red bird pie: a recipe of courage
perhaps its name is misguided, a culinary blunder nearly as stark as the dough with the mind of its own.
perhaps in calling it red bird pie, instead of the more ingredient-precise — say, peeled-granny-smith-with-occasional-appleseed pie — i’ve sent you and your brain cells tumbling down the very wrong path. perhaps you envision a meat pie. a pie filled with bird. i can’t even bring myself to type “red bird” when typing in this particular vein. for that would be a slaughterous pie, and we’ll have none of that here, not in this teetering-on-greens-only house.
it’s all just poetry, the poetry of pie naming. and once i discovered i could play with my pie dough, could press my old tin cutter, a wee red-bird cutter, you see, well, i was suddenly in joyful terrain. i pressed and i lifted and plopped. i was going gaga for the red birds i pressed in my pie top.
and deserving was i of this romp and reckless dough-cutting. for it had been a long way to red bird.
and thus is the story of the red bird of courage.
you see, as long as i’ve been alive i remember the words of my mama: “i’m afraid of pie dough,” she once said (though the minute i type that, i expect the phone to ring and denial to ring out across the land). for the sake of maternal peacemaking, let’s just say that someone once uttered the words, pie dough = fear, and they stuck.
if my forebears in the kitchen were fearful of dough, well, then, i too held ancestral right to be fearful.
so, all these years, i’d never done it. not until the day before yesterday, that is. the day before thanksgiving 2014, the day my dough dread crumbled. and the red bird rose to my rescue, served as my bent-tin medal of courage.
it so happens that this happens to be my season of conquering fear. and one of the very last bastions was the one splayed across the now flour-streaked pages — clear from page 24 to far yonder 44, a full 20 sheafs of schooling in butter + flour + water! no wonder i shook in my tattered-and-splattered over-head apron!
i’d turned in my hour of fear-mounting to “the hoosier mama book of pie,” a nestled-to-the-bosom book of pie tutelage if ever there was (though ms. paula haney, the hoosier mama herself, does seem to revel in raising the rolling pin higher and higher with each and every pie-baking instruction).
why, before the day was done — and it was a long one — i would have fumbled my way through these fine kitchen verbs: i macerated. i reduced. and i chilled. i would have pulsed, but the food processor also is among the kitchen wares i dread (or simply hate to haul from the pantry shelf), so i rocked with old-fashioned half-moon pastry cutter. i sprinkled “crust dust” (who knew?). and before i’d so much as frozen the butter, i’d stalked the grocery store shelves in search of tapioca starch. (i went with minute tapioca. oh, well. chalk it up to kitchen transgression.)
apparently, i’m not so good with numbers, either. at least not when it comes to butter. i grabbed two sticks, but promptly forgot that the wee little fraction tucked alongside the 1, there in the ingredient roster, spelled out 3/4 — as in less than a whole, as in fraction of buttery stick. so my virgin voyage of pie dough had an 2 extra Tbsps. of land o’ lakes unsalted butter.
you might wonder why if i started this whole rigamarole at 2 in the afternoon, i didn’t pull that ol’ bird-pocked pie from the oven till half past 10 in the night? well, it seems ms. hoosier mama believes in slow baking. meaning every step was punctuated with full stop — freeze for 20 minutes, rest for 20, macerate at least 25, drain for 25, chill for 20, freeze for yet another 20; 130 full minutes of pause, pause and more pause.
in which, i suppose, the ponderous baker is supposed to deep breathe the wonders of all this mindful attention to butter and flour and water laced with red wine vinegar (the better the chances to shorten the protein strands, ms. haney explains, the ones that make your pie dough tough to the tooth).
seeing as this was my first run-through, i more or less sighed deep sighs of exasperation at each and every prescription to pause. by dinner time, when everyone’s tummy was growling, and i was still pausing to freeze or to drain, i’d gotten to calling this “apple pie interruptus,” for the way i seemed to take two steps fore and one step to the side.
and i flubbed plenty along the way: besides the mistake with my buttery math, and despite the fun i had thwopping the cold ball of dough with the girth of the rolling pin (lest all the rolling toughen it into one hard-bitten bird), my dough circles never did reveal themselves (more like a raggedy-edged oblong was the best i could do).
so i did what any self-respecting virgin pie baker would do: i scrimped. scraped the doodads of dough right off the cutting board. dabbed droplets of water there at the seam, where dough met dough, and i made like a band-aid.
and then, at last, i got to the side note, the one about cutting to vent, and that’s where all my years of flipping glossy pages in foodie tomes came to bear: i plundered my mostly-unused-but-abundant collection of old cookie cutters, and there, at the way bottom of the basket, lay a toppled wee red bird.
and that’s how i wound up reveling in pie dough, just before the 10 o’clock news. i pressed myself a whole flock of dough birds. i had red bird holes in my pie top. and red bird doodads of dough, rising up to a second dough layer. i had so very much fun with my birds i barely noticed the disastrous crimp to my crust. nor did i mind the splotches of dough bandage.
which leads me to think that, as with all acts of courage, the recipe reads something like this: shove up your shirt sleeves, take it one step at a time, don’t flog yourself for dumb mistakes and necessary U-turns, and let rip when it comes to the part where you’re in your glory.
in the end, does anyone other than you give two whits that you’ve mastered the thing that you feared?
but once you find yourself grabbing the hot pads and oven mitts, and you’re yanking your prize from the sizzling oven rack, all you need do is deep breathe the truth that, step by step, blunder upon blunder, you’ve inched your way over and across the very terrain that once made you tremble.
life is like that. pie-baking is too.
and what fears have you conquered of late? the ones you’ve batted down with rolling pin, or ones of whole other ilk? and how did you muster the courage?
You are a brave one. If any recipe expands to more than one page, I don’t even look at it. I cook the way I live: timidly. Putting my feet on the floor in the morning sometimes takes all the courage I have. This is a great lesson, bam, thank you. You’re so right. Cooking is like life. (And extra butter is never a mistake; you can never have too much butter.) Thanking God for buttery friends like you. xo
timid is an apt word. it fits me, too. i think i mistakenly call myself shy. i think really it’s timid. there’s a fine distinction. and timid sure fits. and by the way, i love you timid or tender or shy or just whispered. timid hearts find strength in each other…..
Can’t say I’ve tried anything courageous recently, but after reading this, I think I may have the courage to make pie crust some time soon! Yes, I admit it. As my middle age moves closer to older age, never have I even attempted to make pie crust! Congratulations to you for taking the plunge. Your red bird pie looks delicious!
we should make a national holiday of pie courage day. one, two, three, cut, freeze and stir. maybe ms. haney will preside over the doings……
Mmmmm. That looks delicious. What, pray tell, is crust dust?
My mom and her mother were both first-rate piecrust makers. When I concentrate and the humidity is just right, I can come close. But sometimes I rely on the boxed Pillsbury. You’ve inspired me to try again this weekend to make a pie from scratch.
As for recent fears, well, I’ve faced a few. Thanks for reminding me that I have a rolling pin and I’m not afraid to use it.
(P.S. As I recall, veteran pie makers also do that thing where you scrape up the orts and use water like a Band-Aid.)
dear beloved laura B,
what, pray tell, is crust dust, you ask…
quoting from page 21 (mind you, this is preamble, before we even get to the pie dough instructions):
“…we use lots of different techniques to keep our double-crust fruit pies from getting soggy bottom crusts. one of my favorites showed up in several vintage cookbooks…” (BLING BLING BLING, the word “vintage,” in conversation about pie is certain to make my melt-meter go off, knowing we are consulting with masters/mistresses of kitchen wizardry, and all will be well…)
“mix equal parts all-purpose flour and granulated sugar, then lightly dust it across the bottom of the pie shell before adding the fruit filling…the flour thickens the fruit juices before they can seek into the crust, and the sugar keeps it from clumping..”
sounds like fairy dust to me. and i never met a fairy dust that didn’t enchant me….
i wanted to add this little morsel to the table….
because one of the family field trips we’ve taken this week was a trip to the magnificent and fascinating historic glessner house, on chicago’s stately prairie avenue, i stumbled across this bit of poetry on the wall of the house, penned by frances glessner herself. it was written in 1897 by a woman of another time. and yet, and yet, i find the words a bridge from soul to soul. i do believe frances glessner would have been a friend, a kindred spirit across the ages….
here is her poetry:
“To live content with small means;
To seek elegance rather than luxury,
And refinement rather than fashion;
To be worthy not respectable and
Wealthy, not rich; to study hard,
Think quiet, talk gently, act frankly;
To listen to stars and birds, to babes
And sages with open heart;
To bear all cheerfully, do all bravely;
Await occasion, hurry never;
In a word, to let the spiritual,
Unbidden and unconscious
Grow up through the common.”
–frances glessner, sept. 23, 1897
and a bit more about the house, where if you find yourself in chicago, you might want to venture. it’s as magical a house as I’ve ever seen…..
oops…. my post disappeared…i trust this is not a double…
your post title had me hook, line and sinker…and i did not envision the humble apple pie…i’m glad the red bird cutter came to your rescue…
conquering fear —– letting go…..when your young very young children have their own young very young children …. not taking their responsibilities onto my already heavy-weight shoulders … letting go …. allowing them to learn on their own ….. the fear that something might happen …. letting go of past accidents and present accidents… the actual freedom of the truth that i’m not in control …letting go….
and dear fellow pie-baker….i hope that the pie was yummy, very yummy…
OH! so sorry for disappearing post. i HATE when that happens. your badges of courage, the ones you aim to conquer, they are on my list as well. although my boys don’t yet have little ones of their own. my little one is simply trying to get through eighth grade…..
but someday, i can only imagine. and for now, the rest are shouldered here too…..
I am awed by that delicious pie and your delicious words! Both are quite inviting. And I will add…you are inspiring! Not only for your stunning mastery of words but…making your own pie crust! I used to but my family rarely notices the difference and, quite frankly, I have gotten a bit lazy over the years. It was quite enjoyable to be drawn in by your rolling pin but pre-made crusts will still make it to my table.
Love the fear and courage wonderings…will take some time to ponder while my pre-made crust pie is baking!
PS Loved reading you in The Trib on Thanksgiving and your gifts for which you give thanks. You made it to my list of GIFTS. Thank you.
bless you and thank you, and thank you to Mark B for drawing us into the very same orbit……
You are brave, brave, brave! That is one gorgeous pie. I remember a time, more than 2 1/2 years ago, when you and I were looking over a cliff together and deciding whether to jump. Things are going pretty well so far, I’d say!
Meanwhile, you have bolstered my courage to try making Mom’s fudge yet again.
go fudge, go!!!!
That pie looks pretty tasty. Congratulations for sticking with it! Plus, the glessner house poem is wonderful.
isn’t it? the poem i mean. i love that despite the century plus between us, we speak the same language…..right down to the stars and birds….
Love this post, every delicious bit of it. Love this Frances Glessner poem. Love lovely you! ❤ xox
you blessed angel. thank you. one thing i loved is that frances glessner had a tuesday morning reading club. she invited wise folk — authors and scholars and critics — to come read to a circle of friends. i love that the reading aloud was part of it. not reading alone at home, but hearing the words all together, spoken…..i am just enchanted by this woman who ended every day, so the story goes, sewing in front of the fire. her pure and purposed life gives me pause. and a beacon that illuminates. i think i belong in another century……blessings on this thanksgiving weekend, dear amy……i am SO thankful for you…..
Love the idea of a reading circle. How charming! Sewing by the fire each evening? Sounds heavenly. I, too, am nostalgic for another century. From this blooms my love of antique shops, vintage bookstores, samplers and fine embroidery, old lithographs, on and on. . .
Hmmmm, got me thinking of making mom’s kolachkys again.
For some reason that one always seems a little daunting but oh how my friends and family love them!
i believe i too have heard that kolachkys can be a rather high hurdle. there is nothing like taking a deep breath and filling your lungs with that swirl from the oven that smells just like mama was there in the kitchen….