Kay, I mentioned her last week. You remember, the woman who keeps her community garden organized. The source of the mystery collards.
As we talked and walked through the beautiful garden adjacent to her high rise, she said a few things which lodged in my brain, dropped a few comments which led me to suspect something about her.
A biggie was when we were in the back of the garden, squeezing between the "gooseberry collection" and the fence. She casually mentioned putting up gooseberries every year for her friend.
Who does that?
People who make pies, that's who.
We kept walking, I took a few photos, drank in the day. It was a gorgeous one. She showed me the indoor courtyard gardens. We sat awhile on a bench. Then I told her about the South Side Pie Challenge.
She paused. She asked, do you bake the pies there? No, I said, you bring them already baked. What about the crust? Are there rules about the crust, like you need to use a certain kind of lard?
I say: It just needs to be a crust. I think: Lard! Who uses lard but crazy-awesome bakers from the upper Midwest?
I am quiet for a beat, waiting for the story. And there is one.
There is always one.
When I was 9, Kay begins, I was in an apple pie contest.
It was a 4H event, open to ages 9 to 21. The 4H folks brought in 8 varieties of apples, including Winesap, Golden Delicious, Wealthy, and Macintosh. All these apples were on a long table and you got to choose your own mix. Now, based on the apples of course you'd need to decide the appropriate level of sweetness you needed, or how you would respond to their particular juiciness, or crispness. Then you mix up and roll out your pastry, fill it up, bake it just so in some strange oven--and leave the rest to the judging. (I forgot to ask about whether you were judged on your kitchen clean up too.)
So I'm picturing me as a kid contestant. No recipe, just the easy familiarity that comes with handling ingredients many, many times. Somehow, the picture is not coming into focus no matter how much I squint. Now I have a very competent 9 year old daughter. I'm not sure she could manage it at all, producing a pie all on her own power in a public kitchen.
Well, Kay observes, this was 65 years ago. There was nothing else to do. Kids didn't have all the stuff they do now, there was no TV or computer games or anything. We all knew how to make pies.
I ask her if she was intimidated at all about being among the youngest in the contest.
"I was a pretty confident kid. I don't remember feeling scared."
I consider for a moment, looking at Kay, looking back, remembering.
"You won, didn't you." Not even framed as a question.
"Yes I did," she says with a smile. "I still have the newspaper clipping. In Minnesota."
See? I told you. Crazy-awesome upper Midwestern baking chops.
I am pretty sure Kay is entering the South Side Pie Challenge. She's still got her Minnesota apples--in fact she just returned from a fishing trip there, where she also did some apple picking. Recently she made a few pies according to her by-now well-established custom. Here without any commentary are a few photos from that process. I can't write about it or I'll be giving away the secrets that she crimps into her crusts. But we all know about the lard, anyway. That, she picks up from the 61st Street farmer's market. And makes pies that clearly say she still has the pie moxie.
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