Thursday, January 13, 2005

For Love of Pie

American Pie: Slices of Life (and Pie) from America's Back Roads
by Pascale Le Draoulec
My grail would be pie.

Just saying it out loud made me surrender a smile. I would drive to small towns looking for pie bakers, pie recipes, and pie lore. I'd seek out pies with character and characters who love to pie.

Perhaps examining the state of pie in America would also take me back to the essence, the roots of this country, and just maybe help me get to the bottom of mine.

As a first generation American born to two faithfully-French immigrants living in Los Angeles, I had straddled two cultures most of my life. The plan was that we'd move back to France someday. So I attended a French school, spoke only French at home, and ate smelly cheese after dinner. When it rained, we'd dive into the back yard laurel bushes for snails, which my mother would prepare a la bordelaise. We celebrated Bastille Day and played petanque on the Fourth of July.

I still don't know the words to the "Star-Spangled Banner" and my mother never learned to make pie.

"A pie is not a tarte," she would say, shrugging her slight shoulders in that typically French way that suggests a conversation that has no place to go. I never questioned it, just as I never questioned the dictum that a baguette placed on its back brings bad luck or that all French women "just know" how to wear a scarf.

My parents never did move back to France, though we visited often. And, on either continent, I always felt like an extra, never part of the main cast. I look like an Easter egg whenever I try to wear a scarf and I missed out on all the family debates pitting lard against butter, Pyrex against pie tins.

I didn't even taste my first slice until I was in college. It was pecan. Store-bought. Uneventful.

I had a lot of catching up to do.

Pascale Le Draoulec must travel across the country to a new job and decides to search out pie along the way. She comes across interesting characters, realizations about herself and lots of pie, both dreadful and delightful. This book works three ways: a roadtrip, a female "buddy adventure," and a food book all in one. It is charmingly and naturally written without a lot of the angst that is often found in such stories. I bake a lot but I don't make a lot of pie as is the general condition lamented throughout the book when one after another the pie bakers wonder, "Who will make pie when we are gone?" It makes me want to start filling the gap regardless of how seldom pies are recommended by government diet guidelines ... we won't even mention my doctor. Ahem. Perhaps if we start having a lot of Hannah's and Rose's friends over for pie? Highly recommended.

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