Today I made a pie. It was a birthday pie, inspired by a friend’s story, which I loved. It seems that Marcy’s beloved aunt always made her an apple pie for her birthday. When her aunt died, she knew she would miss not only the pie but the wonderful relationship it represented.
To her surprise, on her first birthday after her aunt’s death, Marcy found an apple pie on her doorstep. Her good friend had made the pie for her and has made an apple pie for her on every birthday ever since.
Well, that story inspired me. It was my friend Mary’s birthday, so I decided to make her a pie. I made a collosal mess, dripping raspberry juice down the front of the white cupboards, accidentally stepping in it and tracking it everywhere, getting flour all over my black yoga pants. Still, I felt quite proud of myself. That pie had taken a lot of effort, and I was happy I’d done it, even though, as it turned out, the pie didn’t really taste so great. There’s something about making a gift with your hands that is more satisfying—even if it’s disappointing—than, say, choosing a gift card from a display at the supermarket check-out.
So that led to my first pie puzzle: Is it better to give a gift that is satisfying to you, the giver, than a gift that might actually be more satisfying to the receiver? Maybe my friend would have liked a gift card or a book a lot more than a pie with unintended crunch and a top that was a bit doughy in the middle. Is it really the thought that counts, as my mother had raised me to believe? Does effort count? Should I not assume, as I have always done, that effort counts, that effort helps show your love?
Hmmm. That led to thoughts about my mother and her pies, which were always wonderful. I smiled to think how often, when I was growing up, the answer to “What’s for dessert?” was “pie,” and I would turn up my nose and think, “Again?” My mother must have made pies a couple of times a week because my dad loved them so much. She made them in our tiny, unairconditioned kitchen in weather that often reached 105 or 110 degrees outside and I can't imagine how hot inside. Those pies, to her, took effort and showed love, even if her ungrateful kids didn’t realize it. There were almost always two or three pies on the little stand beside our refrigerator—butterscotch, lemon, coconut, or chocolate meringue, or cherry, apple, peach or German blackberry.
German blackberry. That thought led me to another puzzle. The blackberries of my youth are black but look a lot like blueberries. I’ve never found anyone except those from a Germans-from-Russia background who know about these berries. Are they called something else in other places? Wherever I travel, I often sample berries I haven’t tried before, to see if maybe I’ll discover one that is the same as the blackberry I knew growing up. Nothing I’ve tried, anywhere, is the same.
At my Aunt Lydia’s 100th birthday party a few weeks ago, dozens of blackberry pies were on the menu. Relatives had saved them up and frozen them, so there would be plenty of them for filling. My aunt called the pies something that sounded kind of like “swartzbair,” so I decided to go on a Google quest. I typed “Germans from Russia and blackberries,” and voila! According to a wonderful article I found, the berries are called schwartzbeeren.
The schwartzbeeren seeds were brought to America by Germans from Russia, who are also called Volga Germans. According to the article, the berries “are an edible form of common or black nightshade, Solanum nigrum. Although related, Schwartzbeeren are not the same as the garden huckleberry, wonderberry, or sunberry.” (If I have any readers who are interested, here's the article on growing the schwartzbeeren.)
Because pie was on my mind, I took a hard look at the beautiful silver and gold rolling pin my friend Kay gave me a wedding present many years ago. I’m not sure what it’s made of, but it certainly is impressive looking. It’s so unusual that I’ve sometimes thought of buying one as a gift for someone who loves to bake—the kind of cook who has everything.
But where would I find it? Another puzzle. Google was not my friend in this case. A quick search found nothing similar. But I did find a reference to “four and twenty blackbirds, baked in a pie,” which made me remember my sister and me sitting in our swing set as children and singing, “When the pie was opened, the birds began to sing. Now wasn’t that a dainty dish to set before the king?” What were the rest of the words? I almost had them...but not quite...another puzzle.
Back to Google.
It’s amazing what thoughts and puzzles a pie can inspire.