Baking pies a small kind of accomplishment

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“How’s it looking?” I asked my oven as I peered through its tinted window to gaze at a pie sitting self-consciously on the baking rack. I know better than to experiment with pie crusts but my last apple pie had been such a disaster and Thanksgiving was only a day away, giving me time to try another practice pie – I had had no choice. Twelve people would be at our Thanksgiving dinner this year and I was in charge of pies. I was not going to subject them to another apple-filled trainwreck.

“How’s it looking?” I asked my oven as I peered through its tinted window to gaze at a pie sitting self-consciously on the baking rack. I know better than to experiment with pie crusts but my last apple pie had been such a disaster and Thanksgiving was only a day away, giving me time to try another practice pie – I had had no choice. Twelve people would be at our Thanksgiving dinner this year and I was in charge of pies. I was not going to subject them to another apple-filled trainwreck.

A month ago, in a living room overlooking Connecticut’s finest spread of autumn foliage, I had been told that Crisco is the secret to a proper crust. I had been visiting my aunt and uncle and they had taken me to a going-away party of one of their friends.

They party was quite the shindig. My aunt and uncle have some very elegant friends, so the company was delightful. As my aunt introduced me to one woman after another, I got everything from pie crust tips to horticultural advice to in depth analysis of New England’s peak weeks of fall color.

“You came at the perfect time,” one of them told me in an excited hush that made it felt like juicy gossip. “Yankee magazine said this is supposed to be the best weekend for our autumn leaves.”

Anyway, somewhere between sampling cocktail-sauced shrimp and eating a slice of my aunt’s unstoppable chocolate cake before saying our goodbyes, someone told me to put Crisco in my pie crusts.

So, here I was, two weeks later, begging my oven to take care of the caramel-apple-brandy confection sitting in its girth.

I have been making a lot of pies this year.

It began with accidentally knocking last year’s Thanksgiving pumpkin pie out of the park with a recipe I found in a Sports Illustrated magazine. That got me thinking, if I can turn out something halfway edible from scratch on Thanksgiving, why can’t I do it the rest of the calendar year?

So commenced the journey of learning how to bake pies from scratch.

Chocolate cream, banana cream, pecan, Old Boy strawberry, cannoli crumble, shoo fly and an unfortunate mixed berry that never set.

Some came out perfectly on the first try. Most did not. I have made and remade my crust recipe so many times in the last 365 days, trying to perfect it.

I do not like to pick on Millennials – my generation has a lot of character and we get blamed for too much as it is – but we do not tend to spend time in the kitchen. How many people under 38 can make their own pie crusts, or bake their own bread or cook their own meals without getting something from a box?

A 2016 survey reported that 20 percent of Millennials cook and eat at home only 1-2 times a week and four percent never eat at home.

Are we scared our feeble efforts in the kitchen will not look like the finished products on Top Chef or the Great British Bake Off? Are we worried we will disappoint ourselves or those at our table? Or are we simply telling ourselves we do not have the time to plan, prepare and serve a homemade meal, let alone baked goods?

As someone who is almost never home, tossed between two jobs and school, I understand that many people in my generation simply do not have time to learn how to make a pie crust. Sometimes, I am lucky if I get to eat anything in a day, let alone a home-cooked meal. But if we can make time to spend three hours a day on our phones (which is what 50 percent of Millennials average), we can find time to learn how to cook a few nice meals.

And it is more than just a better way to spend time and money.

Reuters posted a study that showed families that took the time to eat a meal together – without the TV on! – were 26 percent less likely to be obese.

Eating at home gives us the control to decide what exactly goes into our food, how big our portion sizes will be and what to do with the leftovers that so often become “food waste” in restaurants.

Such a simple thing, cooking at home, and yet it has such a big impact. Americans throw away $165 billion of food each year. About 40 percent of food – coming to nearly 35 million tons – is wasted. That means that the energy that goes into growing, packaging and providing that food is also wasted.

It is small, but cooking at home is, at the very least, a start to curbing that very large number. Big changes often have small beginnings.

Recycling began in the ‘60s as a way to make money off aluminum can waste and now, all these years later, it is a worldwide mission to keep our planet clean – one that has sparked growth and change in our industry, technology and economy.

Todd Owens began Lakeside’s monthly One Street at a Time community clean-up with a single question at a town hall meeting, and now look what it is – an amazing effort by neighbors to keep their town fresh, clean and safe.

My point in all of this is that we are not relegated to living within generational stereotypes or conventional circumstance – whether it be the damning label “Millennial,” a party affiliation or the expectation of a social group. If we want the world to change, we have to embark on the journey ourselves, and every journey starts with a single step.

Every eagle has its terrifying first flight.

Every inventor has a shelf full of failed gadgets.

And this Millennial has a year’s worth of pies.

I ventured another peek at my cinnamon doughbaby crisping in the oven. It was browning nicely.

On the counter, a southern pecan and a pumpkin rum pie were already waiting. One of them sat in a butter crust and the other in a sour cream crust – like I said, I have been making a lot of pies this year.

Watching this lump of spiced apples and molded lard and flour turn into something lovely to look at and good enough to eat felt like an accomplishment.

I edit a newspaper, get A’s at school, run half marathons and can parallel park on the first try, but it was this pie that made me feel accomplished. It was like a badge of honor to pin on my Millennial lifestyle.

I tried and failed and tried again all year and now I can make a pie.

Perseverance, commitment and creativity allowed me to carefully cultivated a craft that I can share with anyone who comes into my home.

And it may just be a pie today, but who knows what it will be tomorrow?

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