’Tis the season to speak of pie. I bake pie most days. At this time of year, I have to keep my husband supplied with Maple Pumpkin in a coconut oil crust, and I get a lot of requests for Apple. Since “coming out” as an artisanal pie baker a few years ago, I’ve seen the number of invitations I receive for dinner parties consistently rise, particularly at this time of year. Two neighbors invited us to dinner last Saturday, so we combined the invites and had everyone over to the neighbors with the largest dining room.
My pie recipes are well edited and idiosyncratic, like me. Of course I use local pumpkins and apples in my pies. Of course I use my mom’s maple syrup from upstate. Of course I don’t use condensed milk (because it’s gross), substituting healthy stuff instead.
Last week I took a mincemeat pie to my hair stylist Marc Zowine in Bridgehampton. He repeatedly exclaimed, “This is the best pie I’ve ever eaten!” But I noticed that he’d taken out every raisin from his slice and left them on his plate. When asked what was up, he said, “One raisin is the equivalent of a teaspoon of sugar!” And?
This is just the kind of thing that buff men know before the rest of the population. But I looked it up—he was way off. There are 4g of sugar in a teaspoon of sugar. There are only 21.5g of sugar in a quarter cup of raisins. But Marc’s little sugar scare, we’ll call it “Raisingate,” got me thinking that I still have a lot to learn about pies and their ingredients.
So I finally got around to reading John T. Edge’s Apple Pie, An American Story (G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2004) last week. I “ate it up,” despite the fact that it’s just the book I would liked to have written myself. I’ve done the research and walked the walk. I can tell you all about pie “coffins,” how early pie crusts were inedible and why it’s believed that the term “pie” is derived from “magpie.” But, unlike Edge, longtime director of the Southern Foodways Alliance, I have never enjoyed a pie shake (and don’t intend to). Nor have I indulged in an apple pie laced with Red Hots. I’m something of a traditionalist, an armchair pie explorer—I love where reading about pie takes me.
Coincidentally, a copy of A Commonplace Book of Pie (Chin Music Press Inc., 2013) by poet and pie enthusiast Kate Lebo arrived on my desk the day after I finished reading Apple Pie. Happy day—from one pie book to the next, like changing from one pie-spiced transfusion bag to another.
A Commonplace Book of Pie succeeds, technically, as a “commonplace book” in the traditional sense of being a collection of factoids and advice. It’s whimsical and contains a lot of those moments where you think, “Oh, wow, poets are so ‘other,’ so beyond zany.” And maybe, if I hadn’t just read Edge’s well-researched and well-written tome I would have enjoyed reading Commonplace from the start. But its artiness put me off for a bit.
Lebo’s take on a “pie zodiac,” a disquisition of imaginings about what your favorite pie says about who you are, eventually drew me in because it attributed many admirable attributes to pumpkin pie lovers—but it made me want to see her pie recipes. They’re listed at the back, along with nuggets of very good advice like “The oven will heal all,” and “bananas are forgivable, fallible as God intended, and cream is desire left over after what you expected proves to be smaller and closer than it originally appeared.” I’ll eat to that.