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"Some say the secret to a good pie is the crust." A flutter of flour fell like a thin dusting of snow on the marble counter. Mrs. Sylvia Navarro's hands had cut the shortening into the dough against the bowl with a rhythm like the steps of a marching line of soldiers. The rolling pin appeared as if by prestidigitation. "Golden brown, hint of real butter in it, flaky. Some like a lattice top, some do the little thing with the fork," she shrugged. "You can get real fancy. Brush some egg on the top, sprinkle some sugar..." she sighed.

"I've been making pies for the Midway for about ten years now." She wiped her forehead with her sleeve. "When I was younger, I experimented with rhubarb and merangue, caramel, puddings," she laughed. "The guys who come in, they want their apple and their cherry. Sometimes we sell a couple of pumpkin pies around the holidays. Apple and cherry, though, and a cup of coffee, or maybe even a glass of milk. Or Mr. Jones. He always has his with a glass of orange juice. Says it makes it sweeter." She punctuated her disdain with the firm slam of the oven door. "I once had a fellow ask for the recipe. For his wife, he said. I sold him one of the cookbooks up front. You know, Tastes of the Town or something. After a while, the recipe is, what you call it, organic. It moves. You learn to add a little more sugar for the Saturday Night Rush and slice the apples a certain way they never tell you in ink." She pursed her lips in a disturbed look, but then waved it away. "Anyway, either she knows, or she doesn't. If she doesn't, what's she doing making pies for her man? He was as skinny as a stick! She ought to feed him right. 'Course, being on the road never helps a person's diet. That's why we've got pie for a finishing touch to your appetite."

Sylvia wiped the counter with a rag, and pulled out a bunch of fresh apples. "Granny Smith. Tart apples. Sometimes you can mix them up a bit. No getting fancy, though. Apple and cherry, well, those are what people think of when they think pie. Apple warmed up with a scoop of real vanilla ice cream, a la mode or whatever they call it. Cherry is usually eaten by itself. Apple pie eaters leave crumbs. Cherry pie eaters clean the plate except for the few streaks of red, like blood.

"You know why apple and cherry? I've heard a story, and I don't know if it's true. Here, you can peel some more apples while we talk. Some people blanch them first to make the peels come off. I heard that once. If you've got the practice, it just takes a minute or two. You're not bad with that. Lots of girls come here for a little work, but you're the first I've seen who knows how to hold a knife. Did you have a momma teach you? Oh, don't worry. I know, some men work in the kitchen, too. Some of the best food I've eaten was made by men. They were showing off, of course. Why, dear Mr. Navarro, he even tried making a pie for me. Said to me, `Sylvia, I hope this is the last time I have to do this, because you're going to laugh.' I did. He'd forgotten to take off the skin and I was surprised not to find a spoon or something at the bottom. Weighed five pounds, too, I bet. Done already? Here's some more. We'll make some extra and maybe we'll put the little sign out and get some spending money. Everything more than the order is sheer profit, and I'll make sure you get your share if you put in the work."

She pulled out some more tins from beneath the counter. It was tight in this small area next to the kitchen, with metal shelves full of carefully labelled ingredients, most of them in large containers with white or brown packaging. "So, apple and cherry. Well, apple goes way back. To the first days, they say. It was an apple tempted Adam in the Garden of Eden, right off the tree of knowledge. That must have been one apple. When I used to sit in church on Sundays as a little girl, when the heat was up and the sweat rolled off you like a waterfall, I'd think of that first apple. I could imagine it. If it was worth falling out of grace for, it had to be the best apple, cool and sharp at the same time, with a crunch you could almost hear being made from the perfect teeth of the First Woman. What did knowledge taste like? When I was younger, it was a red apple, and it tasted like ice cream. Now, well, since Mr. Navarro took ill, in my thoughts it's one of those pale ones between yellow and red and green and it is bittersweet. Never forget the sweet with the bitter, right. Some people have told me it tastes like tears, but if it did, would Eve have passed it on? Or was that part of it? She bit into it, and what she suddenly knew is that it was time to go, and Adam would never grow up, like that Peter Pan fellow, unless he took a bite as well? Well, that's crazy thinking, but when you've seen the people who roll in here, you'll get a taste of knowledge, and you'll find out that sometimes crazy thinking is the only kind of thinking that gets you through the next day. When you taste it, tell me what you think the flavour is, would you? There's a girl.

"So the thing is, there were cherries in Rome, and Greece, and even in China. They're what they call stone fruits, like plums, and the cave men ate them. So they must have been in the Garden, right? `Why was the tree of Knowledge an apple tree,' this lady asked me. She was a lady trucker, and she said she had a lot of time on the road to think. Well, of course, it's easy to pick, and if you had to peel it, you had time enough to think it was wrong to do. And you can eat a whole apple. Don't recommend it myself, but some folks do. Heck, some people eat raw potato. Could never stomach that, I couldn't. Mashed with heavy gravy. That's the way to eat those.

"What do you think about when you think cherries? Love. Washed off perfect, yeah, like that, faint mist on them, ready to eat in a steel colander. That's my childhood. Life is a bowl of cherries? We have lots of phrases like that. But cherries are about love. You want a man, mark my words, feed him cherries. Kiss him full with them. They're lovers food, twined in two. Adam and Eve, I like to imagine them sitting under a cherry tree, lips, fingers and chins marked with love.

"So when people come and eat the pies, they want to taste those things. They want to taste knowledge and love, and that's what makes a real pie. Some of our fellows, well, they're hungry for news. Feed 'em a slice of our apple. Some of them, well, they miss their sweethearts and their children. Offer them a slice of cherry. Sylvia knows to take good care of her boys. It's served me well."


--Meera Barry

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Page last modified on April 04, 2006, at 03:02 PM by MeeraBarry

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