Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Lost Art, or, The Impending Holiday Season

My mother always jokes, a bit forlornly, that homemade pie crust is a lost art, a type of sculpting or mold of flour and shortening that is fading to no more than quaint memory. I remember being a little girl, watching as my mother massaged the dough, then rolled and rolled into a perfect flat plane, finally meticulously pinching the edges into a precise pattern of dough divots, a tessellation of sharp angles. It was not until a much older, bordering embarrassing, age that I discovered pie crusts came packaged and pre-prepared, ready to toast to a golden brown in the oven. My mind was opened to cartons of fake canned frosting at about this same time; they both always seemed so excessively and unnecessarily grotesque. I have yet to attempt, let alone master, such a feat, at once simple in concept, yet mythic and grandiose in my own biography.

My maternal grandmother died before I was born; she was no cook, so I am not entirely sure where my mother gleaned her own kitchen secrets, her exact proportions of shortening and flour, other than perhaps an older edition of a Betty Crocker cookbook, the fictional domestic matriarch beaming with baking knowledge. My paternal grandmother loved to cook, and, similarly, took pride in hand-crafted pie crusts, devoted her hands to the similar ritual of soft kneading, of rolling, of delicate persuasion into the pinched pattern. I remember her lemon meringue pies quite distinctly, but, naturally, this time of year would always be the traditional pumpkin. My last times spent with her were Thanksgiving and the Christmas season; there is, always, in these months a tease of melancholy for someone lost, now a contortion of memory and photograph.

While I was an early adolescent, just starting middle school, meandering those long halls, uncertain and gawky, my grandfather grew aggressively ill with leukemia; though my grandmother, Meemaw, had long been diagnosed with a throat cancer, he died before her, in early autumn. It seemed to only take days for his body to wane, to something faded, a sort of fog of the reality of the girth it had been. For her, I can barely remember her body before the superficial senescence, years of feebling bones and muscles and tendons. After his death, Meemaw came to stay with my family. Our last Thanksgiving together was quiet and solemn, the meal predominantly prepared by my mother, save the pumpkin pie dessert. Proud, despite the effort, her movements burdened with a dark mourning for her husband, burdened with dying cells, ironically maniacal in their growth as she seemed to disappear, she mixed the dough, rolled it slowly, a flat plane, repeated that final methodical pattern. Tired but pleased, she turned the pie plate as she shaped, with her sharp fingers pinching a complete circle of crust.

(image taken from A Well Traveled Woman)