The Farm Chronicles: A baking lesson

My mother’s pies and cakes were something of a farm boy’s dessert fantasy. That buttery crust. Those taste-explosive cherries, apples, peaches—I can remember them all as if I were sitting under the shade of the old oak tree next to the house, gazing over the pastureland with the cows grazing and the horses standing nose to tail swatting each others’ flies under the blue skies, savoring that last bite of pie. Really, even as a scrawny little boy that preferred to eat nothing but hamburgers, I could put away one of my mother’s fruit pies in one sitting. Nothing like riding the bike up the driveway and catching a whiff of that wonderful pie-out-of-the-oven smell drifting in the breeze from the kitchen window. But it wasn’t always that way.

When Mom and Dad married, she didn’t have any idea what she was getting into. Dad’s mother was killed in a car accident when he was ten. He and my grandfather had lived at the farm as bachelors since that time. Mom’s description of the place when she told the story of coming “home” after she and Dad eloped—she was 17 and he was 23—even after nearly 50 years of marriage, was quite vivid. The floors were unkept, there were empty tin cans mixed in among the clothes that were laying around the old house. Trash was just thrown outside the window. She was aghast. My mother was a neatnik to the extreme, so she set her mind on making that 130-year-old farm house her HOME. And that she did, quickly erasing some 13 years without the presence of a homemaker amidst two farmers lacking any home-economic skills.

As one of her first acts as a good wife and homemaker, my mother baked my dad a surprise apple pie. It was his favorite. She meticulously prepared the apples and rolled the crust. She spent hours preparing this pie, putting the crust on top and making sure that the dough was crimped just right along the edges. She perforated the crust with a beautiful pattern and set it in the oven. When the pie came out, it was absolutely picture perfect. That night at dinner, Dad’s eye looked past the plate before him as he sized up that perfect looking apple pie made by his perfect bride. Soon dinner was finished and the time had come for the pie. Dad patiently waited for Mom to dish out the first piece. Then he dug in. And just when the tender fruit and lightly browned crust hit his taste buds, he spit out the first bite, nearly choking from the taste.

Mom’s countenance sank. She put all her heart into that pie and Dad spit it out like a bitter poison. Mortified, Mom took a fork and grabbed up a bite. She, too, had to spit it out. Now, Dad’s old coon hound Jack would eat anything. They dumped that pie into Jack’s bowl and he just sniffed it and walked away. Not even Jack. You see, unbeknownst to Mom, Grandpa or Dad had carelessly filled the sugar container with salt. As is written in Proverbs 17:1, “Better a dry crust eaten in peace than a house filled with feasting and conflict.” Here is a case where the salty crust that not even the dog would eat, brought embarrassment first, then a house filled with laughter as the story of Mom’s baking lesson was repeated even to this day. But she never repeated using salt for sugar.

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Bill Wilson