I thought I’d re-post this blog about pie baking with mom. I was reminded of it when a neighbour dropped off a freshly baked rhubarb pie as a house warming present. It’s rhubarb season and one of the first things I did when our new garden was ready for planting, was buy a rhubarb plant and stick it in. We grew up with rhubarb. As kids, we would break off a stalk and dip it int the sugar bowl and munch away. Mom would stew rhubarb so Dad could have it over his vanilla ice cream. Sometimes with a dash of our home made maple syrup on top. I’m going to go see mom later today. I’m going to ask her for her rhubarb pie recipe. We’ll see what happens. Her memory has been fading a great deal lately. But she might surprise me! A few weeks ago my sister and I both had a craving for apple pie. Not just any apple pie, mom’s apple pie from our childhood. And the thought struck us at almost the very same moment- let’s get mom to bake it! Of course we had no idea if she would be able to remember her recipe or anything about her technique. After all it had been more than twenty years since she’d baked one.
We didn’t give her any warning. Just picked her up one afternoon and brought her over to Carol’s house. I had the video camera ready as they walked up the path. “What’s that?” mom asked. “It’s a video camera, Mom. We thought we might get you to bake an apple pie this afternoon.” “Oh for heaven sakes.” she said. “I wouldn’t have the faintest idea how to bake a pie. And why would I want to?” “We thought it might be fun.” I responded. “Lets’s just give it a try and see what happens.” While Carol was picking up mom, I set up the kitchen. Flour, sugar, butter, shortening, and a bowl of peeled apples sat on the counter beside the measuring cup and rolling pin. “I got the Crisco.” I said as she eyed the set up. “I use Fluffo.” she said. “And Red Rose flour. Not Robin Hood.” Carol and I exchanged a glance. “Do you remember your pastry recipe, Mom?” Carol asked. “Of course not. Two cups of flour, 3/4 cup of shortening, three tablsepoons of cold water. Now why in the world would I know that?” She looked both impressed with herself and a little mystified. She set to work measuring the flour, cutting in the shortening, adding a pinch of salt. If we tried to help, she gently pushed our hands away. “Look at my hands!” she laughed. “They seem to know what to do all by themselves!” And they did. Somehow the muscle memory of pastry making was stored in those hands and she handled the dough like a master. When she added the cold water, she informed us she never used ice water, just cold. And warned us against handling the dough too much or it would be tough. She confidently demonstrated her technique for mixing the water in, patiently adding one teaspoon at a time. We talked about pie disasters, and pie favourites, and berry picking and how her mother in law was horrified when she learned her new daughter-in-law wasn’t using lard in her crust. We talked about Dad’s favourite pies and the drama of Sunday night dinners in our family home when her own mother had been in attendance. We laughed til we cried and all the while, Mom’s hands worked the dough. Rolling out was to be done on a sheet of waxed paper which we luckily had on hand. It rolled out like a dream, stretchy, and delicate, her movements in sharp, definite strokes. “That looks about right.” she said and expertly flipped the paper-thin dough into the pie plate. Next the apples, sliced, sugared, floured and piled into the pie plate with a sprinkling of cinnamon. “Don’t you want to dot some butter on there, Mom?” Carol asked. “I never put butter in the pie.” Not a second of hesitation. “I might brush a little egg yolk on the top crust to brown it. Or cream if you have it.” We didn’t have either but she was not worried. The beautiful pie was popped in the oven. “Start it at 400 for a few minutes and then cut it back to 350.” she said. We did. It’s important to note that Mom typically uses a walker to get around, and spends most of her day sitting. She is weak and frail and tires easily. So to witness her energetic engagement in pie baking seemed like a miracle. She refused to take a break and seemed to be filled with a boundless energy and joy. Was it the stimulation of her senses, feeling the softness of the flour, the slippery bits of shortening? Or smelling the fragrance of the apples and cinnamon Or simply the act of engagement and the marvel of her memory exhibiting a life all its own. I guess we will never know for sure, but it was an experience that made us wonder about the value of doing something real with an elderly person. Something where senses are alive and the body remembers. We’re thinking of a knitting project together with Mom, or making butterscotch pudding or strawberry jam, or going for a walk to smell the newly blossomed lilacs. Most of all, Carol and I both admitted, we had fun with Mom. Something we had thought might not happen again.Did she think the pie was a success? Have a look below.