With the frigid temperatures upon us, baking is a great way to keep your house warm. Nothing else draws people together like delicious food – especially perfect pastry.
The holiday season is always a special time for our close-knit rural farming community. Everyone freezes their prized Christmas baking, and delivers it anonymously to dozens of farmhouses, leaving delicious goodies outside on the porch. Throughout the season, we receive cookies, cakes, homemade chocolates, pies, bread, and more.
Someone makes a spectacular homemade Almond Roca-style confection with various other nuts (macadamia, pecan, or walnut Roca, anyone?), and has deftly managed to conceal their identity for years. They are truly committed to the cause – taking care never to bring it for potlucks or church dinners. Decades later, we honestly still don’t know who makes it.
Mom is known widely for the best apple pies, and we would make dozens and dozens of pies each October with fresh B.C. apples. Her pie crust is crispy and light, thanks to her probably not-so-secret crust recipe: grated frozen lard + ice water (keeping the dough cold and not-overworked is the secret to crispy pastry) and a special sugar-spice mixture for the filling.
Each of us had a job in the process. Mom made the pastry. Dad peeled and cored the apples. My sister filled the pies, and I was the slinger of butter, sugar and spice. Once the pies are made, we bag and freeze them until the delivery day (usually Boxing Day). We pile into the truck with 40 or 50 pies in tow, ready for 3-4 hours of pie delivery. For a little while, we managed to stay anonymous, but an accidental pie at a summer potluck blew that secret wide open.
Last fall, mom was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer, and was given a prognosis of weeks-to-months. Her final wish was to have one last Christmas with her family and to make her pies. She ordered double the usual number of apples, and, in between chemo appointments and doctor’s visits, asked a few friends over to help her with making literally hundreds of pies.
By mid-December, on a morphine pump and nearly bedridden, she broke the delivery tradition, and instead, invited the community over to the house over the course of a few weeks to pick up their last Christmas pies and have a good visit.
Sadly, mom passed away just after Valentine’s Day.
What the community doesn’t know is that mom secretly made about a hundred or so extra pies last year. So, unless Dad has binge-baked his way through an entire deep freeze, mom’s pies will again be delivered right on schedule – just in time for Christmas – and the community will celebrate with one last delicious Christmas pie from Terry’s kitchen.
Why the pie story? Well, it’s quite simple. The most important holiday memory I have is not a trip, a gift, or a toy. It’s a simple pie. And it’s not the taste of the pie that’s important – it’s the sense of togetherness and community that happens with a few cups of flour, some water, salt, frozen lard, tart B.C, Granny Smiths and Macs, Ceylon cinnamon, demerara sugar, and a butter/egg-wash sprinkled with white sugar, delivered frozen to a front porch in a freezer bag with simple directions written directly on the bag in permanent marker: Bake from frozen - 350 degrees for 75-90 minutes.
Maybe you don’t know how to make a pie, but I’ll bet you a dollar you’ve got an elderly neighbour who does. Invest $20 in ingredients and invite your neighbour over and see what you get. If it looks terrible, eat it, and try again - and, honestly, isn’t the whole point the people you get to share it with?
The joy of a creative life is that it doesn’t cost anything extra. Whether it’s art, music, or 200 apple pies, the very act of creating is enough. Have a peaceful and relaxed run up to the holidays – and get your pies started – and make sure the kids have a job in the process.