The summer breeze blew through my hair as I walked towards the small vegetable garden in our backyard. I opened the gate and headed into the corner where most of the fruit was growing. The garden was similar to the one I’d grown up with. My parents had lived very modest lives and our single income home didn’t leave a lot of room for extravagance, so my mother grew the majority of our food. She was the best cook I’d ever known and taught me how to make the most delicious quiches and pies. It was something I was happy to pass down to my children.
I heard the gate squeak as it opened again, Tully and Milo bobbing their way through to meet me.
It had become our Fourth of July tradition to pick berries for our pie together while their father put the burgers on the grill. A sizzling sound was followed by the smell of well seasoned beef drifting through the air, so I knew we had to get a move on. The kids and I quickly plucked each berry from their flower beds and dropped them into my old fashioned wicker basket.
I paused to watch as my eight year old, Tully, showed Milo, her five year old brother, how she knows when the berry is ripe enough to take it. I knew in my heart that she would pass the tradition down to her family as well.
They worked together to pull all of the shiny red strawberries from their stems as I worked my way through the raspberries and blueberries. The perfect trio, in my mind. My mom had always used blackberries instead of strawberries in her triple berry pie, but I couldn’t stand the way the seeds would stick in my teeth.
As my children dropped the last of their bounty into the basket, I headed inside to start the pie. I set our basket on the counter, washed my hands, and pulled my dough from the fridge. I made it from scratch, so it needed several hours to set up while I did other chores and things around the house.
The flour tin made a clinking noise as I set it on the counter, the little metal scoop banging against the inside of the container. I reached in and sprinkled a dusting of flour across the countertop. Just enough to create an easy surface for rolling my dough. I peeled back the saran wrap and pinched the large slab in half to create two medium sized balls of dough.
I had inherited a beautiful rolling pin from my mother that was special to our pie making tradition. I remember the way she’d stand over the kitchen table with her elbows out and a look of determination. I knew I’d pass the pin on to Tully one day, and I could only hope she’d look at it with the same admiration for her mom that I had for mine.
My mom had taught me everything I needed to know about baking, and especially pies. She showed me how to get the perfect height on my crust, and most importantly, how to transport it without ripping. I pulled out a pie scoop and carefully folded the flattened dough circle into quarters, then used the scoop to lift it off the counter. I moved quickly sideways towards my pie dish, leaving a thin trail of flour in my wake. As I lowered the quartered dough into the dish, I gingerly unfolded it to fill the pie tin.
Next came the filling. I heated a saucepan on the stove, then pulled the red gingham cloth from my basket, using it to dump all of the berries inside. Following my mother’s recipe, I added a squeeze of fresh lemon and a handful of cornstarch, carefully stirring the fruit together until it thickened. The thickness usually determined how well a pie cuts and holds its shape.
Most pie fillings called for a cup of sugar, but I didn’t comply. Sweets were a rare luxury in our house growing up, simply because of the added expense for something so unhealthy. Besides, our berries were sweet enough, especially during summertime.
As the pan began to simmer, I stirred the fruit gently, not wanting to grind the berries to a pulp. It was always better to have large chunks to benefit both flavor and texture. I hummed as I worked, another habit I’d learned from my mother.
I turned down the eye on the stove, and Tully stepped up on the stool next to me to stir the filling as I returned to my second ball of dough. I rolled it out as I had with the first ball, first rolling it back and forth in my hands before flattening it out. However, instead of a pie dish, this one's fate was to be cut into strips for a lattice patterned pastry top.
My fingers were greasy with bits of butter and fat as I worked. Most people used shortening in modern recipes, but my mom always used lard in her pie dough. She used to take old slabs of bacon or whatever else we could afford and squeeze out the excess fat to use for flavoring in her other meals. She did not believe in wasting anything we had. Neither did Milo, apparently, as he reached up for bits of stray dough to eat while he waited for dinner.
I took the filling from the stove and poured it into the crust that was draped inside the shallow pie dish, then began weaving my lattice work across the top. After a few minutes of looping the rows together, I finally sealed all the edges with a hand crimped detail. Then it was time for the finishing touch: egg wash.
I took a small bowl and cracked one of our fresh chicken eggs inside, beating it with a fork until the yoke was combined with the egg white. It was Milo and Tully’s favorite thing to do, so they were standing at attention when I passed them the pastry brushes. They dipped them eagerly into the egg and brushed it across the lattice pieces. They loved to paint, and I loved the flaky, golden brown color it gave the crust.
With a thirty minute bake, I sent the kids out to play and got everything ready for dinner. My husband called us to the picnic table outside where we ate his delicious burgers, but we all knew the pie was inside cooling, waiting for us to enjoy it. I felt a sense of accomplishment as I cut each slice of pie, and I could see my kids' faces light up as I dolled out dollops of fresh whipped cream on their plates.
The eating of the pie was always a much quicker task than the baking process, but I never minded. For me, it was always about the time I spent with my mom in the kitchen. And all of the scraped plates and dirty berry smeared mouths told me it was all worth the amazing taste of summer!
I cleaned up the table and watched as Milo and Tully stumbled after each other through the yard, lighting sparklers and enjoying their games of make believe. I laughed, then sighed as I watched, knowing that these would be the summer days they would always look back on.