now in its one-hundred-and-eightieth year
One of our old friends in Florida sent us a box of pears from Harry and David as a holiday gift. You know: the famous ones grown in the Rouge River Valley in Oregon. So I just had to make a tart.
My husband makes a big thing about my baking, but from my point of view it isn’t labor. Nor is it art. It’s just something that I do, an activity that is highly associative, one that, by keeping the hands busy, lets the mind flow. Like a gift from a Florida friend that comes to Chicago courtesy of the Pacific Northwest, baking gets ideas circulating, and one thought is transmuted into another, just as the fruit of nature turns into a fancy French concoction that centuries of humans have loved to eat. As the tart takes shape, my thoughts meander.
I could never have made this tart had it not been for my mother, who, when I was growing up, sometimes asked me to help make the dessert when she was busy cooking. She took it for granted that I could make a flaky pastry crust even though I was a kid, so of course I did it; since then, it’s been easy. Over the years, making a pie for others is something I’ve done often. It’s grown to be a habit that I enjoy. Of course, you can’t take it too seriously, because pie is above all an ephemeral thing.
Pies are closely associated with abundance and seasonality. There’s a reason they’re a fixture on tables at Thanksgiving. Pies (and tarts, their fancy French cousins) are vessels of superabundance, materializing when nature comes across with a windfall of some kind. Pies get made with the luscious peaches found during an impulsive stop at a roadside stand, or when you don’t know what else to do with the amazing raspberries the ugly old bushes in the yard are unexpectedly producing.
I’ve come to associate the time my husband and I spend out in Michigan with such bounties. We frequently go for country drives. During the warmer seasons of the year Michigan has an Edenic quality, time punctuated by the harvest of fruits and other delicacies, a dizzying succession of edible wonders, whether cherries or blueberries, . . .
apples . . .
or plums! My memory is growing crowded with u-pick rural outings, quickly followed with the making of a tart or pie.
Now when I make a pie, it’s bound up with all these other memories: with the gifts of nature and the lessons of other pies, with the recollection of other festive occasions, of my family and friends. In the cycle of life, such memories occupy a central place, themselves a gift, filling us strength to confront the problems of a fallen world.