For anyone participating in Dry January or Clean Eating, we really don’t need any distractions. Being reminded to eat more pie by Pi(e) Day’s distant relation, National Pie Day, seems unfair. Elbowing it’s way onto the calendar, pie’s lesser-known celebration has chosen to land on the seemingly random date of January 23rd.
Originally credited to American engineer Charlie Papazian, Charlie proclaimed his birthday, January 23rd, as National Pie Day. The American Pie Council took up sponsorship of the holiday in 1986 on the date that coincided with the 75th anniversary of Crisco shortening. Aimed to increase sales of the famous blue-labeled shortening, the marketing ploy worked. Today, National Pie Day is recognized as yet another excuse to bake and eat pie. Hard-core Pi(e) Day loyalists remain tethered to March 14th, unwavering in their dedication to the mathematical/double crust celebration. Whether you choose the January or the March date, (and there’s nothing wrong with celebrating both) here’s a true tale from my workplace of the restorative power of pie.
I am convinced that pie is more powerful than any bar cookie or frosting slathered cupcake or gluten-free quick bread. Pie has a sixth sense- a way of knowing when it’s most needed. Pie prides itself on being the center of attention in November and again in late May and early July, but it seems to me, pie is most restorative on ordinary days.
About a year ago, a giant cloak of sadness, of profound loss, engulfed the bakery. While we were in the thick of it, pie helped cushion the blow. Not just in the eating, but in the baking. The repetitive nature of rolling and crimping, of juicing lemons and whisking eggs, peeling apples and weaving lattice, provided a welcome distraction. The term Misery Pie seemed an apt description; a dessert whose sole purpose was to alleviate the excruciating pain. As promised, the pain eased but never really went away. Grief seemed like a word reserved for people (other than hipsters) dressed in black, in a state of constant mourning, and it felt a little bit self-indulgent, so I renamed it Melancholy. Melancholy liked to breeze in and out, hiding around corners, jumping out and dragging me down when I least expected it, but allowing me to get on with my day.
Strongly believing that most days can benefit from a triangular slice of pie, a faux food calendar telling me to celebrate National Pie Day feels hollow. Eyeing a stack of empty pie shells in the freezer and choosing how to fill them is enough of a reminder. Shivering in the walk-in and considering my options, cold storage apples feel better suited to fall. Folding up the hem of my apron to create a pocket, two lemons nestle easily into the linen-service-quality polyester. Cradling a flat of eggs and two quarts of buttermilk in my arms, I open the door of the walk-in with my elbow. No sooner do I start cracking eggs into a bowl and zesting the lemons, a customer walks through the bakery door, scanning the front table in hopes of a buttermilk pie. When asked if there was a chance I’d be baking the tangy custard pie any time soon, I hold up the orange capped Five Acre Farms Local buttermilk in reply.
Without prompting, the customer confides that she is having a bad day and a buttermilk pie might turn things around. Clearly, this wasn’t any old pie request; I sensed this was in fact, a Misery Pie. “My father passed away in December. It was his favorite,” she whispers. That not-so-old hole in my heart ached in sympathy. I nodded.
Pie seems to know when it’s needed. The same way a piecrust cradles a filling, protecting it from the heat of the oven, pie can also cushion us from some of life’s harshest realities. The English writer and dramatist John Lyly, is credited for a series of books written around 1579, titled, Euphues. Lyly wrote, “In misery it is great comfort to have a companion.” It seems plausible that on certain days, faux or factual holiday, or plain old Thursday, pie makes a fine companion, indeed.
Nothing wipes the smile off the face of a gingerbread man faster than the month of January. A few short weeks ago, overstuffed cookie boxes were in all their insta-glory, only to be replaced in January by vegan breakfast bowls. No wonder we’re feeling curmudgeonly; we’re hangry.
The sugar buoyancy we experienced in December is gone, replaced by sacrifices made in the name of clean eating. We’re not drowning our January selves in pink packets of Sweet-n-Low or heaping spoonfuls of Cremora into our cuppa joe, but the New Year changes things. Splashing soy in our coffee, and oat milk in our oatmeal, we bump up our water intake, hanging our January selves out to dry. Adding a shot of bitters to a glass of seltzer might be good for our health, but it doesn’t take the sting out of a long workday.
Clean slates and diet trends change with the times. We once swore by Atkins and oat bran, grapefruits and South Beach. We hunted, we gathered, counted points, and tried to slim fast. Carbs were good until they were bad, kale was king until cauliflower thought it was pizza. You can’t fool me; a sheet pan cradling oven-roasted vegetables cries out for melted cheese. If we could navigate our wellness journey with ease, we would certainly download the app with the most expedient route. Instead, we’re stuck in late night traffic with a driver who can’t decide between WAZE and Google Maps. From the back seat I want to tell the driver to take the butter-sugar-flour-eggs-it.
There are plenty of faux food holidays to embrace. A few days ago, National Bagel Day slipped into town, but without so much as a slab or a schmear of a greeting, I missed it. My workplace is already in the throes of February planning. Christmas Red has been bumped out of line by Rose Pink and the Christmas cookie cutters have been relegated to an airtight bin for hibernation. Sprinkle King is gearing up for the diets-be-damned holiday with a vast collection of sugar hearts and edible pearls. Above the din of the espresso machine pumping out skinny drinks, you can hear the sound of the bakery door slamming. A disgruntled, solitary gingerbread man sees himself out.
January takes a little getting used to. A snow-globe’s worth of flurries isn’t dire, but faced with a long road of winter yet to travel, I’m already itching for spring. My kitchen clogs remain firmly planted on the same brown and yellow linoleum squares they frequented in 2019, within earshot of early morning caffeine-ators. There’s been a lot of conversation this week about less dairy and zero sugar and sheet pan vegetables. Reaching for my insulated cup spiked with two shots of espresso and capped with whole milk foam, I’m thinking how much better my coffee would taste with a little laminated dough swirled with dark chocolate. Someone is going on about sheet pan dinners and meal prep. Remembering when sheet pans were called cookie sheets and meal prep was just making dinner, I’m already irritated and it’s not even 9 o’clock. Thank goodness I didn’t weigh myself down with a list of impractical resolutions about being patient and understanding.
January cautions us to be mindful but my mind is elsewhere. A recent foray into a top shelf of cookbooks unearthed a recipe, clipped from a box of Nabisco graham cracker crumbs. The cardboard is rough on the underside, smooth and perfectly legible on the topside. It’s a recipe for "Graham Cracker Pie" wedged alongside a recipe for "Rich Vanilla Cream Pie." Both recipes are basically identical; custard and meringue in a graham cracker crust.
Graham cracker crumbs tossed with melted butter and sugar were an integral part of Jessie’s piecrust repertoire. The crumbs were also used to stretch along the bottom and up the sides of a cavernous springform pan, a vessel for cheesecake as award-worthy as Lindy’s or Junior’s. The same graham cracker crumbs lined Pyrex pie plates, playing host to custards and creams. One of our favorites was a humble vanilla cream crowned with toasted meringue. The filling required a stove-top application, and was the same custard Jessie used to fill éclairs, cream puffs, and Boston cream pie. Jessie had a tendency to “fix” recipes and in this case, she always bumped up the number of egg yolks, creating a richer custard than what was called for, and increasing the number of whites for a loftier meringue.
Our version of vanilla cream pie was no different than the pies dubbed “Prairie Pie” and “Flapper Pie,” homespun desserts made from simple ingredients tethered to no particular season. Prairie Pie dates back to the 19th century, a pie that enjoyed popularity throughout western Canada. Scrappy bakers all across the country offer a similar version of this vanilla cream pie. In the 1920s, “Prairie Pie” was contemporized with the name “Flapper Pie,” and in some recipes, cinnamon (which was more costly) was added to the graham cracker crust. The women behind the pie plates in Prairie kitchens were less likely to rouge their knees, but they knew how to transform farmhouse staples into gossamer desserts. For those of us in suburban kitchens, if the milkman didn’t deliver fresh milk and eggs, we turned to our local A&P or Waldbaum’s.
Vanilla cream pie with toasted meringue in a graham cracker crust feels like January. It’s not particularly fussy, but it’s flashy enough. It’s exactly the kind of pie to ease the January blues, to forgive resolutions broken or never made. It reminds us that even the most humble of desserts, a pie popularized well over 100 years ago, is still relevant. “Flapper” pie was so-named to mirror a time when women were questioning political, cultural, and technological advances. The more pie changes, the more it stays the same.
Armed with a remote control, I watched 2020 waltz into town Tuesday night from the comfort of a sofa in Toronto. Ryan Seacrest was at the helm of New Year’s Rockin’ Eve in Times Square. Canadian crooner Bryan Adams headlined from Niagara Falls. Just before midnight, I flipped the channels, stumbling across Celebration Square, Mississauga. You can always distinguish the Canadian revelers from the New Yorkers. Canadians dress in smart Canadian winter jackets, laughing in the face of wind, water, and snow. New Yorkers are more fixated on slimming pouffy waist-length jackets and oversized Party City New Year’s eyeglasses. I suspect it’s a cultural thing.
I’m not sorry/sooory to wave good-bye to 2019. It was a year as mercurial as a bowl of egg whites and sugar, with some lofty highs and far too many lows to count. In my line of work, the year spins like the gears on a Kitchen-Aid mixer, accelerating from modest holidays to dangerously high-speed holidays. In the confines of a bakery, we’re in the business of making lives a little sweeter, a little more (or a lot less) gluten-y, a little nutty, unless of course you’re allergic. In most cases, we’re here to help you douse your everyday in caffeine and celebrate with copious amounts of butter and sugar.
A bakery strives for success every single day. When things go wrong, the epic fails feel monumental; until the next one comes along. Some of the failures are out of our control, like oven timers with laryngitis. Others are tethered to human error, cold and flu season, a finite labor pool. Like egg whites and sugar clinging optimistically to the sides of an impeccably grease-free bowl, I dream of success with every pie. I want the crust to be flaky and the filling to be memorable. It should be the kind of pie that announces itself when you carry the bakery box through your front door and set it on the kitchen counter. It should be a pie that beckons you to cut one more sliver before you leave the table and another morning sliver with your first cup of coffee. There’s nothing cavalier about pie baking. Pie is needy and finicky and seldom perfect. On Thanksgiving, all of the pies nag, tugging at the sleeves of my bathrobe. The pies of 2019 were no different.
Not much will change in the minutiae of my New Year. I’m not one for resolutions or monumental adjustments. Maybe I’ll eat more vegetables and fewer cheesy puffs; probably not. A new decade is humbling, reminding us that the oven timer of life continues to tick down. Seasons and holidays will once again tumble one into the other like dominoes, empty pie shells will haunt. Pie-bye, 2019. Sorry to see you go; not sorry.
We were never a doughnuts-for-Hanukkah family. Sufganiyot, jelly-filled doughnuts fried in oil certainly had their place at the Hanukkah table, but not ours. We preferred the miracle of light to shine on crispy-edged potato latkes, sizzling on repeat in the West-Bend electric fryer. Brisket, delicious as it was, served as a vehicle for the latkes, accompanied by blush-pink applesauce and sour cream. Dessert was often an after-thought because we were focusing on Hanukkah’s raison d’etre- lighting the Menorah and unwrapping our gifts. Occasionally, Jessie or my grandmother would bake rugelach but they were time consuming and interfered with the latke production. More often than not, we opened yellow mesh bags of chocolate gelt, peeled away the gold foil and nibbled on waxy, milk chocolate. It was somewhat lackluster, but traditional.
Rugelach in Yiddush means “little twists.” My grandmother’s rugelach was a European-inspired yeast dough, coiled around raisins and walnuts, crunchy with cinnamon sugar, more of a pastry than a cookie. Jessie’s rugelach was an American-ized cream cheese dough, made popular by the Breakstone and Philadelphia cream cheese marketing teams. The dough was tender and flaky, made up of equal parts cream cheese, sweet butter, and flour. We tend to associate Hanukkah with dairy-rich foods. This makes rugelach the perfect Hanukkah dessert offering, unless you’re up to your elbows frying latkes.
My early rugelach days were tethered to the Oneg Shabbat following Friday night Temple services. Accompanied by tiny cups of Welch’s grape juice, rugelach dough swirled around apricot or raspberry jam, walnuts, and cinnamon sugar. The rugelach vacillated between fresh and crumbly, dense and dry. More enticing were the over-stuffed cream puffs and chocolate glazed eclairs, but rugelach was always front and center on the dessert table. Long before it was a catch phrase, I suspect rugelach suffered from a fear of missing out.
As a young adult, I learned to associate rugelach with the somber gathering of a Shiva call. There was nothing particularly special about any of the cookies fanned across the Saran wrapped platters. The chocolate chip cookies looked promising, but were always shy on chips. The twice-baked Mandelbrot had little personality, and the brownies always looked better than they tasted. A West-Bend coffee urn gurgled from the neighboring sideboard, filling the room with the rich aroma of Maxwell House or Chock-full-O’Nuts. It you brushed up against the sideboard too closely, a precarious stack of coffee cups and saucers rattled nervously. It was nearly impossible for a cookie to be jubilant in a tear-stained house of mourning. Rugelach deserved better.
Every December, I longed for Hanukkah to be equally represented amidst the overkill of Christmas sweets. I wanted a Hanukkah cookie unthreatened by overdressed gingerbreads, jammy thumbprints, be-decked-be-sprinkled spritzes. I felt rugelach had spent way too much time amidst mourners and was seeking a little joy. By adapting the fillings to the season, the variations were infinite. I set out to expand my rugelach repertoire.
I included the finicky pastry in my restaurant career, offering the tender cream cheese spirals at too many holidays, particularly Hanukkah. I added dark chocolate and raspberries, a generous handful of hazelnuts. Over time, I couldn’t keep up with the demand and had to limit the jammy crescents for occasions I deemed important. I rolled and shaped the spiral cookies for family gatherings, milestone events; even when that included sad farewells. There was something therapeutic about the rolling, the filling, and the shaping of the tender dough, something restorative about the repetition. It also became my favorite December cookie, less glittery than the dozens of Christmas cookies strutting their dragées across glossy magazine covers.
Rugelach dough provides as much inspiration as pounds of sugar cookie dough. It's festive enough for a late-night party or comfortable with hot tea in the afternoon. Apricot jam, walnuts, and cinnamon still have their place, but trying new flavors keeps the tedious process enjoyable. Inspired by my mother’s love for Meyer lemons, the sunny citrus is perfectly suited to the cream cheese dough. Replacing jam with a sweet/tart curd offers brightness and texture from the Meyer lemons. Pistachios
provide all the glitter necessary to make this a holiday cookie. The result is surprisingly out of character for a swirly rugelach; a welcome bit of sunshine amidst wind chills that only Santa dare brave. If I squirrel some away for Sunday, I won’t have to open a single foil-wrapped milk chocolate coin.
Based on brisk sales at work, it appears we need a little Christmas cookie, right this very minute. Sugar cookies are in the forefront being aggressively chased by gingerbread. It is a race we never can win.
I was always more of a rugelach girl, more comfortable with a cookie slightly akin to pie. Rugelach dough is tender, a cream cheese circle happy to embrace cinnamon sugar, plump raisins, and walnuts. Although fiddly to prepare, at Hanukkah, rugelach was the cookie yin to Barton’s chocolate gelt yang. Save for Spritz cookies, Christmas cookies were foreign territory. Jessie’s black-handled Mirro Aluminum Cookie Press with 12 interchangeable discs lived in the depths of one of the knotty-pine kitchen cabinets. In December, Jessie unearthed the gadgetry, inviting me to participate. It was never my forte; I didn’t have the right touch. Spritz-cookie-ing required squeezing just enough dough onto the cookie sheet but not too much. Jessie’s cookies were distinctive, easily recognizable. Dogs looked like dogs down to their tails, snowflakes and trees were unmistakable, boasting clean edges. Mine all looked pretty much the same. I was better suited to cut-out cookies, but Jessie had little time or inclination to be (direct quote) “fussin’ with all that icin’ nonsense.” Perhaps she was trying to save me from my future cookie self.
My current self must admit that decorating Christmas cookies is something I actually look forward to. Unlike pie, weighty with fruit, screaming hot around the edges, cookies are somewhat manageable. The quantity is totally unmanageable; the retail public actually clamors for thousands of cookies. The bakery will pump out exactly that; thousands. In my early days at the bakery, I was hired to decorate cookies for the Christmas season. Nine years later, I’ve racked up plenty of miles on the carpal-tunnel-odometer. Every time the piping bag misbehaves, or the Ameri-gel Christmas Red leaves its indelible mark on my fingers, I can’t help but think of Jessie and that black–handled Mirro Aluminum Cookie Press.
Our team of butter-sugar-flour enablers have arrived at the other side of Thanksgiving, and not a minute too soon. The am crew overlapped with the pm crew, as days slid seamlessly into nights then back again into daybreak. Wedged elbow to elbow around a worktable covered in scales, mixing bowls, and flats of organic eggs, we crossed the checkerboard linoleum, from bench to walk-in to bench then oven, bruising our hips on every corner of unforgiving stainless steel.
Working eight consecutive days in a row makes you a little punchy in the end. Even the convection ovens feel it, taking their own sweet time when you’re tapping your kitchen clogs, or taunting with hotspots when you run downstairs to fetch more pumpkin. Ovens are like children, requiring constant babysitting. Straining to hear the oven timer over the din of the kitchen, it is imperative to stand at the ready, poised to rotate, adjust, and retrieve.
Every year there are lessons learned and this Thanksgiving was no different. A few new challenges reared their ugly heads requiring the following notes-to-self.
1. Pizza is truly the official food leading up to Thanksgiving.
2. Never underestimate the importance of commercial plastic wrap in a commercial kitchen. Minuscule rolls of Saran Wrap laugh in the face of holidays.
3. Hot ovens run too hot, slow ovens are too damn slow. Oven timers think it’s funny to turn themselves off. For this reason, it is imperative to stock your bakery medicine cabinet with plenty of analgesics and anti-inflammatories.
4. Oven racks like to glide into place some of the time. When least convenient, they will struggle, splashing hot buttermilk custard in your direction, specifically towards the exposed area where oven mitt ends and bare skin begins.
5. You cannot coax pumpkin pies to bake faster. They could care less about your stress level and will show their defiance with unsightly cracks.
6. Apple pies appear to be easy going but in fact, they are prima donnas who complain about their delicate complexions being exposed to the top rack of a convection oven.
7. Soft apples (I’m looking at you, Cortland) have their place, namely in applesauce. They should best stay home and decline any invitations to the apple pie party.
8. Canned pumpkin should have a lift-top tab opening. Canned pumpkin requires
a lift-top tab opening.
9. The oven mitt with the hole in it that you swore you threw away will return time and again. You will reach for it and wear it when removing the weightiest, hottest sheet pan from the top shelf of the oven.
10. People who don’t eat enough pie on a regular basis are cranky in general and more so when they are told they can’t have a pie because they didn’t order one.
11. People who eat lots of pie all the time are less cranky until they are told they can’t have a pie because they didn’t order one.
12. Pie seekers who forget to order their pie are sneaky, cajoling, and ultimately belligerent.
13. Pie scalping is really a thing amongst pie purchasers with one too many pies.
(This was confirmed by a highly reliable source; someone who witnessed the event outside the bakery.)
14. Pie bakers should absolutely squirrel away their preferred non-traditional fruit pie fixings in the freezer. They should bake that pie and eat the leftovers, if any, for breakfast on Black Friday.
15. We should seriously consider moving Thanksgiving from November to February 29th.
Let it be known throughout the kitchens of the land; November 15th has been designated “Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day.” Created by the home economists at Whirlpool Home Appliances in 1999, those savvy consumer educators knew what was lurking in the back of our single and double door refrigerators. They also knew that a week or so shy of Thanksgiving, we needed to don our Hazmat suits, fill our buckets with hot, soapy water and face our fridges. The time was ripe, so to speak, to tackle those nearly empty Kozlik’s Canadian mustard jars, to empty the unlabeled Tupperware in the rear of the left hand corner, to throw away the once-sprightly-now-decomposing herbs lurking in the crisper drawer.
In 1999, if you needed assistance, it was not uncommon to pick up the phone, dial a toll free number and speak with a customer service representative. Up to your elbows in your best yellow rubber gloves, you could cradle your Nokia or Motorola flip phone in one hand while attempting to realign the shelves and crisper drawers with the other.
Over the years, the folks on the receiving end of the toll free line have changed their tune. The hotline has been dismantled, and we’ve been instructed to consult the manuals and literature that accompanied our appliance when it was first delivered. When you’re attempting to put your refrigerator back together without breaking any of the integral parts of the unit, it seems somewhat impractical to remember where those manuals are squirreled away. The unwieldy glass shelves that were easy to remove and scrub down just moments before, now stubbornly refuse to line up within their designated brackets. The door of the refrigerator mostly closes, but doesn’t quite create the airtight seal we are hoping for. This could explain why the home economists at Whirlpool and the customer service representatives at 1-800-FIXMYFRIDGE no longer answer their phones.
On a recent foray into both my double-door refrigerator and below ‘see’ level freezer compartment, I encountered a few items that were frost-bitten and forgotten. Both the trash and the recycle bin welcomed these abandoned foodstuffs with open arms. Some things were salvageable, namely an unopened bag of macadamia nuts that had been frozen for safe-keeping, and a bottle of dark amber maple syrup that had been neglected behind three jars of nut butters. Without being judge-y, please understand that some days call for unsalted peanut butter, while others call for crunchy/salty peanut butter and for some, almond butter is the only way to fly. I’m eyeing the almond butter, hesitant about its shelf life. Since the almond butter couple has relocated to the land of Kozlik’s mustards (where they keep an impeccably tidy refrigerator), I debate whether to keep the almond butter or toss it. There’s enough in the jar for a sandwich or two, and the ‘use by’ date is only gently expired. I’ll keep it for now. Closing the door of the fridge it seals shut, almost.
I’m watching cubes of cold butter and pounds of all-purpose flour collide with the paddle attachment of the commercial Hobart mixer. Armed with a plastic pitcher of ice-cold water and a splash of gluten-inhibiting cider vinegar, I’m working on my umpteenth round of pie dough. It’s a little bit like a game of jump rope, when you’re waiting patiently for your opportunity to jump in without getting tangled up in the rope. I don’t want the water to get tangled up in the butter and flour until the mixture is the proper consistency; what folks in my line of work refer to as “coarse crumbs with the butter pieces being no larger than the size of a pea.” No one has clarified whether we’re looking for a split pea, or a very young, Le Sueur pea from Minnesota, or your run-of-the-mill frozen pea from the Trader Joe’s freezer case. I want the pie dough to be all of the right things; tender, flaky, and buttery but none of the wrong things; dry, tough, and elastic. There are three more rounds of cold butter and flour taking up space in the walk-in. Turning off the mixer, I pinch the stubborn butter bits, flattening them and sending them back into the brisée fray. Impatiently, I add water to the mix, stopping and starting the machine, tossing the floury butter bits with my fingers, trying a little more water but not too much. With the persistence of Goldilocks, I gather together the shaggy dough, declaring it ‘just right.’ There’s a clump of unmixed flour and butter at the very bottom of the bowl. Damn. Using a plastic bowl scraper, I empty the dough onto a parchment lined sheet pan and squoosh the wayward flour bits into the mix with a sprinkle of cold water. ‘Just right’ is highly over-rated when the elusive number you're hoping to capture is upwards of 700. You might say we’re just warming up.
The not-so-funny thing about commercial pie baking for Thanksgiving is the absurdity of the process. Just when you think you’re closing in on 700 plus pie shells for the day before the holiday, the cold harsh reality hits you over the head like the weightiest rolling pin. Before we congratulate ourselves for rolling and crimping hundreds of 9" shells, I remember; every single one of those pastry-lined pie shells has to be filled. My goals for the next two and a half weeks are humble yet critical. If I can limit my forearm oven burns to a minimum, if I remember to defer anything requiring math skills to a calculator, and if I'm strict about keeping a fully charged oven timer close at hand, I should be golden, just like a properly par-baked pie shell.
It’s a touch too balmy for the last day of October. The weather has been mercurial; chilly in the mornings, stretching into the low 70s later in the day. On Halloween at 5 pm, the thermometer hovers at 74 degrees. It’s been raining on and off, vacillating between substantial showers and the kind of drizzle that definitively makes it a bad hair day, even beneath a bandana.
There’s a parade winding through our little Village, starting at the top of the main street near the train station, zig-zagging past the movie theatre, the local supermarket, a variety of restaurants, finally ending a little past the bakery. Shop merchants are filling plastic pumpkins, tired pillowcases, and outstretched hands with Halloween candy. The children are equally represented by grown-ups, most sporting elaborate costumes. Even the family pets are outfitted as super heroes, skeletons, and ‘hot’ dogs. My costume is subtle- a pair of black and white checkered chef pants, a starched white button down shirt and a bandana emblazoned with kitchen paraphernalia. I carry one solitary prop; an empty wine bottle. Inspired by my vocation, I am a pie baker at five o’clock, somewhere.
Inching my way towards the car, a pair of high school-ers dressed in inflatable T-Rex costumes are taking up much of the sidewalk. Ducking and weaving, I scoot past, only to sideswipe a man on stilts. Yikes. Out of the fray, there’s a lone trick or treat-er dressed as a Lego. He’s wearing a multi-colored cardboard box on his head, and walking past him, I catch a whiff of craft glue and fresh paint. Alongside the Lego is his mother, her hands spattered with paint that matches the cardboard box. Little Lego and his mother wade into the ocean of costumes, the cardboard box bobbing along against a family decked out as Toy Story. Lego has a near miss with Buzz Lightyear and Woody, but steadies himself.
I’m driving with extreme caution, keeping an eye out for trick or treat-ers. There are plenty of distractions along the way. A few blocks from home, a front lawn overrun with an absurd number of Halloween inflatables is snarling traffic. The inflatables are oversized to a fault, better suited to a parade. Cars in front of me are slowing down to take in the inflatable show. I’m losing patience and turn left. There are plenty of sensible decorations on my street; toothy Jack-O-Lanterns grinning from front steps and strings of orange light outlining porches.
No sooner do I pull into my driveway than my ears begin to twitch. There is a high pitched wailing coming from the house across the street. My neighbors have fashioned a faux graveyard in their front yard, a tableau of appropriately frightening tombstones draped in cobwebs. It’s difficult to tell how the sound is unleashed but it is on a steady loop, a cross between a rusty hinge and an animal in distress. Its only speed is full throttle and the relentless lamentation is beginning to irritate me. The dwindling bag of Halloween candy in my kitchen still has a few worthy choices. I reach for a Reese’s peanut butter cup. Peeling back the gold foil wrapper, the milk chocolate is soft, a little melty, leaving streaks of chocolate on the wrapper and my fingers. The graveyard soundtrack continues interrupted only by my doorbell.
Wiping the chocolate from the corners of my mouth, I answer the door to a black cat and a pumpkin. I drop a few pieces of candy in their bags and watch them walk next door, leaves crunching beneath their feet. There’s not much in the way of trick or treat-ers on foot, maximizing their candy quota by dashing across front lawns and running from house to house. Instead, I’m witnessing a steady cavalcade of cars, stopping just before the intersection to unload a collection of candy seekers, leaving the driver in the car, eyes glued to a cellphone.
It is unlikely that my parents would have been the Uber to my trick or treating. Before my older brothers bowed out of the festivities, our Halloween celebration began with a party at school and trick or treating when we returned. Most years, I waited impatiently while my mother finished stitching the last details onto my costume, (this was before hot glue guns) grabbed a quick snack so I wouldn’t perish, and ventured out into the pre-dusk afternoon. We circled the neighborhood together, brothers and sisters with a few friends, never going inside anyone’s house, never eating anything that was homemade, and always being aware that apples had the potential to harbor foreign, dangerous objects. Our feet grew tired before we exhausted our itinerary. It was crystal clear that we would be home before dark; the only kids who ventured out at night were high schoolers, less likely to be gathering candy and according to my parents, more likely to be looking for trouble.
We spent the evening emptying our pillowcases and our plastic pumpkins onto the dining room table. Taking inventory of our haul, we discarded anything unwrapped, any stray candy corn that had found its way into the mix, and of course, any apples. We argued and traded, fighting over Pixie Stix, Sweet Tarts, jawbreakers that changed color, Bonomo Turkish Taffy, BB Bats, Double Bubble and Bazooka. Candy necklaces were highly coveted, Mary Janes, not so much. I have no recollection of being told how much or how little to consume, I only remember begrudgingly brushing our teeth as a preventative measure against loathsome cavities. The candy was popular for quite a while until all the good choices had been exhausted leaving us with a few tired Tootsie Rolls, the Mary Janes, the Bit-O-Honeys.
Around eight o’clock last night, the wailing from across the street finally ended, restoring peace to our little neighborhood. With the conclusion of Halloween, we are propelled into the thick of the holiday season. I count fewer than thirty days, less than a month to go before Piemageddon. More frightening than the oversized inflatables, the droning graveyard and a bag filled with loose candy corn, I shudder at the thought of it.
Professional Pie-isms & Seasonal Sarcasm