It is a particularly irksome day at the bakery with needs running the gamut from rolls of quarters to bags of ice to food safe cellophane. Dino is singing “Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime,” but based on all that is spinning around me, I’m not feeling the love. A man in a short-sleeved gingham check button down shirt poses a simple question. Crouched over high heat in the back of the kitchen swirling sugar syrup, I hear the question. “Pies?”
Will I love where this is headed? Unlikely. From my vantage point, he appears decidedly indecisive.
“What are your pie options?” Gingham Check asks one of the solicitous baristas. I am just about to pour a generous splash of heavy cream into hot-as-Hades sugar in the hopes of creating caramel. When caramel directives advise you to step back when adding cream to sugar syrup, they’re not kidding. The mixture bubbles up furiously, foaming, hovering dangerously close to the top of the saucepan. Turning down the heat to the lowest setting, I hope to diffuse the pie conversation by offering the facts, peppered with a few well placed no’s.
Gingham Check listens intently as I list the choices, then agonizes between apple and buttermilk, key lime and lemon. He counters with “Blueberry?” and I shake my head, involuntarily uttering the word ‘no.’ I apologize, demonstrating with a pucker that blueberries are on their way out, more tart than sweet. “How about peach?” he asks.
“Nooo, peaches are, well, peaches are just about finished.”
“Okay, how about strawberry rhubarb?” I’m sensing that this fellow is unable to grasp the hard truth that seasons are non negotiable. I explain that strawberry rhubarb is from our spring collection and we are presently in the throes of fall. Mr. Gingham Check sports a neatly trimmed beard which he is thumbing for inspiration. “How about that fig thing? The fig thing you made with the raspberries and the figs and the almonds? How about that?”
That would be fine if there were figs and raspberries in the bakery, but I know for certain the only fruit on the docket today is Granny Smith apple. The indecisive pie man simply cannot make up his mind. “What do you think?” he asks.
I think I smell something burning. Instead I reply with mock concern, “Why don’t you think about it?”
“Yes,” he agrees. “Let me think about it.”
Returning to the abandoned caramel, I fear it may have turned several shades darker than the highly coveted shade of amber I envisioned. I am relieved to see the caramel is just the slightest bit beyond amber. The something burning is a benign splash of heavy cream against the induction burner. I transfer the caramel to a heat-resistant bowl and head towards the walk-in where three cases of Granny Smiths are huddled together. In the light of day, I am faced with pie fixings as fragrant as a bowl of wax fruit. “No, no, no! These look suspiciously like cold storage apples…” Sure enough, lurking beneath tough neon green peels, it’s evident the apples are under-ripe, screamingly sour and unyielding beneath the blade of my paring knife. A pie-fecta of disaster. The taste and texture seem reminiscent of something Wilbur might have fed to Mr. Ed. I am terribly concerned that the three cases of apples have no place in a pie plate.
Kindly Barista interrupts my downward emotional spiral; “There’s someone on the phone about a pie…” Assuming it is Gingham Check Man, I am surprised to hear a woman’s voice on the other end of the line. “I’ve seen people in the bakery with little pies. How do I get a little pie? Can I order a little pie, a little peach pie?”
It is with a heavy heart that I respond to her requests in the negative. Pie Seeker is saddened by the news and asks me to hold on while she relays it to her husband. I explain the current state of the peach- (no longer sweet, somewhat mealy) and suggest a full size pie of the apple variety, sweetened with deeply golden caramel. I feel badly but not badly enough to wade through a pyramid of end-of-the-season peaches at the local supermarket. “My husband had his heart set on peach.” Go ahead, twist the paring knife, ruin my sleep. Now I have something to think about at 3 o’clock in the morning.
I am momentarily distracted by a last minute cookie order needing assemblage. I unravel the last bit of cellophane on the last of the corrugated rolls. I hear myself explaining what the platter should look like to Adam, a member of the kitchen crew who is new to cookie platter-ing. “You want the cookies to fan out around the perimeter, sort of a June Taylor dancer look, okay?” Adam’s reaction is quizzical. I continue, “You know what I mean by the June Taylor dancers, right?” A blank look registers across Adam’s chiseled features. “From the Jackie Gleason show?” Then I remember that the analogy is lost on someone who has just turned 22. “No?” There’s that word again.
The day ends much the way it began, with a reprise from Dino on the Sonos and a phone call from Gingham Check, asking me what I think. What I really think is that at the end of the day, pie is simply fruit tucked between two circles of pastry. There are probably more critical things to agonize over, yes?