Saturday, November 19, 2011

My Unlikely Return to Catholic School...To Teach a Pie Class

Meg and Me, From pleated plaid skirts to pie T-shirts
My friend Meg asked me if I would teach a pie class as an auction prize donated for her kids' Catholic school. I could have considered the cons -- that I nearly got kicked out of Catholic high school and no longer consider myself a Catholic (I'm waaaaay too much a feminist for that!) -- and that I would have to drive an hour and a half each way to Des Moines for the class. But it was Meg asking. Meg and I went to high school together (yes, the Catholic one). We came of age in our pleated plaid skirts and knee socks. We ditched classes and in spite of the closed-campus policy -- detentions be damned -- skipped out to McDonald's for French fries and milk shakes. We religiously attended cheerleading camp and keg parties. Fast forward 35 (THIRTY-FIVE, really?!?!?) years: Meg so generously hosted me (and my two terriers) for an entire month last summer during my pie judging gig at the Iowa State Fair -- after not having even seen her since our 25th class reunion five years earlier. One cannot, under any circumstances, say no to a friend as generous as that!

This is how I came to give a pie lesson to 10 women, all mothers of students attending the Sacred Heart School.

I don't know which of the women actually gave the winning bid on the pie class, all I know is that Meg and I honed in on a date, Meg secured use of the school's commercial kitchen (OMG, now I REALLY want a commercial kitchen for the Pitchfork Pie Stand!!!), Meg got 50 pounds of apples donated by fellow school parent Larry Lofreddo, I drove up from Eldon, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Every evening pie class is assisted by alcohol. Even ones held in Catholic schools. Just like old times. :-)
While the ladies (pictured above: Meg, Stacie, Jill and Katherine) were more than happy to have a night away from their kids, they also couldn't wait to get home with their freshly baked pies. More so, it was the kids who were impatient. Their teen and pre-teen offspring sent text messages throughout the evening asking, "Is the pie ready yet? When are you coming home with the pie?"
Tavé, above, was all smiles after learning that she really could master making pie dough when she rolled out a perfect-looking crust. But don't think I didn't remind them (repeatedly): Pie is not about perfection!
This is Jill with her pie ready for the oven. It's the boost in baking confidence and the excitement over their gorgeous creations, visible here in Jill's big smile, that make me enjoy teaching pie baking so much. It's that "pie it forward" thing again.
We had enough dough and apples leftover to make some mini pies. Note a few are "free form" rustic-style. Because these little ones finished baking before the big ones, we were able to sample the goods. And we were not disappointed!
A little brown, but still beautiful.
The convection oven was one of industrial size -- and strength. Not realizing the oven was turbo-charged, the normal 20 minute browning stage took half the time. We should have checked the progress sooner. The upshot was that we shaved a good half hour off the total baking time so everyone could get home a little earlier. It was a school night, after all. And as for me, I still had to drive back to Eldon.
Every pie class ends with a Victory Shot. And victorious, they were.
I left energized and content, satisfied that I had done a good deed. If only those nuns from our old Catholic high school could see me now.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Guest Blog: Pie Lady Goes South, Part 3 - by H

Pie Lady Visits the Mountain South, Part 3 (and Final Installment) -- As Told by H

So...we are now back in the Iowa plains metropolis of Eldon, and it’s time to reflect upon a California Yankee’s introduction to the Southern Appalachians. Of course, I knew going in that this wasn’t going to be a match made by anyone associated with heaven. If there was a version of eHarmony that matched people with places, Beth and the Georgia mountains would never even make it to the point where pictures are exchanged. The mountains are too steep and the hollows too confining. And the hunters seem to outnumber the animals (except, of course, inside our cabin.) And then there are the Confederate flags...
But we did have some adventurous hikes and see some nice scenery. (Pictured:  Amicalola Falls)
And there were some very nice meals at Cucina Rustica 

And Harvest On Main 

And for the pie baker supreme, there is the fact that Gilmer County Georgia is the apple capital of the South, and the orchards have some superb pie apples.
And where else can you get your picture taken with a stuffed bear (pronounced “barre”) inside a place that sells apple cider donuts, apple fritters, fried pies in 15 flavors, stone ground grits and candy and caramel apples? All this plus a petting zoo and an animated hillbilly on a tractor.

But despite all of these wondrous advantages, Beth is a reluctant visitor to the mountain South. Much as I would be visiting a hippy commune. Mind you, she isn’t a General Sherman who’d like to burn the place off the map, but she just didn’t find a connection to this craggy, homespun region. But then, she didn’t have the same introduction to it that I did.

Shortly after moving to East Tennessee years ago I was diagnosed with cancer. The good (southern) folks at University of Tennessee Medical Center had to carve me up and put me back together again. Then they had to essentially poison all of the cancer out of my body without killing me. I’d never met nicer or more caring people. And in the year after I was released from the hospital I rented a mountain cabin across from a small lake. I’d never seen or experienced such a calm and serene place. It helped me put myself back together and continue on with life. So for me, the mountain South will always tug at my heartstrings despite its shortcomings and throwback ways.

And I won’t give up on getting Beth to look at the area through a different lens, to feel just a little bit of what I feel. For there is always next fall, and the promise of a cabin with 10 or fewer stuffed bears and moose, no “Stairs of Death” and a road that isn’t like living through a daily episode of The Thrillbillies.