WRITE TEAM: Pies and people

Three of us are here in the snug kitchen, with pie crusts waiting for their filling. A fire crackles merrily in the wood stove, and in a few hours the family will gather, so we’re busy with preparations.

It wouldn’t be right to have a meal without the pies that have been a family tradition for who knows how long. My sister is stirring the filling for a lemon meringue pie, my mother is measuring the pecan pie ingredients, and I’m holding my grandmother’s rolling pin, wearing an apron, and dusting flour onto the delicate pie crust.

Rolling a crust is art and science, and the butter ingredient makes it tender to work with but makes a rich, flaky result that’s absolutely worth it. Some crusts roll easily into a perfect circle and transfer into the pie pan without incident; others insist on being some odd unnamable shape and try to rip or fold over going into the pan.

“Well, that way it’ll look homemade,” my mother comforts me when there’s a decidedly frumpy crust. Someday I might be able to produce uniformly flawless crusts, but they all taste good now. Now if you want to hear about great baking, you should have known my grandmother.

As I look down on my grandmother’s fancy ball-bearing rolling pin gliding smoothly over the crust, I remember the stories of her prolific baking career that won many blue ribbons at the county fairs. She worked in this same kitchen, and today we’re continuing the pie-baking legacy. I hope she’d be proud.

With our busy lives that often take us elsewhere, it’s lovely to have my mother, my sister, and I together working today, and I’m grateful for the holiday that lets us slow down. The easy conversation and the way we’re seamlessly working on different aspects of the pie operation is quite lovely.

The ingredients have been lovingly gathered as well — the nuts were a gift from a friend, the butter came from Abby, Peggy Sue, and Lorelei the family cows, and the eggs came from my laying hens.

After our group effort, there’s half a dozen pies in the oven and we move on to other meal preparations, but the lovely warm sweetness of baking pies fills the air as we work.

The joy of pie baking deserves to be shared, and that’s why I love my yearly time as the kitchen leader when our 4-H club bakes pies for the county fair food stand. It’s wonderful to see the youth of all ages roll up their sleeves and happily pitch in, some on crusts, some on fillings. The older ones have done this before, so they help the younger ones measure carefully and stir up the ingredients. With encouragement, they even try their hand at making weaved lattice tops. These pies, lovingly made, are the continuation of a tradition, and I’m so glad to be part of it.

At home today, the family has gathered and eaten the meal and the first plates have been cleared away. On my great-grandmother’s buffet the pies sit waiting, so we cut and pass the pieces around.

There’s something special about the pies and the stories behind them, but the best part of all is the people we share them with.

MARTHA HOFFMAN, is a freelance writer and diversified livestock farmer in rural Earlville.