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Crusty Thoughts on Old-Fashioned Pies

BEING happily stupid, I am frequently baffled, and I'm disturbed about the cosmos. Some astronomer, I read, says the dark matter in distant galaxies is something like a pie; the crust is there, all right, but nobody knows if the inside is apple, blueberry, or some other filling. He seems to feel the gamma-ray emissions are inconclusive. I do hope so. Upon hearing this, for some reason I thought fondly of Louis, my Athenian friend who was partner in the inexpensive restaurant that fed me through college. Louis cooked, served, tried to teach modern Greek to anybody who would listen, washed dishes, and took our money at the cash register. He was the best pie maker this side of heaven. He was a kind and friendly man, and as he had been a barber back in Greece, he sometimes cut our hair if we got too fuzzy-wuzzy and didn't have a quarter for down-street.

Louis opened the restaurant and baked his pies before the first breakfast customer. I often stood by and watched him, waiting for the oatmeal porridge to mature. His custard pies were great fun. He'd shape the pastry in the pan, pour in a small amount of custard mix, and let the oven heat ``set'' the pastry and the mix. Then, at intervals, he'd pour in more custard, building the pie up to almost three inches. This little trick prevented any ``running out,'' and as custard never hurt custard pie, Louis had a deserved reputation all over the county. Regulars knew the kinds of pie Louis kept available, but a transient would have to ask.

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Louis would pick up the dishes and say, ``You want pie?'' The transient would ask, ``What kinds of pie do you have?'' Louis would set the empty dishes back on the table, and counting from his thumb would tick off the kinds: ``Opple, pineopple, custid, bustum-krim, and kek.'' We crazy students at our corner table would tick them off with him, and Louis would smile like a Sophocles thanking his chorus. Louis also made fine cakes.

As noon approached, Harry, a Thessalonian and partner, would appear, and he and Louis would work together through supper. Then Harry would close up at midnight. As the place was noted for late-evening hot-chicken sandwiches, Harry would roast the birds in the afternoon lull, which means Louis always had plenty of chicken fat to anoint his pie pastry. To each pound of old-time lard (then available at any store), Louis would add five cups of flour and one tablespoon of salt. Then he'd dump in enough whole milk to make the mixture agreeable, and two tablespoons of chicken fat. He'd mix as many batches each morning as he needed, but an excess would keep if refrigerated. Some mornings he'd make a couple of sheets of turnovers, too.

This astronomer doesn't say what kind of pie crust he'd been finding in the outermost galaxies, but if he's focused on heaven - he's found Louis! Considering what is available these days for pie fillings, Louis may well be working short. He peeled his own apples back then. Where today does one find Baldwins, Kings, Northern Spies, Bellflowers, and such pie timber? Apple pies worth anybody's time are never adorned with vulcanized rubber cheese and cotton-batting ice cream, artificially flavored. What did become of chicken fat?

Years ago I was witness to a fine pie remark. I believe my recollection is a good answer to any astronomer who has found pie on Galaxy Omega. Is it maybe a cross-bar raspberry? The remark was made by Maxine Herling who was a member of the Sou-west Bend Grange Supper Committee, which managed the annual Harvest Supper. The Patrons of Husbandry, which was the Grange before feminism appeared, always made a big thing of the harvest. Toiling in the fields, the members awaited the just reward of the faithful after a hot summer, and the committee knew not the word ``stint.'' It was well-known that the pie table had every kind you might call for. And so it happened that a stranger from New York City was in the vicinity on the right day, and somebody invited him to join the Grangers at their festival. He got to thinking about this ``any kind of pie you want,'' and he meditated on what would be the most improbable kind of pie to ask for. So when Maxine came to remove his dishes after the meal, she leaned over his shoulder and inquired, as she did of one and all, ``And what kind of pie will you have?''

The gentleman was ready for her. ``Yes,'' he said. ``May I have some cranberry and apricot?''

Maxine said, ``Certainly, sir - open, shut, or cross-barred?''

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