Of all my experiences in the kitchen, one stands out as a brave attempt, a failure and a testament of love. Two months and two weeks after my eleventh birthday, my sister Patsy made her appearance in the world on a hot July day. It was 1954, and doctors confined new mothers in the hospital for a week after the ordeal of having a baby.
My mother and father had arranged for my two younger sisters and me to stay with my mother’s parents. They had a farm with a small herd of dairy cows that grandpa milked by hand, a horse, a black and white farm dog, geese, ducks, chickens and even a pair of guinea hens. There were two ponds, a wonderful stone porch, a haymow and a swing. To make it even better, Grandma baked great bread and cookies.
It would be a wonderful vacation, so everyone was surprised when I announced that I wanted to stay home. After all, I had spent a week with Grandma and Grandpa last summer and was still raving about it. Even more baffling to my parents was the fact that I would not say why I wanted to stay home. Today I wonder if they thought that something horrible had happened last summer, though I tried to assure them that I really liked staying at Grandma and Grandpa’s, but that I just wanted to stay home this week to take care of our chickens, weed the garden (a white lie), and be there for Dad when he got home after work.
When Gus, the old farmer who lived down the road and had taught me to fish for trout, promised to keep an eye on me, they agreed to let me watch over “the home place.” Little did they know what I had in mind. When Mom “felt that the baby was ready to come,” we took her to the hospital, and Dad and I delivered my two sisters to Grandma and Grandpa’s.
The next morning I was ready to put my plan into action. The plan actually grew out of the magnificent crop of wild blueberries that year. I had decided to make a blueberry pie to cheer up my mother during her stay in the hospital.
For as long as I could remember I had watched my mother make pies, and she made it look simple. But for insurance I got down her cookbooks and read everything I could find about making pies. There were several crust recipes, but I settled on the simplest one. It called for flour, lard, salt and water. Though my grandmother had told me that the best crusts were made with goose grease, I had no intention of killing and roasting a goose. First decision made.
There were only a couple of recipes for blueberry pie, and I again chose the simplest. Just blueberries, sugar, flour, lemon juice, cinnamon and butter. Even this simple list of ingredients posed a challenge as I did not have a lemon. I thought of asking my father to buy me one, but as I intended to surprise both him and my mother with a blueberry pie, I bicycled the four miles into town and spent some carefully hoarded money for a lemon at the A & P.
When my father came home after work that first day, he told me that I had a new baby sister. I also had a lemon tucked away where Dad would not find it.
Picking enough berries the next morning was no problem and mixing the filling was simple. My pie was over half done. All I needed was a crust.
Getting the right amount of lard was a little tricky, but by letting the lard soften a little, I managed to get it pretty exact. The recipe said to cut the lard into the flour with a pastry blender or fork until the mixture looked like coarse cornmeal, then add three or four tablespoons of cold water and toss lightly until the dough started to stick together, then form it into a ball.
The problem was that the flour did not want to stick together, so I added a little more water. Unfortunately the dough began to remind me of the paste we used to make at school. I was not worried because my mother always rolled out the dough on a floured board, and I had one ready with plenty of flour.
Following instructions I divided the dough in half and put one part on the board. In half an hour or so, with several adjustments to the proportions of flour and water, I had lined the pie plate with a nice thick crust and had the top crust resting on the board ready to cover the filling.
The pie was cool when my father came home from work. Was he surprised! I asked him if I could bring a piece of pie to mom in the hospital. He told me that children were not allowed into the maternity ward, but Mom’s room was on the first floor, and he would show me her window so she could thank “her pie baker.” He also said that he was looking forward to a piece of pie for dessert.
The first indication of a possible problem came when I tried to cut it. It just did not want to be cut, so my father helped remove two slices After a few small bites of crust
we peeled off the top and ate the filling off the bottom. We agreed that the filling was very good although the crust was a little tough.
He suggested that we take Mom her piece of pie the next evening. Maybe he thought that the crust would soften in a day, but my crust was impervious to blueberry pie filling. After supper the next day, Dad cut Mom a small slice of pie, explaining as he did so that Mom was not supposed to have too many desserts.
And it was worth all the effort. I still remember Mom standing at the window holding the pie by the crust and raising it to her mouth. It looked like she was eating a trowel, but she managed a small bite and chewed and swallowed the thing crust and all.
“Mmm, that’s good,” she said, “Chuckie, I am so proud of you. That’s a delicious pie. Thank you.”
“The crust is a little tough,” I said.
“But it tastes wonderful, and you made it all by yourself. We’ll work on crusts when I get home next week, if you promise to pick some more blueberries.”
“I promise. I love you, Mom.”
“And I love you. Take care of Dad. Good night.”
We smiled all the way home.