Casaubon's Book

We’re Gonna Need More Pie

I’m back from my northeast travels – I had a great time at both NOFA and NESEA, and am slowly recovering from a glazed state of sleep deprivation to something sort of coherent enough to finish the book (3 weeks to go!). But I’m still sleepy and tired, so to remind you that Pi day is coming, I include my classic (ok, if I have any classics ;-)) essay on why the world can be saved with Pie. If you are inspired to follow up with a submission to the Pi-day contest, that would be awesome.

The other day I got embroiled in one of those endless discussions/debates/headbangings about what the best approach to greening the planet is. Of course, all of you know that my defining characteristics are my reasonableness, aversion to confrontation and sensitivity, so my role here was to calm the hot tempers and settle the differences of others, which I do from my sheer love of humanity. I provided a calm and rational perspective that I know helped settle everything right down, because that’s just the kind of healing, caring person I am.

Ok, just on the off chance that anyone involved in that conversation says otherwise, I want ask you upfront, who will you believe – them or me? After all, the people saying I was fanning the flames of this stupid umm…integral argument are nothing more than two or three hundred ordinary voices, where as I am a professional idi…author. I daily produce hundreds of words that are pulled randomly out of my a…er…finely crafted and honed for maximum effect. Sometimes the words even make sentences. Once in a while even grammatical sentences. These words are read by as many as eight or nine people around the world every single day. So you can certainly imagine that my ravings…um wisdom should outrank the sworn testimony of several hundred people.

So you’ll be proud to know that I, of course, natural leader that I am, did come up with a healing solution, something that we could come together on, a real commitment to change, a possible solution to the profound difficulties wrought upon us by the Great Change that comes sweeping (ok, stupid metaphor deleted)… But I did have an idea.

The idea was pie. And my position is that I’m for it. I know this is just the kind of hard-edged, radical position taking that you can expect on this blog, the reason you know you can turn here first to hear opinions that are beholden to no one…except the guy up the road with the cherry trees, who I can’t afford to piss off if I want pie. But this kind of risky political statement in favor of pie is just the sort of thing I know you’ll wish to support by donating a large portion of your salary to keep me going. Just click on the button on the sidebar that says “big heaping wads of cash.”

I’m in favor of pie. I mean, what could be better than pie? It is commonly associated with good, noble things like motherhood, America, light bondage and domination, clowns and the federal reserve, so how could we not be for pie? In fact, who isn’t for pie? Well…

I have to tell you the ugly truth. There are powerful anti-pie interests in our government, and people working night and day to restrict your pie access. But we here at Casaubons book (Who is “we” you ask in puzzlement? Well, Sharon has obviously gone off the deep end writing her book, as you can tell from this post, so mostly the voices in her head. But they sometimes wear cool hats, and one of them is named “Leo.”) are committed to bringing you the truth about pie access and other equally crucial issues, like socks and beer.

It occurred to me, as I was healing the rift brought on by unnamed troublemakers not named Sharon, that pie can do a great deal to heal our environmental crisis. For example, today’s climate change and peak oil news was particularly awful. There’s the coal, the wars, that we still torture…. There’s the fact that even if we halved our emissions, global warming will keep going for 600 years. And then there’s the financial news…

All in all, I think the only possible reaction (other than hysterical weeping) to all this bad news on a cold, snowy afternoon is to put on fuzzy pajamas, bunny slippers and eat half a pie. Or to drink a lot of local beer, I guess. Heck, you could drink beer and eat pie together.

Yes, I know that’s pathological of me, but sometimes a retreat into pathology is rather comforting. I doubt I’m the only person who has ever responded to the bad news about our environment by thinking “apple or pumpkin?” The reality is whether we believe in stockpiling ammo or creating sustainable ecovillages, the need to derive comfort where we can is our common ground.

Pie can bring us together. And that unifying power isn’t limited to the peak oil movement – pie can cross religious, cultural and national boundaries. While there may be deep cultural divisions between those who believe that you should make your sweetened orange vegetable pies with sweet potatoes and those who vote for pumpkin, I believe these barriers can be crossed, if only we’ll just take a piece of each with a lot of whipped cream.

Pie can be a powerful political motivator as well. Right now, money tends to be the most powerful tool in politics, but let us not underestimate the influence of pie. Pies in the face are a powerful tool of political resistance in Europe. I’ve heard rumors that Bill Clinton sent the Haitians back because the republicans offered him all the blueberry pies he wanted. Dick Cheney regularly sat around nude, plotting his attacks on Middle Eastern countries while eating entire mince pies. During his campaign, Obama made strong statements in favor of pie (this, actually, is true).

This kind of inside information isn’t easy to come by – the author had to send several pies to congressional aides. Fortunately, they are sleep deprived, wired on coffee and often morally bankrupt so bribing them with pie is very, very easy.

But pie is also essentially, deeply democratic. Pie is an essential ingredient in town-meeting style democracy in many New England states, along with baked beans. And pie is about democracy – fundamentally, pie (and pasties, empanadas, dumplings, wontons and all the other pie relatives) are about stretching high value foods to share with everyone. If you have six apples and ten guests, someone gets screwed, unless you put them between two crusts with some spices and call it pie – everyone gets a piece of sweet apple, everyone gets some crust. Pies are a way of getting maximum enjoyment from high-value foods. Meat, fruit, spices – these things are special. But they can be enjoyed regularly if carefully combined with other ingredients. They are about democracy, frugality, comfort and family.

And pies are things that you have to produce either for yourself or in your locality. The truth is that frozen pie crust tastes awful, and that Sara Lee pies taste like corn syrup, which is what they are mostly made from. Real pie – good pie comes either out of your kitchen or a local bakery or diner where they make it fresh every single day from real ingredients. Pies are part of a whole lifestyle – if you want to eat pie, you have to cook, or you have to have a little Mom and Pop bakery. And those things are democratic too – as opposed to corporatist.

Sure, you say, but if I eat too much pie, I’ll get fat. And lord knows, that’s a real possibility. But here’s the thing. How many of you have ever met a really fat Amish man? I haven’t. And they eat pie more or less constantly, or so my Amish neighbors tell me. The trick is matching the pie to the pie lifestyle.

Pie can power a human-powered lifestyle in the way that junky processed crap can’t. Certainly the Amish cookbooks I’ve seen are filled with pies. And back when dessert (or breakfast in New England) was routinely pie, people were a lot thinner. One might argue that pie isn’t what makes you fat – it is not living the pie lifestyle. Because the pie lifestyle means picking berries or walking to the bakery. It means eating pie as a treat, and as the place where you put your special festival foods that you don’t have all the time, while most of you meals are simple. (If you do get a little plump, perhaps these gents can help balance out the pie.)

Instead, for many Americans, breakfasts is false pie – poptarts, which despite a plastic resemblance are not pies at all – because they aren’t actually food. The poptart lifestyle makes you fat, the pie lifestyle makes you thin, or thinner. We need to speak out against the fake pie and its accompanying lifestyle.

Pie makes you thin. It brings about democracy. It brings about agrarian or relocalized societies and economies. It provides comfort, crossing political lines. People talk about oil as the “master resource” but perhaps we need to start reconsidering the power of pie to create a sustainable, human powered economy. Pie-centered societies, ones that provide a chicken in every pot pie, are what we’re striving for. We can all consume less, and still have an evenly distributed piece of the pie.

Which is why I must say to you with a heavy heart – we are facing peak pie. Corporate interventions, and the “better than homemade” slogan has resulted in a US population that mostly doesn’t know how to cook anymore. Millions of people think that pumpkin comes from a can. Farmers are still going out of business at an appalling rate. The majority of our pie ingredients are contaminated by pesticides. Our ability to provide for our pie needs is deeply threatened. We are facing the final destruction of the pie lifestyle – and the end of the last remnents of our democracy.

So what can we do about it? How can we fight back for the pie lifestyle, for Mom, Teddy Bears and Apple (or Peach) pie? The only way to deal with this depletion crisis is to start living the pie lifestyle. Bake a pie today from locally grown ingredients. Eat a pie today, and use it to fuel human powered activity – dump your leaf blower and get out a rake, get rid of the power mower and bring out the push mower, lose the chainsaw and get the bucksaw down.

Make a pie and give it to a neighbor. Give out the recipe. Get together and make pies for elderly shut ins or the school bake sale or to buy solar lighting for the neighborhood watch. Throw a pie at a warmonger – we’ll have a bake sale to raise your bail. Point to the coal plant builders and the energy wasters and tell people – they are against pie! Start “Pie Eating Veterans for the Truth” and tar polluters and heavy emitters with the scorned label “pie haters.” Don’t forget to mention that they don’t like mothers, babies or kittens either. Have a town meeting and hand out pie. Give out pie at the voting booths, to hungry people in the park, to the shelter and soup kitchen. Try pies from other places, other lands – and send the money you would have spent on poptarts to good causes. When the world seems to suck, eat pie, and use that energy to get back on your feet and fight again! Pie can save the world!

Sharon

Comments

  1. #1 Sue in pacNW
    March 11, 2010

    mmmmmmmm boysenberry pie, hot out of the oven, in a bowl with cream drizzled over it, will get the public option back in the healthcare bill, turn congress back into representatives of the people and maybe even inspire me to get some housework done. Pie IS the answer!

  2. #2 Rob
    March 11, 2010

    The only real problem with your solution is that beer does not go well with most pies. Truly, there is a dearth of alcoholic beverages that compliment pie, except perhaps, for Irish coffee.

    Perhaps, as a highly experienced pie expert, you have knowledge of complimentary alcoholic beverages for different types of pies.

    One solution that I just thought of, and for which I would like feedback, is alcoholic ice cream. Is this feasible? What kind of booze would one use? Any help on this matter would be appreciated.

  3. #3 tarynkay
    March 11, 2010

    I really love this one. This might be one of the first things I read on the old blog, and I immediately accepted that you knew what you were talking about. An understanding of pie is the beginning of wisdom.

    @Rob: I am fond of stout with most fruit pies, whiskey with sweet potato pie (with extra whiskey beaten into the whipped cream), and red wine with chocolate caramel tarts. Irish coffee is good with everything.

  4. #4 Rob
    March 11, 2010

    Stout, I wouldn’t have thought of that.

    Apple pie and a glass of stout. I’m there.

  5. #5 DrA
    March 11, 2010

    You missed another really important principle of pie applies quite well to environmental issues. How do you maximize the likelihood of everyone getting a equal piece of the pie (whatever the resource or issue)? The process is quite simple. The person doing the cutting of the pie always gets the last piece after everyone else has chosen. A very basic principle of fairness so oft forgotten.

  6. #6 Michelle
    March 11, 2010

    Sharon, I’m going to say this with a heart full of love for you: GET SOME SLEEP, WOMAN.

    There, got that off my chest.

    That said, in many ways, this is a very sensible idea.

    And I prefer pumpkin, but if someone else is baking, swee’ potato is just fine, too.

  7. #7 Greenpa
    March 11, 2010

    Rob- “One solution that I just thought of, and for which I would like feedback, is alcoholic ice cream. Is this feasible? What kind of booze would one use? Any help on this matter would be appreciated.”

    What a fun problem. I’m a bit familiar with ice cream chemistry; one of the markets for some of my crops-

    I think ethanol is likely to both curdle milk proteins in unhappy ways, and possibly clash with taste experiences if just wholly integrated. What might work quite well would be a form of micro encapsulation. Peanuts are often chocolate covered, because otherwise they get very soggy.

  8. #8 Gray Gaffer
    March 11, 2010

    I don’t know if this is still a common practice: back in the early 60′s my family stopped over in Brussels at the house of a woman with whom my Dad was billeted towards the end of WWII. Now seriously getting on, mamer sturdily maintained the Belgian Pie tradition. Her house had a partial basement room known as “Le Cave”, essentially a natural refrigerator. Its shelves were laden with all sort of pies, all of them made by her from raw ingredients. She baked several more while we were there. I especially remember the flans – in her case, these were light pastry with fruit fillings matured upside-down. I do not remember eating anything else there – a young teen’s gustatory heaven! My taste in pies was forever changed by that experience, to the extent I eat very few any more because of the crap most are made with these days. I do have a couple of recipes I occasionally attempt, but I’m a computer geek, not a cook, and I have trouble getting pastry right. (what’s a pinch? or a dash? In mg or oz? Can’t do it to taste – 42 years of smoking have killed that sense)

  9. #9 Raya
    March 11, 2010

    it is too bad bananas are not sustainably harvested here in Minnesota, the use of a banana cream pie has won me many noble causes…. but I am with you girl! Pies to change the world!

  10. #10 Kerrick
    March 11, 2010

    Alcoholic ice cream is possible, but alcohol freezes at very low temperatures (well, in comparison to water/cream). You need to make your ice cream with liquid nitrogen to have anything other than a soupy mess. I have done it and it can be delicious, although I am not much of a boozehound. I have never witnessed cream curdling just from alcohol, unless it’s carbonated or citrusy. I think the high fat content in cream helps keep it from curdling. I’ve had Grand Marnier ice cream, though, so a citrusy alcoholic ice cream must be possible–I don’t know how actually acidic Grand Marnier really is though.

    I think cider or port would be my alcoholic beverage of choice with pie, but since I am not much of a boozehound, I’d much rather have a really good hot chocolate.

  11. #11 Brad K.
    March 12, 2010

    I was devastated to find out that Del Monte uses Hubbard Squash for their “Pumpkin Pie Filling.” Sigh. I have made two pumpkin pies – one I baked in the oven, the other chunked and boiled on the stove. The texture was different, what with only using a potato masher and not an industrial de-lumper. I thought both were very good.

    Reading about pie, I envisioned a warm apricot pie made from fresh apricots right off the tree. Second best might be rhubarb/strawberry.

    The beer and pie threw me – until it hit me. Chicken pot pie and beer. That would be worth setting down to. And truly.

    As for alcohol and ice cream, I was pretty happy with creme de menthe liqueur as a topping. Or served with annisette, or even Kahlua. But I am easy to please.

    Happy 3.1415926 day!

  12. #12 Consumer
    March 13, 2010

    RE: alcoholic ice cream.

    I like some creme de banana on mine. Gets the banana flavor on the vanilla ice cream, and adds some warmth with the cold.

  13. #13 bluefoot
    March 13, 2010

    Alcoholic ice cream: Bailey’s Irish Cream ice cream. Yum.

    “Pies are a way of getting maximum enjoyment from high-value foods. Meat, fruit, spices – these things are special. But they can be enjoyed regularly if carefully combined with other ingredients. They are about democracy, frugality, comfort and family.”

    THIS. I grew up with a lot of fruit trees in the yard, so pies were a staple. All the fruit too small to eat out of hand, or windfall fruit, or years we had a lot of worms (my dad refused to spray anything in the garden), all ended up in pies and crisps, or canned to be used in pies during the winter. Or cooked with a little brandy and served over vanilla ice cream. All our friends knew if they came over and helped peel apples (or pears, or hull strawberries or whatever), they’d be going home with a pie or two.

  14. #14 Darren (Green Change)
    March 15, 2010

    Here in Australia, a staple meal is a meat pie (with tomato sauce) and a beer. Or if you want to sound local, a dog’s eye (with dead horse) and a pig’s ear.

  15. #15 Taylor
    November 23, 2010

    This was a great read, huzzah for pie!

    I just made 3 pies today, one Snickers and two pumpkin. The pumpkin, unfortunately was from a can, but the pie crust was homemade. More people need this kind of baking experience in their life.