An ancient Good Housekeeping cookbook resides in the cabinet above the stove at my parents’ house. Whether it ever had a dusk jacket, I don’t know. Possibly, it was a victim of my childhood crusade against dusk jackets, a period of my life that my mother recalls grimacing every time she runs the feather duster over her shelves of first editions. I’ve never been sure why my mother has kept this volume around for so long, what with our constant moving from place to place; the book has been unshelved, boxed, unboxed, and reshelved at least two dozen times since she received it for a wedding present. She definitely doesn’t need the entire book. She only ever uses the pancake page, which has been warped and wrinkled by years of my enthusiastic stirring.
About five years ago, I discovered how glad I was that my mother retained the extraneous five hundred or so pages of the ancient cookbook. A few days before Christmas, I opened the refrigerator and freezer hoping that all the food I had already eaten that day had spontaneously reappeared so I could eat it again. This action was nothing new — I had been doing it several times a day for years, with little efficacy. But that time I noticed the apple pie, boxed and frozen, deposited sideways, squashed between the broccoli and my father’s ice cream quart collection
My shoulders slumped — how unexciting that the apple pie in the freezer would taste like all the other frozen apple pies from all the other Christmases and Thanksgivings and birthdays (yes, I had birthday pie). Since no new food had appeared, I closed the refrigerator’s doors. But a new idea had formed in my mind. I opened the cabinet and selected the ancient cookbook. It fell open to the batter-sodden pancake page, but I was in search of something new. The book’s spine creaked and cracked in protest as I forced it open to a new page, which sported the chapter heading: “Pies that Please.” How promising, I thought.
I wonder if, before the sixth day of creation, God opened the fridge and slumped her shoulders, bored by all the rocks and stars and fish he had been keeping fresh, ready for dispersal into creation. Sure, those rocks and stars and fish were all good, but their pages in God’s recipe book were warped and wrinkled by now. How about something new?
My experiment began with a moment of feverish self-doubt: my mother can’t make piecrust. As I read over the ingredient list, a nagging fear surfaced that I carried the same defective gene. What if I’m genetically unable to make pie? Flour and salt, shortening and water — these base pairs, in certain quantities and combinations, held the secret to flaky, golden-brown goodness. Could I succeed where my mother (and perhaps generations of Parsonses stricken by dough deficiency) had failed?
I pushed my chromosomal makeup out of my mind and began measuring, pouring, sifting, and cutting. I Jackson Pollocked flour all over the kitchen but managed to land two and a quarter cups of it in the correct bowl. Coaxing the Crisco into the mixture raised my blood pressure to stuffing-the-cat-in-the-cat-carrier-level, and only after several of the breaths I imagine they teach at Lamaze classes was I able to continue. Gradually, my flour/salt/Crisco mixture achieved the consistency of peas (a good sign, the recipe assured me), and I added the cold water. Now came the moment of truth. I pushed and prodded my concoction and said some desperate magic words under my breath, hoping by miraculous alchemy that the slimy mass before me would transform into heredity-denying dough.
I wonder whether God worried that her creation mixed from dust and breath might not turn out the way he expected. Would this experiment fail? Was making a being in the image and likeness of herself too complex a recipe? What if he had to start again from scratch?
The transformation worked. Where a bowl of sticky ingredients sat mocking me a minute before, a lump of dough now beckoned me to flatten it with my rolling pin. I placed the dough between two pieces of wax paper (I’m not sure where I picked up this trick — it was either instinct or the Food Network). Then I rolled out the crusts, making two circles my ninth grade geometry teacher would have been proud of.
Buoyed by my success with the crust, I decided to improvise the filling. After checking the oven temperature and baking time, I returned the ancient cookbook to the cabinet above the stove and began peeling apples. Seven or eight would do, I told myself. With a bag of brown sugar in one hand and a box of cinnamon in the other, I showered the cut apple pieces with sweetness. Then I hurried the filling into its pie tin bed and tucked in the top crust. A quick glaze of melted butter and a few knife slits on top and it was into the oven. For the next forty minutes, I paced and fretted like a father outside the delivery room.
I wonder that God gave me the ability to grow and the desire to create. God’s recipe was simple—dust and breath. The dust grows, remembering the earth and the deep things of those creation days that were called good. And the breath creates, remembering the heavens and the Spirit moving and creating and renewing.
Against all odds of genetics and pie-making virginity, my first apple pie succeeded beyond my wildest expectations. I usually take my parents’ compliments with a salt mine (they are my parents, after all), but my own taste buds confirmed their praise. I have tweaked my recipe and method since then, adding a few subtle spices and making sure to cover the crust with tin foil half way through baking. Though some are better than others, each pie is good (and only one — the famous “Lattice Crust Experiment” of 2007 — was an unmitigated failure). And each pie pushes me to improve, to better my technique, to take the basics from that ancient cookbook and create. And create. And create.