That was back in December, when Karen’s Mom had just passed away, and as she had been for many years the charismatic matriarch of a large Irish clan, friends, relatives and neighbors were pouring in from all over the country for the wake and funeral services. And, inevitably, making crazy demands, asking inappropriate questions, offering unsolicited advice. Why? Because grief makes people crazy.
It’s a horrible thing, grief: it makes you numb and hyper-sensitive at the same time. The world does not compute: on the one hand, the misery is so soul-crushingly heavy that you don’t know how you’ll shift a little finger, let alone get out of bed, shower, get dressed, and interact with the world. On the other hand, you feel so fragile that you may just fly apart, into a million pieces, with the slightest provocation. It’s exhausting. Ask Meg: she knows.
Last week, I traveled to Boston to attend the wake and memorial service for Tim Ross, beloved husband and best friend of my good friend Amy. Tim was another larger than life character: always a smile, always a story, an avid sailer and skier with a wide circle of friends. In fact, I’ve never seen so many people at a wake, and yet we all had one thing in common: love for the Ross family.
As exhausting as it is to be in the center of the grief maelstrom, to be the person who somehow has to reinvent the world without the one who has been a huge part of your world, it is also exhausting to be on the sidelines: grief by proxy, supporting cast to the leading role, watching the friend you love be wrung out and hung up to dry by grief, knowing that there is very little you can do or say to make it better.
At the (far too many) funerals I’ve been to in recent years, someone has always said to me, “I don’t know what to say.” My response is invariably the same, “There is nothing to say.” And while that’s not quite true, the phrases have all been said a thousand times, and while the words vary, the theme is always the same: I love you. You show up out of love. You dress in black, you trade anecdotes, you laugh and cry out of love. Sometimes, you bake a pie out of love. You blend the butter and flour, you macerate and reduce, you carefully craft the most beautiful lattice top you can, out of love. You valiantly hold back the tears when the woman at the grocery store bakery counter sympathetically slides you a pie box for free when you tell her why you need it. You pack that pie carefully into the car and deliver it to your grieving friend. And you hope that she remembers, with every bite she takes, with every hug and tear and fumbling word of solace that will come her way in the weeks and months to come, this one simple fact: you are loved.
Because, at the end of the day, what else is there?
Pastry dough adapted from Yossy’s Cherry Pie at Forty-Sixth At Grace via Kim Boyce’s Good to the Grain. Filling adapted from Cherry Rhubarb Lattice Pie in The Pie and Pastry Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum.
- 1 ⅓ cups all purpose flour (or substitute whole wheat pastry flour)
- 1 ⅓ cups rye flour
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 8 oz cold unsalted butter, cut into ½’’ pieces
- ½ – ⅔ cup ice water
- 1 ½ tsp cider vinegar
- 1 egg, beaten, for egg wash
- 1 lb sweet cherries, stemmed & pitted (I used frozen)
- 1 lb rhubarb, sliced to ½-inch pieces (I used frozen)
- Juice and zest of 2 small Meyer lemons (about ¼ cup juice)
- 1 ⅓ cups sugar (organic turbinado), plus extra for sprinkling
- large pinch sea salt
- ¼ cup cornstarch
- Make pastry dough. In a large bowl, mix the flours, salt and sugar together. Add butter and rub it into the flour with your hands until the butter is in small pieces ranging from the size of peas to lima beans.
- Combine the water and apple cider vinegar in a measuring cup. Make a well in the flour/butter mixture and slowly stream ½ cup of ice-cold water into the dough while mixing gently with a wooden spatula or your hand. Mix until the water is evenly distributed and the dough holds together when you squeeze it. It may look dry; that’s fine as long as it holds together when you squeeze it. If it is too dry, add more water, one tablespoon at a time. Dump the dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap, gather the wrap tightly around the dough and refrigerate for at least an hour, or overnight.
- After dough has chilled, unwrap and place onto a lightly floured board. Pat the dough into a rough square, then roll it into an 8” x 11” rectangle. The dough will be a bit rough and crumbly. Fold the dough rectangle into thirds, like a business letter. Then turn the dough so the seam is at the top; roll again to an 8” x 11” rectangle. Repeat this process 2 more times then divide the dough in half, double-wrap each piece in plastic, and chill for at least 2 hours, ideally overnight.
- Make filling. In a large bowl, combine cherries, rhubarb, lemon zest & juice, sugar and salt. Toss well to coat fruit in sugar and macerate for at least 1 hour, or overnight in the refrigerator. If using frozen fruit, you can thaw while macerating. Drain syrup into a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat: allow to boil for a few minutes, skimming off any foam. Mix cornstarch with ¼-cup cold water: whisk well to form a slurry free of any lumps. Whisk into boiling fruit syrup: bring back to a boil, and continue to boil until sauce thickens and becomes glossy, about 2 – 3 minutes. Do not overcook, lest cornstarch thickening “break” and syrup become thin and runny again. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature. Fruit & syrup can be combined at this point and refrigerated overnight.
- Assemble pie. Remove one half of pie dough from fridge to warm. When you can press on the disc of dough without the edges cracking, it is warm enough to roll. Roll into a roughly 12-inch circle, about ⅛-inch thick. Layer into a 9-inch pie pan, prick bottom dough all over with a fork. Cover lightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate while you roll out the top crust.
- Remove second half of pie dough from fridge and allow to warm. Roll into a roughly 12-inch circle, ⅛-inch thick. To make a lattice top, transfer dough to a small cookie sheet and use a long, sharp knife or pizza roller to cut strips of dough, about 1-inch wide. Refrigerate strips for 10 minutes or so, as firm strips are easier to weave.
- Remove bottom pie crust layer from the fridge. Scrape filling into shell, tapping to spread evenly. Drape half of your lattice strips evenly over the filling, then fold every other strip back about halfway. Lay on the first perpendicular strip, replace the folded back strips, then fold back the other parallel strips, lay another perpendicular strip, etc., until all strips are placed and woven together. It’s much easier to do than to read about: trust me. Trim the edges of the top and bottom crusts to about ½-inch wider than the pie pan, then crimp together, decoratively if you wish. Refrigerate, lightly covered with plastic wrap, for 1 hour to chill and relax dough (which prevents shrinkage).
- Bake. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F (400 degrees F convection). Place a rimmed cookie sheet on the lowest oven rack to preheat. Remove plastic wrap from pie. Lightly brush top crust with beaten egg, then sprinkle generously with coarse sugar. Place on preheated cookie sheet: bake at 425 degrees F for 15 minutes, then reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees F and continue to bake until filling is thickly bubbling and crust is a deep golden brown, about 45 – 60 minutes. Cool to room temperature before serving.
- A nice selection of decorative pie edges and top crusts, inluding lattice, here.
- Meyer lemons can be hard to come by in the summer (I was lucky enough to visit Karen and her Lemon Ladies Grove recently and she gifted me some summer lemons). You can substitute regular lemon juice, but taste the syrup and adjust sugar amounts as necessary.
- Sour cherries are the classic pie cherry, and would also work nicely here; once again, you may need to adjust the sugar.
Wrapped lightly in a clean kitchen towel, at room temperature, for 2 to 3 days. In very humid weather, store refrigerated to prevent mold, then re-warm and re-crisp crust in a 400 degree F oven before serving.
Late Spring, or year-round with frozen fruit.