Monday, April 23, 2012

The Pie's The Thing... (with apologies to W. Shakespear)

All legends are based on truth but the farther you get from the actual event, the more suspect the legend becomes. You need eye witnesses or participants to bring veracity to the story, to corroborate, verify and independently confirm what happened. This is the story of a pie – an egg custard pie – that became a legend.

Pretty much everyone who takes up baking and sticks with it through the inevitable failures, ends up with at least one dish that becomes their signature dish – the one everyone requests at family gatherings and holidays. For my father, it was the banana pudding. For my mother it became her cherry cheesecake. For me? I'll get back to you that because I've yet to figure it out. For my Nana, mother of my mother, daughter of my great grandmother, it was the egg custard pie. Hardly anything disappeared faster than Nana's egg custard pie. If you dallied too long after dinner, there was no way you were going to get a slice.

It's difficult to quantify the taste of Nana's pie. It wasn't too "eggy", nor was it too "custardy" (are those even words?). It was almost always just right, with just a hint of nutmeg to top it off. True there were times when things just didn't come together right for her and the pie didn't live up the the legend but for the majority of its holiday appearances, it was perfect.

A word about my early relationship to baking: magic. As I said previously, I didn't bird-dog the people in my family who baked when I was a kid, so the process was a bit mysterious to me. Baking actually came closest to what I thought magic was. Let me explain. No. There's too much. Let me sum up: Someone you loved dumped a bunch of stuff into a bowl, used a big spoon or an arcane instrument called a "mixer" to scramble it all up then they put that stuff into other containers, popped those containers into a giant crucible and an indeterminate time later, they pulled out something delicious that looked completely different from what they put in. Magic.

Of course now that I've been baking for many years I've learned that I was spot on! It's magic! Absolutely! It doesn't matter that I know how it's done or, rather, how I do it, what matters is how much everyone enjoys your finished product. (Please note the apparent recurring theme of this blog.) My Nana understood this when she baked the egg custard pies.

The thing about that pie is that no one in my family has ever successfully recreated it. Nana didn't write down the recipe. Wait. That's not true. I know for a fact that she wrote it out for my friend Steve way back when he was visiting one Thanksgiving when we were in college. He's never been able to duplicate what she did, though and he's since lost the paper she gave him. My beloved little sister, Monique, a.k.a. Monica, a.k.a. "Miss Kee", said she came close a couple of times. Personally, I'd never been tempted to attempt it and I'm sure that temptation would have remained tempered had not my big sister, Karla -- my very own "Special K" -- planned a visit last December right around my birthday.

Part 1 Ends
**Cue ominous, dramatic musical riff.**


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6 comments:

  1. This is the second reference to custard pie I've read in two days, the first being a friend's photo on Facebook. I've never had it, and now I want some.

    I'm enjoying your writing.

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    1. And I'm enjoying you reading my writing, Francesca! Custard pie must be in the zeitgeist; I know it's been on my mind a lot lately (hence this post). If you've never had it, then by all means we must try to add to your experience as soon as possible!

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  2. And it bothers me greatly that I can't locate that 'paper,' since your grandmother's handwritten recipe was so incredibly dear to me. If I could just remember the Extra Safe place I put it...

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    1. Extra Save = Ultra-Secret in this case. But you know if you find it, it STILL won't be the recipe she used for the pie. :)

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  3. Yes...it was a VERY daunting task getting the recipe from our Nana! After every phone conversation she would say, "Now throw that mess in a pan and see what you get!" HA! Gotta love her!
    MonY aka DoMonique aka Monique aka Miss Kee aka Monica ;)

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    1. Well, Miss Kee, throwing "that mess in a pan" isn't really an option when you're trying to bake something that people can actually eat. lol! But, yes, you gotta love our Nana!

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