Monday, September 18, 2006

It's all in the genes

There are so many things I cannot do. I can't make jell-o, for instance. It never turns out right when I try. DH and I did side by side testings and I didn't do anything WRONG, yet mine was not as good as his. It's like I have some kind of genetic factor that ruins it. My result is either runny and never sets, or overset and rubbery, or set fine but oddly gritty. The last batch I made actually turned out PERFECT. Only the lime flavouring tasted more like perfume than lime for some reason and we had to throw it out. I should have known when it wasn't impossible to spoon out (usually we either need a straw or a jackhammer to get it out of the bowl). I am also physically incapable of making edible rice-a-roni. Once again I made DH stand right by me and I did everything exactly right. Half of it was mushy and the other half was still crunchy. Normally I say I can't make things from packages because I can't take direction, but even when I follow the directions the results are a disaster. I can throw together a rice-a-roni-ish dish on my own, just can't make it from a box for some reason. The Cookbook Junkie's blog reminded me of yet another thing I cannot make. Pie Crust. My pastry crusts look achingly beautiful, but let's just say they are......sturdy. A mac truck could park on my apple pie without damaging the delicate apple filling. Which is a good thing if you are making a weapon or a barricade, but not so much when it comes to a dessert. I know where I get it from, too. My paternal grandmother is not what we call an "intuitive cook". When my dad was a child, if it wasn't boiled then they did not eat it pretty much. Dinner every night was boiled and mashed potatoes and a watery pot of boiled meat. Sometimes chicken, rarely pork or beef, but most often rabbit or a game bird of some kind. My dad and his brothers used to shoot, clean, and dress their own squirrels and roast them over an open fire in the woods. He says if it wasn't for those squirrels and the mashed potatoes he would have starved LOL. In pictures you can see the moment he started dating my mother (and enjoying the cooking skills of my maternal grandmother and her daughters) because he packed on like 30 pounds instantly. Breakfast in his house was plain cornmeal mush, oatmeal if they were lucky. Corn syrup or brown sugar was in high hopes on special occasions, but mostly they did without it. Part of it was money, but the rest was simply a cook that had no passion for food and very little appetite herself. It is her paltry appetite now, at the age of "80 something" that is going to be her undoing we believe. For the first time, this strong and independant woman that still drove, lived by herself, and played cards and darts regularly in a league just doesn't have the strength to do it. My paternal grandfather died before I was born. He was not a good man and I will leave it at that. My grandmother eventually married her late husband's best friend, after his own wife died. He didn't like children (other than his own grandchildren) so we weren't really welcome there. It had to be a super special occasion for us to go visit. See, he believed that we were ill behaved and rotten. He said we threw candy wrappers behind his couch and stole pops and wasted food. We were loud. We were hyper. Let me set something straight. We were no louder nor more hyper than his own grandkids, our only crime was not being related to him. There. I said it. And maybe our grandmother should have fought harder to let us visit, and maybe my parents should have insisted rather than just stopped going. But that is for another blog day, my dears. The truth was, we didn't throw candy wrappers behind the couch, nor steal sodas. And we were never offered so much as a crumb the few times we went there, so no food wasting was going on. It was a special birthday party for this mans mother. She was turning 89 years old. We were invited, but not really included in the festivities. We had to sit on the couch and not move. We were not allowed to eat any of the party food, we could not drink anything but water. And from our perch on the couch, we saw a fantastic thing. We saw the 89 year old woman try to eat a piece of pie, and upon discovering that the crust was inpenetrable, she ate the filling out and put the empty and STILL STANDING crust back on the table. And took another. And another. Until she had eaten the filling out of each and every pie slice on the table. The whole time she glared at us, as if daring us to tell on her. Then she took wrapped caramels out of the candy dish on the table, ate them, and tossed the wrappers casually behind the EZ-chair where she sat. We all sucked in a collective breath - so SHE was the culprit! But before we could say a thing, we were being ushered out of the house in a hail of obscenities and hatred, dragged out by our parents as we were berated by strangers, for the freestanding pie crusts had been discovered. We were not to eat anything, and here we did this awful thing. That was the last time we went there (as children. He grew senile as he aged and as adults we were more accepted by him. My sister grew to have a relationship with them, I decided not). Eventually it came out as to what had happened that day, to the point it is a family joke. Somebody will bounce a fork on the crust of a piece of pie to demonstrate it's strength, and we all laugh like loons. My maternal grandmother can make a pie crust that will bring tears to your eyes. Perfectly browned, tender and flakey, just the right amount of crumb and crumble. I swear she can take a single crust recipe and roll it out for miles. She transfers it to the pie plate with a flick of her wrist, no rolling it around the pin or folding it in quarters. No tricks, no shortcuts, no patches of cracks once it gets there. She can make a crust with whatever is on hand. Lard is perfect but butter, crisco, butter flavoured crisco, thin air, all are good enough for her. Her fillings are never too tart, too runny or too thick. Her apples have the exact right amount of sugar and cinnamon, her cherries are plump and bound with the clearest and brightest of sauces that are sturdy enough to be sliced, but spill out the minute you touch the piece with your fork as though you broke some magic spell. Her pumpkin pie has been known to make a grown man weep. I do believe my brother-in-law may have married my sister for the privelidge of eating my grandmother's pumpkin pie once a year at Christmas. I don't even LIKE pie and I can appreciate how perfect her crust can be. So there you have it. My crusts look beautiful like grandma Della's but are as hard and inpenetrable as those from Mimi Margaret. And still, the few times per year that I actually make something that calls for pastry, I would rather make my own than use store bought. First of all because I like to think that it is the thought that counts LOL. And secondly because we can't get the ones that are just rolled out here, only the ones that come pre-formed in the tiniest disposable pie plate you have ever seen and more often than not the crust itself is shattered and needs major surgery before use. And thirdly because of you DO manage to get a bite ground up between your jaws, it does TASTE better - even if it causes TMJ in the process. There is a crust made from whole wheat flour and butter that I can make and it is tender and flaky and perfect, and thumbs it's nose at the curse and blows a raspberry. But I am the only one that will eat a whole wheat crust, and I don't like pastry (although, if you wrap it around a tortiere filling you have a "French Canadian wet dream" as it has been called by a French Canadian relative that often misses his family home in Quebec. It's nice to know that SOMEBODY appreciates it LOL). So there you have it. Proof positive that when it comes to pie crust, it is nature (and not nurture) that makes the difference. And be sure to go visit the Cookbook Junkie at the link above, it's her fault I am writing about pie crust today anyway. Tee hee!

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