Making pie

by Carl Dyke

My grandma was famous for her pies. (I don’t actually know what that means. I never saw her on tv or anything, but there was a family lore to this effect.) I got to eat Grammy’s pies from time to time, and they really were yummy. She was from New England, which helps except when it doesn’t. And she had the knack of crafting a richly fatty crust that was still light and flaky, and she selected and prepared the fruit so it popped and snapped and crisped and smoothed to the tooth as it should, and she deftly balanced sweet and tart for a fulfilling burst of contrasting taste and texture sensation in every bite.

Mom was (is) also great at pie, so I grew up with pie as a kind of family heritage. Sometime in my teens, I don’t remember the details, I decided this meant I ought to figure out how to make pie. And so I did a little asking, and a little watching, and a little noticing, and a lot of reading in the canonical texts (especially Fannie Farmer, I believe), and I baked a pie. And then a few more, but they’re not the story. Like a lot of things I learn I sort of did pie and then was done with doing pie.

My memory of all of this is just barely a few lines of smeary text crammed down into a dusty filebox back in the musty storage barn of my noodle, but as I recall and therefore assert, that first pie was not at all bad. “Edible,” as we say in my family. Because making a pie that’s not half bad is well within the reach of someone who’s been around good pies and knows how to ask, and watch, and notice, and read.

Of course my first pie was not up to the standards of the family masters. I don’t suppose many pies in the world were, or are, up to those standards. I’ve had a lot of pie over the years, including some very good pie and some pie made by people whose business it is to make pie, and I’ve never had anything better than Mom’s or Grammy’s pie. How could my first pie have been that good? It couldn’t. But it was fine, a perfectly decent and edible pie.

Sometimes I’ll get into discussions at school, or in the world, about what it means to learn and to know things. You’d think we could just agree that knowing things is cool, and that asking is helpful, and watching is helpful, and noticing is helpful, and reading is helpful, and experience is helpful, and that there’s usually more to know, and that knowing more is generally better than knowing less. But there are plenty of folks who will adamantly deny that there’s any knowledge advantage to focused study and years of experience, or that it’s possible to know anything from “book learning,” or that leaning in and paying attention is important, or even that knowledge of any kind is of any value at all. They’ll actively resist knowledge that doesn’t come in the right look and feel and delivery system. They’ll get into goofy ranking games about who is a good person based on what they know and how they know it.

I … don’t care? I think it’s pretty cool you can make a decent pie if you pay attention and do some reading. And I think it’s pretty cool you can make even better pies if you keep making pies and just get better at making pies.

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