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October 21, 2003
"Wait a minute." I told Norah. "I need to give you some pie before you leave."

I made two pies the other day: one with the last of the rhubarb from the garden, and an apple pie. Like a spawning salmon swimming desperately upstream, I have an inner switch that something in the arrival of autumn trips: autumn makes me want to bake pies. Lots of pies. I bake three, at least, for Thanksgiving. And I bake warm-up pumpkin pies beforehand. Pies for the Christmas Fair across the street. Tartes tatins, displayed on lace paper doilies that I hope look French. Lemon tarts. Pecan pies. Pies with different kinds of crusts, just to try them.

Here is the thing about pies, though: in order not to utterly cancel out all my good work pushing and pulling and gyrating at Curves, I can't just go home and eat a pie. So I have a rule: I can eat a piece of pie. That's it.

But Q can't eat a whole pie, either. I mean, I suppose he could, but lately he has taken to referring to his belly as "the corporation." He doesn't want too much growth there. So Q can eat some, but not a whole pie minus one piece.

This means that people who come to our house often have to leave with pie. It's best if I get rid of about half, including the one piece that is my honorarium for baking the pie.

"That looks wonderful,"Norah says, as I cut off a quarter of a ten-inch apple pie. "That's an awful lot, though."

"We have no choice," I answer firmly, slipping it into a recycled foil pan and shoving it at her. "It can't stay here."

It's making the pies that's the most fun. Many times, I have made a pie without eating any of it at all, and it was delightful and utterly guilt-free. Once, I FedExed a blueberry pie to Genevra. I forget why. She ate the whole thing, I believe, and sent back the pie tin filled with chocolate, which we ate immediately. In her defense, it was only an eight-inch pie, and it took her several days. In my defense, and Q's -- chocolate doesn't last long in our house -- it was only an eight-inch pie.

Sometimes I think that the foods to which we are addicted are only stand-ins for the fellowship we love and crave. Our earliest relating revolves around food -- in infancy. We enjoy the material gifts of life first in the company of someone we love. Even after she is gone forever, we can have a taste that reminds us of when she was here. Comfort food, we call it.

But what if we go straight for the comfort instead? What if we delight in the very making of a pie, in the giving of it? What if we delight in the sharing of tea and laughter -- mightn't we emerge with such satisfaction that we won't really mind not having had the pie that might have gone with it? What if we call someone we love and have a sweet talk instead of a sweet roll? Or a lovely scented bath with a favorite radio show, instead of a candy bar or a martini? What if it turns out that the things we put in our mouths are all substitutes for love, and we could go directly to love, instead of stopping in first with them?

Just an idea. Here's the recipe for apple pie. I don't measure, but these are good guesses.

2 cups flour. You might want to make half a cup of it whole wheat.

2/3 cup shortening. Vegetable shortening isn't really the nutritional bargain we've thought it was
-- it has no cholesterol, but it's hydrogenated, and that's not good. I used
lard the other day, just like my grandmother did. Sometimes I use
vegetable oil, which is very virtuous. The crust is tougher, though.

pinch of salt I don't use this. But most recipes say you should. I don't know why.

a little sugar Sometimes I do this. Sometimes I don't. The crust browns a little better.

You can put these in the food processor and pulse them a dozen times or so, until the mixture looks like coarse meal. Don't go overboard. If you don't have a food processor, use a pastry cutter, which looks like...well, it doesn't look like anything else but what it is. Find someone old and ask her to show you one and how to use it. You can also use two knives. The old person you find will probably know about that, too. My grandmother did.

Add some ice water. Maybe a little less than 1/2 cup. Pulse it again, until it forms a ball. If you have no food processor, just stir it around and around the bowl with a fork until it forms the ball. Same thing. No ball is forming? Add more water, but very sparingly.

Divide the dough in half. Dump a cup of flour on a clean surface and spread it around. Take one half of the dough ball and place it in the center of the floury surface. Squash it a little with your flat hand. Roll it out with a rolling pin (rub flour on the rolling pin so it won't stick) so that it's about an inch larger than your pie tin -- which probably is not tin any more -- is wide. No rolling pin? You can use a smooth large jar or a large plastic soft drink bottle. Then fold the rolled dough up, working from one edge. You may need to ask the old person to show you this. It's a little hard to put into words. You can also say the hell with it and just press the dough into your pie tin. Who cares?

Turn the oven on the 450degrees Fahrenheit.

Now peel some apples, core them, peel them and slice them in 1/2" slices. You might want to ask the old person about coring apples -- if you don't have an apple corer, you can just quarter them and easily dig out the seeds. If peeling the apples is hard for you, just do it for twenty years and it will become much easier. Pile the slices in the pie tin. It should be filled, with the slices mounding in the center.

Mix some sugar -- maybe a cup, maybe a little more -- and some flour, maybe 3 tablespoons, in a small bowl. Add some cinnamon. Maybe a tablespoon. Whatever. You could add some walnuts and some raisins if you wanted to, or if you suddenly felt it looked a little skimpy. Or don't. Up to you.

Find some butter or margarine. Maybe two tablespoons. Cut it in little pieces and dot them around on top of the apples -- evenly, but don't obsess about it. It's going to melt anyway. You could use vegetable oil for this. It won't taste exactly the same, but it'll be good.

Do the same thing with the other half of the piecrust dough that you did before, whatever it was. If what you did was press it into the tin, you can't do that on top of a pile of apples. But you could roll it into long snakelike rolls, a little at a time, and weave them on top of the pie for a lattice top. If you roll it out, roll it up as before and place it over the apples. Cut a few slits into the top, for steam to escape so your pie doesn't explode. Go around the edges of the pie tin and pinch the edges of the crust together. Have your old person show you pretty ways to do this if you think someone else may actually see the pie.

Put the pie in the center of the hot oven. Leave it there for ten minutes, then turn the oven down to 350 and leave it there some more. Take a look at it after another 30 minutes. If it's brown o the edges and the filling is bubbling a little through the slits, it's done. If it's brown only on one side, your oven heats unevenly. That's not the end of the world. Just turn the pie around. If it's not brown at all yet, leave it there for a few minutes and check it again.

Take it out and cool it on a rack. Or not on a rack. I don't care where you cool it. Bon appetit.
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