When I was 12, my mother had major surgery, and I became chief cook for our family of five. My mom was a good cook, who was able to make something out of nothing when the need arose. I used lots of her “throw stuff together” recipes.
When my husband Earl and I married, I was thrilled to have my own little place that included my own little kitchen, my own little oven and my own little cake mixes. In fact, the first few months of our marriage I probably made five or six chocolate cakes (my favorite!). Finally, when he could take it no longer, he sweetly said, “Honey, can you bake anything besides chocolate cakes?” And he quietly admitted he didn’t even like chocolate cake.
But my pies were the epitome of my baking expertise. Earl has two favorite flavors: cherry and butterscotch (made from scratch – “like my mother used to make” – I had only known butterscotch from Jello pudding.).
So I would make him a pie – that was the plan.
First came the cherry pie, which is one flavor I never eat – I don’t like cooked cherries. A friend gave me some home canned cherries, so I dragged out my Betty Crocker cookbook, looking first for the recipe for good old Crisco pie crust. Mixing, blending, smashing and rolling out the dough, I was able to form a near perfect circle for my bottom crust, followed by a similar procedure for the top.
Following the recipe, I stirred cornstarch, sugar and water together, cooking the mixture until it came to a boil. I then added the home canned cherries. The pie turned out beautifully – light brown crust with little cutouts on the top. A perfect treat for my darling new spouse.
After dinner, I cut him a piece. He took a forkful, a smile spreading across his face as he placed the delicacy in his mouth. Suddenly, I saw a look of wonder – not a positive wonder, but a “What is this?” wonder. Sure enough, he had bitten into a cherry pit. Those home canned cherries had not been pitted! How was I to know?
A sad end to my first attempt at a favorite culinary treat! But my dear husband, not to be deterred by pits, did eat the whole pie. Each piece required careful chewing, so as not to crack a tooth, and it required a careful aim, as he spit out each pit onto the plate.
Remember I said he had two favorite pies? The other was butterscotch with a meringue topping.
Again I reached for the Betty Crocker cookbook, checking the index for “butterscotch pie.” “I won’t make another mistake,” I said to myself, as I gathered the ingredients for this dessert.
The first thing you do to make butterscotch is melt butter, add brown sugar and stir. I thought the directions said, “Stir until bubbly – for five minutes.” In actual fact, the recipe said, “Stir until bubbly, about five minutes.” I set the timer for five minutes and began to stir. I should have wondered as the mixture turned darker and darker, but I was determined to follow the directions.
Once the time was up, I added the butter-brown sugar mix to the other ingredients, stirring constantly as I poured the brown/black liquid into the bowl. When it was all combined, I poured the mixture into the already baked pie crust (made with Crisco), topped it with my perfectly whipped meringue, baked it just a few minutes to brown the meringue, and looked forward to Earl’s happy smile as he consumed my “little piece of heaven.”
Okay, you guessed it. He took one bite, grimaced painfully, and looked at me as if to say, “What did you do this time?” This time he did not eat the pie. This time the garbage “ate” the pie. The original burning of the butter/brown sugar mixture had made the entire thing inedible. I had failed again!
But Earl got me back some years later.
I had spent an hour cleaning my non-self-cleaning oven. It sparkled. It gleamed. It smelled no longer of burned on crusty stuff, but now was ready to bake, awaiting whatever goody I placed inside.
I was baking a frozen apple pie for a fellowship at church – a frozen apple pie in a lightweight flimsy pie pan. I placed the pie straight on the oven rack – not on a sturdy cookie sheet. When the timer went off, I asked Earl to take the pie out of the oven. Willingly, he picked up a pot holder, opened the oven door, and reached inside with one hand to take out the pie. As he grabbed it and began to extract it, the flimsy pan bent, resulting in the contents pouring out of the pan and all over my brand spanking clean oven!
He apologized. I turned off the oven and waited for it to cool. Then I cleaned the oven again.
Wouldn’t you think he would have learned? Wouldn’t you think I would have learned?
Not two weeks later, the same thing happened again. This time I had put the pie on a stoneware cookie sheet. “He’ll not spill it again,” I thought to myself. Again it was a frozen pie in a flimsy pie pan. Again, I asked Earl to get the pie out of the oven, and again he did just that. I had intended for him to use two pot-holder-covered hands and to pull the cookie sheet out with the pie intact sitting on it, but I failed to give those specific directions.
But, no, he apparently doesn’t learn quickly. He attempted to pick up the pie with one hand, the pan bent again, and the pie fillings covered the bottom of the oven.
What did I learn from this experience? I learned how to clean my oven three times in less than a month. I learned to take the pies out of the oven myself. I learned that making a mistake and feeling bad about it does not ensure never making that mistake again.
I also learned to buy pies ready-made. In fact, they’re on sale for $7.99 all month at Marie Callender’s — strong, firm pie pan included for an additional 60 cents.