Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Making Pies And Being A Writer

Her First Effort At Pie-Making

I loved this picture because I was about the same age when I made my first pie (with help!) It was far from perfect but we all have to start somewhere. I watched my grandmother make pies in her neighborhood bakery. She seemed to have magic hands when she created those beautiful pies. Through the years, I've learned to make pies with ease.

Our writing journey is much the same. That first story we write is not going to win a prize in a contest. Maybe not the twentieth one either. But, if we keep working at it and learn as we go, we will have a story worthy of winning a contest or being published someday. Learning the craft of writing is a slow process. We grow as writers in small steps, not by leaps and bounds. We don't decide to become a writer one day and start cashing the checks it brings the next. We keep working at it with that goal in mind. For some, publication comes sooner than for others. Part of the reason for that is how passionate a writer you are, how much effort you put into polishing and perfecting your writing, and learning to be a good marketer.

Here's a personal essay that I wrote awhile back about Grandma's pies and the first one I ever made. It seems to illustrate what I've said about our writing journey today.

 My Grandma’s Magic Hands
By Nancy Julien Kopp

I’ve made countless pies in my life, but the memory of the first one is as clear as a sunny April sky. I was a pre-school child, growing up in the WWII years. My mother and I spent our mornings at my grandmother’s bakery.

Grandma started her bakery in a tiny apartment kitchen in a Chicago suburb during the Depression years. When her home business grew, she rented a building large enough for a working area and a display center. My mother and her brother helped with the baking, and a young Czechoslovakian girl named Adeline waited on customers. Occasionally, Adeline baked, too. They weren’t professionals but turned out delectable cakes, pies, cookies and breads day after day to supply the neighborhood. The door in the display room opened and closed repeatedly through the day.

By the time I turned three, I’d stand on a large metal flour canister next to Grandma. I watched while she mixed, rolled, and formed cinnamon rolls, dinner buns, and loaves of bread. I looked on intently as she mixed pie crust and prepared fruit for her fast-selling pies. If I talked too much or got in her way, I landed none-too-gently on my bottom on a bench alongside a long picnic table used for tea breaks. And there I sat, watching from afar, until Grandma nodded her head which was crowned with a coiled braid. When she offered me a tiny glimmer of a smile, I scurried back to my perch next to her.

She offered me tastes of many of the goodies in the bakery. I nibbled on cookies, bits of cake, and rolls, but my favorite was pie crust. It didn’t matter if it was part of a pie or only the crust itself. If a pie shell came out of the oven with a crack in it, Grandma allowed me to break it into pieces and eat it when cooled—a wish come true. To make a pie of my own was yet another wish, so I watched very closely when Grandma made pies.

Grandma placed the pastry dough on a floured board, then she shaped it into a big round powder puff. She floured the rolling pin before applying pressure on that ball of dough. She rolled up and down, then sideways several times. The circle got thinner and larger, and when Grandma laid the rolling pin down, I handed her the pie tin. She folded the pie crust in half and lifted it with ease into the pan. Zap! She flipped the folded half over to cover the pan, and then her hands flew as she fluted the edge and pricked the center with the tines of a fork several times.

“Don’t forget to do this or you’ll have big bubbles in your pie shell,” she reminded me many times. I listened carefully for she seemed a wizard, performing magic with all the things she baked.

If Grandma was making a fruit pie, she didn’t prick the bottom crust. She mixed apples or peaches or apricots with sugar, a bit of flour and some cinnamon, then piled the fruit high in the pie crust, adding generous pats of butter. The top piece of pastry received special treatment. Grandma used a small paring knife to cut slits and tiny holes in a decorative pattern in the center of the crust before she folded it in half and lifted it onto the waiting, fruit-filled pie pan. Then her fingers worked their magic as she fluted the edge before sliding the newest pie into the oven.

Finally, a day arrived when Grandma put her flour-covered hands on her apron-covered hips and said to me, “Isn’t it time you made a pie? You’re four years old.”

A tiny shiver traveled up my spine. “By myself?”

“You might need a little help. Adeline can show you what to do.” She pointed toward Adeline who waited nearby.

Adeline set a huge flour canister on the floor and lifted me onto it. She had everything we needed ready and waiting--a small, tart-size pie tin, a rolling pin, flour, and the pie crust dough. She folded a flour sack dish towel in a triangle and tied it around my waist. Then she said, “OK, roll out the dough, Nancy.”

I shook my head. “We make a powder puff first.”

After forming the dough into a round, I picked up the rolling pin, a smaller version of Grandma’s, and I started to roll it across the dough. But it stuck! Before Adeline could tell me, I said, “I know what we need--flour on the rolling pin.” I pried the wooden tool from the crust, floured it and tried again. I did it exactly as Grandma had done so many
times as I watched her. I rolled up and down, then sideways and up and down again, but I didn’t have a perfect circle. It looked so easy when Grandma did it.

I didn’t have time to cry over that fiasco, as Adeline assured me it would be all right. “Now fold it over and put it in the pan,” she said.

That part I did with ease. She handed me the bowl of apples, already mixed so they were sweet and spicy. I dumped them into the pie shell, but half of the apples landed on the counter. I scooped them up with my flour-covered hands and piled them on top of the ones already in the pie shell. I remembered to flour the rolling pin before attacking the pastry for the top of the pie. This time Adeline put her hands over mine and helped me make a better circle, not perfect but better. After she cut slits in the dough into a letter A, I folded it in half and carefully picked it up. Plop! Down it went onto the apples. Adeline showed me how to pinch the pastry together around the edges to make a fancy finish. My fingers didn’t have the magic like Grandma’s, and my edge didn’t look nearly as pretty, but Adeline told me it looked very fine for a first pie. I clung to her side when she showed it to Grandma and waited to see what she’d say.

Grandma looked at the pie for a long time. “It looks like a nice little pie. You did a good job.”

My heart swelled at those few words.

When Adeline slid my pie out of the oven, the cinnamon and apple aroma filled the air. I could see the filling bubbling through the slits in the golden-brown crust. “It has to cool before you can eat it,” she warned.

“I’m taking it home to my daddy,” I told her. “It’s all for him. Every bite!”

Although my father seldom ate dessert, that night he had a piece of my pie. “It’s the best I ever ate,” he said, “and I hope you make a thousand more pies.”

 I think I really have made a thousand more pies since that very first effort. One of the nicest compliments my mother ever paid me was when she tasted one of my pies, laid down her fork, and said, “You make wonderful pie just like your grandmother.”
I couldn’t help but think of the many times I watched Grandma create pies, and I was both pleased and proud she’d shared her magic with me.

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