Scratch

We have an apple tree in our backyard. If your response to that statement is “oh, that sounds WONDERFUL!” then you probably DON’T have an apple tree in your backyard. I have no quarrel with the tree itself…my problem is with the apples. Each year, starting about the second week of September, I make unintentional applesauce every time I mow. It’s like a grisly scene from a fruit-based slasher movie. The screams, the juice, the horror…apple parts flying everywhere. Sometimes I wear a hockey mask and shout “die!” as I cruise through piles and piles of innocent apples on our 42 inch Husquvarna lawn tractor.

Recently a good friend of my wife’s was in our backyard on a day when I was about to launch into another apple massacre. She surveyed the area around the tree and said, “oh, wow…this is great! So what do you do with the apples?” My wife and I sheepishly admitted we either pitch them on the compost heap or mow over them. Then she said, and I quote, “would you mind if I took some?”

Mind? MIND??!! Lady, you go right ahead and back a pickup truck in here! Jam that baby full of every single apple you can shake out of the tree!

Unfortunately, she was driving an SUV. She had to settle for a five gallon bucket I found in the garage. We don’t spray or take care of the tree in any way, so quite a few of them were buggy. Still, we found  more than enough to fill the bucket. Then this lovely woman uttered the phrase that, in my mind, would secure her a place as my wife’s BEST friend, forever and ever, Amen. She said: “thank you so much! How about I make you guys a pie?”

Hold on a minute! A what, now? It’s a bucket of apples. You’re doing us a huge favor by getting them out of the yard. A pie? Stop it with the crazy talk!

Two days later she presented us with a gorgeous…and delicious…home-baked apple pie. It was drizzled with caramel, sweet and crunchy apples baked into a flaky crust. It was amazing!

I’m no stranger to home-baked goods. I know where pies come from. My mom had that talk with me as she was slapping some flour down on a piece of pastry cloth on our kitchen table. My surprise comes from getting a pie now…today…in the land of pre-packaged everything and restaurants on every corner. There used to be a stigma associated with bringing a “store bought” pie to a church picnic or a potluck. These days, a pre-packaged pie is the norm. Your level of caring and commitment is now gauged by how much you spend on it.

Why is finding a “from scratch” pie becoming so rare? It’s a combination of two things: no time and no knowledge. Even mom gave up baking after she went back to work. She had two teen-aged boys at home along with a full-time job. After work it was off to Boy Scouts or play practice or a church committee meeting then back home to finish the laundry and pick up the house before watching a little “Johnny Carson” and falling into bed. Mom and Dad both ran my brother and me around like crazy after putting in a full day’s work. And this was back in the late 70s before soccer, 50 different kinds of dance/tumbling/cheer and the explosion of social clubs and commitments inundating today’s kids.

Even though she didn’t bake, at least mom knew how. The scarier part of the scratch pie equation is “no knowledge.” We don’t know how to cook. We’ve turned the art of food preparation into a spectator  sport. Today’s American family spends an average of 22 minutes on food preparation per day. That’s enough time to pour four bowls of cereal and pop a take ‘n bake pizza in the oven.  Then we’ll eat a couple slices of that pizza while watching 60 minutes of Gordon Ramsay or some “Top Chef”  program. Cooking shows from the past, like Julia Child’s “The French Chef” or “The Galloping Gourmet” were designed to teach new recipes to already accomplished cooks. Viewers of modern food prep shows aren’t there to learn how to cook. We want to watch other people do it in hopes that, someday, we can visit their restaurant to try some of the stuff they just made.

Cooking as a life skill (instead of a future profession) was always taught in two places: at home or at school during “home ec” classes. We are at least two full generations removed from an era where legions of stay-at-home moms pass along baking secrets to their daughters (and sometimes sons…I learned a few things from mom). It’s all part of that “no time” thing. Today’s food prep instruction mostly involves learning how to set a microwave.

The schools tried for a long time.  Home Economics or “Home Ec” was a staple high school course dedicated to life and “homemaking” skills. These intensive courses lasted a full school year or more. The skills taught in Home Ec included things like cakes, pies and pulling together a Thanksgiving dinner. In 1917, the final for a high school Home Ec class was the successful preparation of a multi-course meal for eight…from scratch.

“Home Ec” died in the mid 90s. Out of the ashes rose a new kind of class. It was called “FCS” or “FACS” for Family and Consumer Sciences. These courses, sometimes only a semester or just nine weeks, focus on the “economics” of home economics. FCS courses stress budgeting, purchasing, establishing and maintaining credit and running the finances of a family. These are valuable and necessary skills…but they come at the expense of a good home-baked pie every now and then.

I’m glad to know my wife’s friend is keeping some old school Home Ec skills alive. Only good things can come from a fresh baked pie. My wife has decided we don’t need to cut down that nuisance of an apple tree…and I’m going to invest in a couple more five gallon buckets over the winter.

[Questions? Comments? Column ideas? I would LOVE to hear from you! Write me at: allen.stare@gmail.com]

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