I remember an old Buffy Sainte-Marie lyric, “God is alive, magic is afoot, God is afoot, magic is alive...” My last blog covered the laws of magic, this time I speak of magic of a different sort. Rather than the art of making magic, this is about how magic can slip up behind you in everyday life and plant a wet kiss on your cheek.
I like pie.
Almost everyone does, fruit in crust, how can you go wrong? Almost anything is improved by putting it in a crust. In "Titus Andronicus" Shakespeare kills Tamora’s children and has them baked in a pie that’s served to her. She‘s killed right after, so it isn’t clear if the pie was so enjoyable that she never considered what it might be, but even Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovett learned that a good crust could cover a multitude of sins, including cannibalism.
When a pie shop opened near me I found myself more excited that I would have expected to be. It was Sunday when I saw it, after closing, and they were closed Mondays. I was so eager to see the sun rise on Tuesday that you would have thought it was Christmas Eve. Despite that, I had a busy day and didn’t get there until late afternoon.
I had a lovely chat with the owner, Emily, who has been cooking and baking in New York for the last ten years. The shop had a homey, otherworldly air, like it had dropped out of another time, with new beams, but old tin wall appliqués that were discovered when they tore out the old sheet rock walls. They had big wooden tables, windows on two sides, and a sense of warmth.
I took my pie home, got busy on the computer and didn’t pull it out of the fridge until the Daily Show was coming on. It was a Chess pie, a southern confection, a light lemony custard in a buttery crust so light it was hard to believe it could hold the filling without floating away. I swooned with the first bite, and immediately regretted every one of the hours until the shop opened that stood between me and more pie.
As I ate I remembered my holy grail of pies. Years and years ago, my mother had visited Pennsylvania Dutch country with my sisters and brought back a Shoo-Fly Pie. It was a succulent mass of molasses and sugar, crispy, smooth, sweet, heaven. I had never seen any on sale in New York, never thought to actually look up the recipe and make my own, so I wandered the land, bereft.
I decided I would ask the shop to make me a Shoo-Fly pie. I knew their price, I could afford it this week, and it would be the perfect incentive snack to keep in the fridge to reward writing. The next day I got up, ran through my morning ritual and went to the pie shop. There among the pies listed on the chalk sandwich board in front was Shoo-Fly. I went in and told Emily how much I'd enjoyed the Chess pie and that I’d eaten it at 11 at night, thinking that I had to have her bake me a Shoo-Fly pie, told her the story of my mom and that she’d died last summer. Emily told me that it was exactly then that they were baking the pies, and that the smell of the Shoo-Fly pie had filled the kitchen like never before.
“Probably trying to get in my back window to let me know it was on its way,” I said, and we joked about her late grandmother Elizabeth who’d taught her to bake and my mom, conspiring in heaven.
Did my late mother inspire Emily to put Shoo-Fly pie on the menu that night? Did I pick up the scent or stray thought from her head that put it into mine? Who knows? All I can say for sure is that having them nearby, being able to sit there with my laptop and sip coffee or tea and nibble pie or cookies while I work makes my life a happier place to be and gives me incentive to both write and get back to the gym to burn off the extra calories to earn my pie. Is it a magic pie shop that has me writing and contemplating exercise? It could be. I've found magic in it and will see if it’s for better or worse... I know it was a magical moment that connected me to it, and that it will always have a special place in my heart, and stomach, for giving me a message and a memory from my mom, no matter how fleeting.
And the Shoo-Fly pie? I still ordered one. I have a lot of writing to do, and need a lot of encouragement!
Thanks, mom, and Grandma Elizabeth!
(“Four and Twenty Blackbirds” is on 3rd Avenue and 8th Street, Brooklyn. They are a piece of delight in a weary world. If you drop in, tell ’em Terence sent ya...)