Some folks say your hands can tell the story of your life. Well, my hands cain’t talk, but they’ve made so many pies, I bet they could do it themselves if you cut ’em off and gave ’em the right ingredients, I sure do.
‘Course, I ain’t made a pie in forty years now. But for me it’s like ridin’ a bike. It’s something I’ll never forget.
The art is in the crust. You measure out two cups of flour exactly, and a teaspoon salt. Eamon would tease me: “Been making pie long?”
And I’d say, “My whole life entire.”
And he’d say, “And you still measuring?”
There’s things I could do by feel. Mothering, for instance. But baking, I measured.
Mix the flour and salt in a large bowl. I always used my biggest one, white with blue stripes round the side. A wedding gift from my Mama, come in a nested set of three. Different sizes. Like him and his two brothers, Eamon liked to say. Then you cut in a cup of Crisco with a pastry blender, looks sort of like a small harp. When he was young and still in the kitchen, Eamon’d play on it a time or two, just to show me. You got to work that fat in real good, blend it, all the way through. The recipes say “till it looks like small peas” but that ain’t near enough. I pity the woman what tries to make piecrust from the recipe on the side of a tin of Crisco, I sure do. You got to mix it in real good. Stop too soon, it’s just lumps of fat with flour on the outside. Never get a piecrust out of that. But do it right, it’ll clump up on its own. The more you mix, the bigger they get. Pea-size ain’t near enough, no sir. Needs to be lima beans. Bigger, even.
Then you add your water, a tablespoon at a time. Mix well after each one. Four tablespoons in all, that’s a quarter cup. Less sometimes, if it’s real humid.
It was humid the day Eamon left. Everybody’s clothes was sticking like a second skin.
Dust your hands with flour, make the dough into a ball. Knead it a bit if you like, just to be sure. And don’t pay no attention to them what says too much handling makes pie dough tough. You don’t got to worry about that at all. The more you handle it, the better.
Babies are like that, too. Folks think you spoil ’em, picking them up whenever they cry. But some babies need it. They just have to feel your hands on ’em. If they want it, you can carry them around with you all the time. No sir, if it’s one thing I know, holding them close is the making of men, not the ruining.
Next, you roll the dough out. Cut half of it off. Plunk it on a piece of wax paper and dust it with a little flour, soft as talc. Cover with another piece of wax paper, a little flour’ll keep that from sticking, too. A bottle of pop will do in a pinch if you don’t have a rolling pin. Roll it thin, peel the top paper off, and take the bottom with the pie crust on it and flip it into a greased pie plate. Peel the paper off real careful-like, but don’t pay too much mind if it tears, you can just dip your fingers in some flour and press it back together. It’ll mend right up and no one’ll ever know the difference. But you can only compare a boy and a pie so far.
Put the filling in, roll the other crust, too, and put it on top. Crimp the sides together real good so it don’t leak none and cut some slits on top, for the steam.
Bake it, four hundred-twenty-five degrees, forty-five minutes to an hour, depending what-all’s inside.
Best pie I ever made? Oh, that was on an early summer’s day, like I said, more’n forty years ago now. Ain’t never made another. Promised myself I wouldn’t, not till the day he come home.
Can’t help but remember it like yesterday. We smiled and laughed, talking about nothing really, no sir. Eamon was like a brand-new penny that day, shining, handsome, everything before him. Telling me how much he loved me and respected his daddy, the two of them clapping each other on the back every time they was in spitting distance. Eamon even said he loved his germy younger brothers, punching them in the shoulder every time he saw them, all day long, and then hugging them tight, just the once. His daddy was so proud of him. Funny how a suit with brass buttons can make a man lose all sense.
“It’s an honor to serve,” Eamon said. And I knew what he meant, I surely did.
The whole family was there, uncles and aunts, cousins, friends and neighbors, too. Even the mayor, like it was some goddamn Fourth of July. We laid on a barbeque, just the way he liked it—ribs, cole slaw, potato salad, devilled eggs, corn on the cob, biscuits, watermelon, and of course his favorite, rhubarb pie. Made four of them that morning. Everybody said I made the lightest crust around. Like I told you, the trick is to work it enough, get everything mixed in just right.
Women often fail at pie because they give up too soon.
I brought it out to him, still warm from the oven, ice cream on the side. Eamon liked the mix, the tart and sweet.
The light from the sun slanted long and low.
“If anything happens—” he said.
And I hushed him, wouldn’t hear it. Just wouldn’t.
I told him, “You finish that pie, now. Your ice cream’s melting in the heat.”