In every sitcom ever written, there has probably been at least one “my mother’s coming to visit” episode.
This weekend, my mom came up to Virginia for a visit. I throw my mom (very jokingly) under the bus a lot in my writing, but she’s a lovely, sweet woman, is an easy-going house guest, is up for whatever everyone else wants to do, and appreciates the way I make her coffee. She departs from the TV “mother who comes to visit” who makes harsh critical remarks, meddles in her daughter’s personal life, or causes problems.
I, however, sometimes insist on playing the TV daughter, the one who freaks out, cleans the house with bleach from top to bottom, and makes all of her life’s happiness hinge on a pie. I’m not talking about figurative pie. It’s literal. This has happened twice.
The first Mom/Pie dichotomy was lived out in October of 2010. I received Hubbard squash in the CSA that week, and since my mom was in town, I decided that instead of using that squash as a decorative Halloween gourd, I would hack into it and make a pie.
Hubbard squash is a stubborn squash with skin the pallor of death. It is extremely difficult to peel (my friend almost took his finger off trying), let alone chop up. I managed, with the use of three different knives and my roommates on hand in case of bleeding, to hack the squash to pieces, steam them, and scoop the hearty flesh out, flesh that looked quite a lot like butternut or pumpkin.
Midway through this pie-making endeavor, my mom expressed her doubts about the success of this pie. I stood in the kitchen, up to my elbows in stringy orange squash flesh, running myself ragged trying to make a really intricate pie, and I wondered, what the hell am I doing this for? No one really expects me to make the crazy pie. This is all in my head. My crazy head.
It turned out good. Delicious, even. Like an earthy pumpkin pie. Thank goodness, because if my mom had been right and the pie had tasted like crap (or even, gulp, mediocre), I would have been heartbroken.
That was the first incarnation of the Mom/Pie dichotomy. The second happened this weekend, and this is where my crazy really gets let out of the cage.
I’ve made chocolate pie how many times now? I’ve had the cookbook for it since I was fifteen, I’ve made it countless times in the past few years, and I have it down to a science. Bake the crust. While it cools, make the filling, whisking it for ten minutes over medium heat while consuming a beer. Pour filling into crust, and then make meringue. Spoon meringue over top, make cute little peaks with the back of a spoon, and bake until golden. Easy.
And it looked gorgeous this time around because my mom put my pre-made crust in the pie dish while I prepared the filling; she has a lovely way of decorating the dough around the edges in perfect scallops. We left it there on the counter, and when the filling – that silky, shiny filling – was done, I poured it into the unbaked pie crust and made the meringue. And then my mom piped up.
“Are you supposed to bake the crust?”
There’s a moment when your heart turns cold and your first inclination is to throw your towel to the ground, ball up your fists, and pitch a royal shit fit. And I couldn’t. My mom was sitting right there. So I pitched only a mild fit, and Amanda and my mom flew into action. We poured the filling into a bowl, and I set about making another crust. It wouldn’t come together because the butter kept melting under my rolling pin, so we froze it for about ten minutes while the stupid filling sat on the counter. Milk-based filling, mind you. Sitting out. Awesome.
The pie crust was barely workable, but I baked it anyway. And when it came out of the oven after about twenty minutes, barely golden, the sides pulled away from the pie plate, and I poked at the squishy, stretchy, horrid-looking dough, and I started crying. Right there in the kitchen, with my mom, I cried. My mom recommended I go to the store and get a pie crust. Defeat.
I went upstairs and buried my head in Amanda’s shoulder and cried. It was too much pressure. Despite my good intentions and careful planning ahead (making the crust well in advance), I had managed to ruin it, which I do often enough to decide that “I always do this.”
I have a wonderful girlfriend. She calmed me down. I stopped crying. I went to the store, came home, and made the whole blasted thing over again in near-silence while my mom read in the living room.
And the pie came out perfect. Probably one of the best I’ve ever made. The meringue was perfectly light, almost marshmallowy. The filling was silky and smooth, rich. The crust, thanks to Food Lion, was perfect.
There are times when a pie is not just a pie. And though my mom is perfectly lovely and not intimidating, not the TV mom, I turn into the TV daughter. I’m sure we all have someone who makes us whip up into a level of crazy that ranks up there with Julie Powell in Julie & Julia, when she melts down while attempting to truss a chicken. Perhaps several people inspire this level of crazy. Or perhaps it’s nothing but our own neuroses, our need to get everything right, do it “perfectly,” even if it means an enormous amount of undue pressure and tears and the impulse to drink heavily. They may be nutty, but those neuroses are mine. I come by them honestly. And I’m glad that when they kick in, at least there’s pie to make it better.