,” I answered. She helped me press my dough into an empty chicken pot pie pan and left me alone in the kitchen. “Don’t touch the mixer,” she added, as a final warning.
What to do, what to do? Certainly not copycat apple pie. I decided to be inventive. I filled the pie crust with a combination of Sun Maid raisins and Aunt Jemima’s pan cake syrup. As an extra touch, I added a spoonful bridge-game Jack Daniels as well as a handful of leftover peanuts and a lump of butter. Voila! An entirely new creation appeared. Mama helped me put my mystery pie in the oven without asking too many questions. “We’ll taste it tonight,” she said.
I was convinced that Betty Crocker would be proud. The Ladies Home Journal might call for the recipe. Fame awaited and gave force to my creative genes. I imagined the Sun Maid raisin lady and Aunt Jemima waltzing around our kitchen table, while Jack Daniels – whoever he was – picked out a rollicking tune on his fiddle.
After supper, reality crashed in. Mama placed her pie on the table first. It was a beauty, golden, crisp, and redolent with sugar and simmering apples. Mine came next, a small round brick, sunken in the middle and emitting a strong aroma of burnt sugar and rubbing alcohol. A suspicious brown liquid oozed from the bottom. My shoulders fell; I bit my tongue. Disaster said hello. That’s when Daddy put on his hero hat.
“Well, what is this?” he asked.
“Raisin pie,” I sniveled. The crust resembled worn newspaper from the pantry’s bottom shelf.
“I don’t believe I’ve ever tasted raisin pie before,” he continued.
“I made it up,” I whispered, wondering if I’d have to sleep in the garage that night.
‘I’ll try that first,” Daddy said. When he sliced into the pie, a gush sodden raisins and limp peanuts flooded his plate. It looked like something the dog coughed up. He sucked in breath and picked up a spoon.
“Ummmm,” he said. His eyes watered a bit, and the corners of his lips twitched. Mama poured him another glass of iced tea, as well as a cup of black coffee. Daddy’s nose was tomato red, but he swallowed hard and kept going.
“Want a bite?” he asked me. The small bite I tasted was enough to start a coughing fit that lasted over an hour. I would have preferred a stiff dose of Benadryl, Creomulsion, or even a piece of bitter Horehound candy. Somehow, my father ate it all. He retreated to the bathroom shortly after supper. I don’t know what happened, but I saw an empty bottle of Listerine in the waste basket the next morning.
I’ve tasted many culinary experiments in my life, including cucumber Portuguese, an unfortunate feature in the Jackson Cookbook, watered-down gumbo with chunks of frozen okra tossed in, a tasteless mélange of multicolored bell peppers, and raw clams on ice in a fancy NCY restaurant. I’ve taken a bite of BBQ chitterlings as well as Jamaican breadfruit boiled in a tin can over an open fire. I’ve sipped peach moonshine from a still behind a Virginia farmhouse; also, a shot of Everclear and grape Kool-Aid at a college bar in New Orleans. I’ve had a dish of percebes (gooseneck barnacles with lemon) and beef tongue, poke* and tomato salad at a remote and disreputable restaurant. However, nothing came close to the horror of raisin pie.
I’m certain my father received many stars in his crown after the raisin pie episode. He was the ultimate good sport with an invisible blue ribbon pinned to his chest and a feather in his hero hat. The next evening, he dove into Mama’s apple pie like a starving mongrel and devoured half of it. We never mentioned raisin pie again.
- This was not oriental poke, but authentic southern pokeweed, a la Elvis’ Poke Salad Annie!