Beneath the Crust of 'Humble Pie'

Anne Dimock

Anne Dimock says pie is more than dessert; it's something that can hold a family together. Wendy Woods hide caption

itoggle caption Wendy Woods
'Humble Pie'  by Anne Dimock
Andrews McMeel Publishing

When she was growing up, writer Anne Dimock was rarely far from a pie. There were four apple trees in the backyard and her grandmother baked 100 pies every year. But sadly, Dimock says, pies are just a childhood memory for most people, disappearing from our daily lives.

"I think pie's got a very deep and profound meaning in a lot of people's lives," she says. The memory of pie "really evokes a powerful connection for them. I think it speaks to our longing for family, for some closeness and togetherness and perhaps innocence."

Dimock's new book is called Humble Pie: Musings on What Lies Beneath the Crust. Among its recipes is one for Thanksgiving pie. But the formula doesn't include the traditional ingredients of pumpkins or sweet potatoes. Instead, she uses apples and cranberries (it is Thanksgiving, after all), topped with walnuts.

Here's the recipe from Humble Pie, followed by an excerpt about what pies reveal about men.

Thanksgiving Pie

Crust:

1 (9- or 10-inch) piecrust, prepared or made from scratch.

 

Filling:

3 apples (use a soft, sweet variety like McIntosh or other sauce variety)

1 (12-ounce) package fresh whole cranberries

1 cup light brown sugar

 

Topping:

3/4 cup walnuts

1/4 cup light brown sugar

1/4 cup white flour

3 tablespoons butter, softened or cut into bits

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon salt

 

• Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

• Prepare the piecrust and fit into a 9- or 10-inch pie pan.

• Peel, core and dice the apples.

• Place the apple pieces in a large bowl with the cranberries and 1 cup of light brown sugar; mix well and place into the pie shell.

• Place the walnuts in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade; pulse for 5 seconds.

• Add the remaining ingredients and pulse until blended but still crumbly. (If you don't have a food processor, chop the nuts by hand and blend them with the rest of ingredients with the back of a large spoon.)

• Spoon the topping all over the pie.

• Bake at 425 degrees for 20 minutes, then lower the temperature to 350 degrees for 30 more minutes; cover with foil to prevent the topping from darkening too much.

 

 

Pie as Feminist Tool

 

What [else] is pie for?

—Ralph Waldo Emerson, when questioned about the New England habit of eating pie for breakfast

 

Pies always conjure up an image of wholesome women. Once it was Betty Crocker in a gingham apron. Now it is the good-looking young mothers in lifestyle catalogs, with children and home trendily attired, and a token man struggling with his crust. (Don't the men always struggle with their crust?) Mom and apple pie will always be part of our national mythology, as well as the Thanksgiving Day tableau of five pies cooling on the sill, Grandma wiping her brow but still smiling.

 

No matter how this scene is updated, we will always carry around the cultural baggage of Women-Who-Know-How-to-Make-Pies and Men-Who-Know-How-to-Eat-Them. The images are clear — making pies is women's work and men's relish.

 

Then there is the side you don't see. We don't want you to — it's our little secret. There's a lot more going on with the women making most of the world's pies than domestic harmony or saintly acts of sacrifice. There's power. It's the same power exercised by any group that must live with another group more numerous or powerful. It's a power that comes from quiet observation and deep knowledge about your competition. It is very useful to know everything about people who hold power over you, and pie is an important tool for revealing the truth about the person eating it.

 

Whenever I wanted a particular man to start paying attention to me, I would start making pies. A simple and obvious flirtation? No. I didn't make the pies to attract the man, I made the pies to test him. Any man could follow his nose and track the scent of a homemade pie. What good was that? All it got you was a man who wanted another pie. How did you know if he was the kind of man worth making another pie for? That's the kind of knowledge that's worth the price of learning how to make pies.

 

Some men regard pie as an entitlement, requiring a weekly or even daily fix. At their worst, these men are selfish and will take your pie, and you, for granted. But at their best, these men know pie and they know why yours is better than anybody else's and why only yours will do. They know that pie is important in their lives, but they don't know why. Don't waste any scorn on them; they are to be pitied. These are also the men unlikely to stray, though you may wish to lose them once in a while.

 

Other men will be fixated on one type of pie. They are the ones who pout when their pie isn't in the usual five-pie Thanksgiving Day lineup. They are the reason why five different pies are served. Disappointed when their favorite pie isn't included, they drive their mothers into pie baking frenzies, for they equate pie only with how much they are loved. These guys are immature, and you want to shake them and say "Grow up!" Don't bother. Next time they insist on their favorite pie, give it to them — right in the face.

 

You can tell even more about a man from his reactions to a piece of pie. You don't need me to tell you what to stay away from — the ones who don't say anything, the ones who don't chew, the ones who ask for a second slice before thanking you for the first, the ones who use a spoon. You already know what you're in for with them. But subtle gestures like the placement of his arms when he's done or the drop of his chin can speak volumes about a man's nature. The next time you need to evaluate the character of a man, prepare the pie of your choice, give him an ample slice, and yourself a smaller one. This is not a sacrifice, it's strategy. Let him eat, let him talk — you watch.

 

Pie is a window to a man's soul, a lens by which you can see his true nature and know the measure of his worth. You won't be able to take it all in, not in one slice of pie, not in a thousand. Pie is so revealing — especially rhubarb pie. But to start with, you can choose several traits and look to confirm their presence.

 

• Is he generous of nature? Look at how he cuts the pie. How large are the bites? Not very? Good.

• Does he bear down on his fork with his index finger? He should.

• Does he take a bit of crust with each bite or leave it to the last? Oh, the last!

• Be mindful of where he begins to eat the slice. While most of us will start at the apex, a particularly curious and lively soul will start elsewhere.

• Watch for pauses. Count them. As the number increases, so does his attention to the details of life.

• Digging out the filling reveals a propensity to lie.

• Nibbling away at the rest of the pie in the pan predicts a man who wants to have things both ways.

• And oddly enough, slow, thoughtful chewing has no relation to introspection, but only to how acute his sense of smell is.

 

These are the basics. In time you will get to know others. The advantages in courtship are obvious, but don't overlook its applications to the power lunch, the job interview, and the faculty meeting.

 

What pie reveals is how well a man can identify his hunger. How large and looming is that hunger? Can he name it? How does he meet it? How does he greet it? In the feast of life, will he save room for the pie?

 

These are very good things to know about men.

 

From Humble Pie: Musings on What Lies Beneath the Crust copyright © 2005 by Anne Dimock.

 

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Musings On What Lies Beneath The Crust

by Anne Dimock

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