Despite a moniker that depicts me as a curmudgeonly baker, I like to think of myself as a caring pie person. I worry about the big things; cold butter, fresh fruit, the right mix of flour-to-sugar-to-salt in a pie crust. I agonize over the not so little things; spices, thickeners, crimps, and lattice. Staring at a freezer full of pie shells and a walk-in stacked precariously with fresh fruit is daunting. There's a reason we refer to Friday as Pie-day.
Pie baking at home is not the same as pie-ing en masse. Imagine two perfect containers of early spring fruit handpicked from the Farmers’ Market. Now multiply those two containers of fruit by ten, or maybe twenty, or maybe more. Unlike the safe refuge of a home kitchen, a retail baking environment requires sharp navigation skills. At every turn you face racks of adorable cookies and gluten free quick breads and layer cakes, begging to be iced. Someone else selects the Sonos station, and maybe it just doesn’t align with your current mood. And imagine, instead of the beautiful Emile Henri pie plate with the dimpled edge sitting on your immaculate kitchen counter, you’re staring down a deluge of aluminum pie plates, begging to be filled.
Don’t misunderstand. My workplace has a number of formidable qualities, namely the fine folks working there. It is important to understand however, that a pie baker’s life is dictated by the quality and availability of ingredients at their disposal. Fresh fruit is as mercurial as the weather; one day it pleasantly surprises and the next it downright disappoints. Additionally, pie requires a waiting game. Hot pies need plenty of time to pull themselves together before slicing. Icebox or refrigerator pies need time to cool down, to steady themselves before facing the knife. A pie baker's life is also dictated by the people wielding the knife once the pie leaves the bakery.
For quite a luxuriously prolonged stretch, I’ve been spared any retail customer unpleasantries. Until today, when it all came to a screeching halt. Henceforth, I declare April 5th to be named, “No Blueberry Pie For You” day.
The gist of the sad tale is that an already unhappy individual couldn’t choose between two kinds of blueberry pie. Following a lengthy back and forth with a most solicitous member of the bakery staff, a pie was decided upon. No sooner had the pie exited the oven, it was summoned to exit the building. The still-warm pie was placed in a windowed box and the recipient was given strict instructions to let the pie cool, because slicing a hot pie ends badly.
Clearly, the ‘pie cooling’ directive was tossed aside like an empty plastic clamshell heading towards the recycle bin. What ensued was a pie puddle, a heated discussion by phone, and more unhappiness than anyone needed at 4 o’clock on a Friday afternoon.
In a perfect pie world pies would bake until golden, bubbling around the edges and peeking through their lattice at just the right temperature to be warm, yet sliceable. Custard and cream pies would set up instantly, offering the cleanest slice with no refrigeration necessary. The reality is however, that pie, like many things worth waiting for, requires patience.
Days like today encourage me to reflect, fantasizing ever so slightly about other careers. Walking to my car in the bracing April rain, I see myself as the host of a new reality tv show called, Pie Seekers. Contestants attempting to slice a hot pie would be interrupted by a deafening oven timer. I would then utter the dreaded words, “No Pie For You,” and hand them an empty pie box as a parting gift.
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Professional Pie-isms & Seasonal Sarcasm