The Politics of Holiday Pie

wm-bhim-applesInconceivable: I’m going to share my pie recipe. I’ll pause and give my friends time to pick themselves up. They know this sort of thing could go either way.

There was that time years ago, that I had a date over for dinner. We hadn’t known each other long and I always want to get off on the right foot. We were sipping wine in the living room when I went to check on dinner in the kitchen. I had rice on the stove. Lifting the lid, there was no water visible. I could see the beginning of a light golden color around the edges. So naturally, I turned up the heat and returned to the living room.

For some people, cooking is a creative passion. I mean no disrespect; I hope they invite me for dinner. Somehow cooking wound up being political for me.

I was raised in traditional home, meaning it was plain to see that men and boys had all the power and unhappy women cleaned up after them. My mother, who also hated cooking, tried to teach me right. She knew that ordinary girls, ones who couldn’t get by just on their good looks, would need serious domestic skills if they were ever to find a husband. Especially an ordinary girl with a mouth like mine.

So yes, I sew beautifully but I used the concept of piecing fabric into clothing as a way of understanding how to hand-build gemstone settings, using tools like my oxy-acetylene torch, when I was a goldsmith. And it’s only recently that I’ve admitted knowing how to type. It’s been decades since a man has asked me to type their term paper. And now, three books later, I seem to have found good use for those “secretarial skills” they talked about in high school. Finally, truth be told, I’m a great cook… but it gives me no joy.

To each his own; it wasn’t the life I wanted. Once I left home, I shunned any traditional “women’s work.” Maybe I was afraid if I faltered once, I’d be type cast forever. Instead, I bit my tongue and pretended ignorance.

It was horses who made kitchens safe again. My pie recipe will make more sense now.

First, it must be understood that the pie is always made from fresh apples. In the beginning, I used to make my grandmother’s crust recipe. It has a secret ingredient and is outlandishly good. Now, I buy the pre-rolled Pillsbury crusts. They’re passable and my grandmother was always disappointed with me anyway.

Next, the apples. Buy a huge bag of them and do the worst job of peeling them possible. Sure, I was born with the gene that allows a paper-thin one piece curl of apple skin, but that’s just showing off and doesn’t serve the big picture. I like to hack thick slabs of the peel off so that when I’m done, the apple has a wonky octagon shape and is only two-thirds the size it was before I started. Then core the apple and slice what’s left into the pie shell. Continue until the pie shell is heaping full. Quarter the rest of the apples and put them in with the peels.

Then I drag out my Betty Crocker cook book with the red gingham cover. Mom gave it to me while I was still in high school and I certainly haven’t bought another since. I turn to the Perfect Apple Pie recipe to remember how much flour, sugar, and cinnamon to sprinkle in. Then dab butter on top, but use more than they say. See? I’ve gone off recipe already. Put the lid on the pie, crinkle the edges together, and put it in the oven.

Now hurry. You only have an hour. Scoop the chunky apple peels into a bag and scurry out to the barn. Put a handful of peels in every feeder, while relaxing into the first equine thought that comes into your head. For me, it’s always my Grandfather Horse. I miss him. This will be the first year in thirty that he and I haven’t avoided this holiday together.

So I made the pie early this year; I needed the apple-peel ritual that’s part political, part spiritual, and part therapeutic. It’s been a mean year and I’m behind on my breathing.

As the horses chew, my jaw softens. Sinking down on a bale; the barn feels like home and all the memories of good horses come galloping back. It’s good to be reminded. If you’re like me, you’ve been stronger than you ever thought possible. Some days you failed your horse, but you didn’t quit. Other days, you’ve been lifted high and carried like treasure.

(If you don’t have a barn, it doesn’t matter. Quietly remember the first horse you loved. Call him to you; let him star in his own movie. You know the plot by heart.)

Through the manure and the mud, the horses saw something in us that had nothing to do with sex or career. It was beyond hair color or dress size or age. Horses treated us in a way that our own species struggles with. They treated us as equals.

An hour later, back in the house, the air is sweet with warm cinnamon and now you have a second apple treat to share with friends or family. They welcome you in with a hug that lasts longer than usual and they hold eye contact. The pie is an after thought.

There is something about women who know horses. It’s part apples and part muck boots, along with some stray white hairs on her sweatshirt. She’s comfortable in her body because she knows acceptance; the glow that lingers from the barn.

At any age, we should know better than to confuse a silly pie with a woman’s real worth. Never underestimate her. A heart filled with horses can accomplish anything.

….
Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro

67 thoughts on “The Politics of Holiday Pie

  1. Straight to the heart and soul, Anna. I will share this with English friends who will join me for breakfast this morning. And, no, I am not cooking. Toufayan miniature croissants will be warmed, and fresh berries are on hand. Starbucks has thankfully blended the Sumatran coffee.

    I will read this, over brekkers. A wonderful piece to share from a like mind.

    Merry Christmas.
    Amazon sent a note that your books are on the way.

    Nuala

  2. Dee Morris

    I’m seeing you like a Ghandi of the Apple Pies- peacefully and passively resistant lol. Wonderful piece. Wish I lived near to you- I’d *make* you be my friend😂

      1. Forgot to tell you! I ordered all three of your books for myself for Christmas. Been following your blog for a while and had to have them. Happy New Year to you, too, Anna, and to all the critters.

  3. Lisa Brewer

    Yes women’s work. The recipes and kitchen rituals that bind generations of strong women. Our domain. A place to be together and talk and pass along far more than the recipes. Some of my fondest memories are the times I spent in my Grandmother’s kitchen watching her make apple jelly from the trees in her back yard. Every fall when I make it, I think of her work and words and feel that she is in my kitchen with me.

  4. lsterling56

    Oh my, Anna. You got me with this one…touched me to my very “core”, if you will. Blessings to you and all your quadrupeds. And damn, that pie sounds good!

  5. Suzanne in NC

    Another tear jerker for me! I’ve always wondered how you can speak to me so clearly and now I know. I had a similar upbringing as you did and remember the same for me when it came to “roles” in the family (only girl, two older brothers who now tell me they don’t remember me from our childhood) – amazing that being raised in the South could be similar to out West…

    I’m gonna follow your example this Christmas – gonna get out my 40 yo Red Checker Betty Crocker cookbook – cook me an apple pie – maybe sew some on the quilt I’m making and MOST IMPORTANT – go out to our barn and celebrate with my five horses and six cashmere goats!

    Can’t express how much I enjoyed this blog today!!!
    Suzanne

  6. I still have my mother’s checkered cookbook. It’s faded and the paper is shredding. I now use the one my husband gave me in the 70’s. You’ve inspired me to make an apple pie. I’ll let you know…
    Love Laurel and Chai.

  7. I come from a grandmother who excelled at “man work”. She ran the family’s tobacco farm. I spent summers laboring with her from dawn to dusk. As a child I nicknamed her Honey. Honey’s culinary talents ended more towards quantity than quality. Out of necessity my generation broke that trend. ;D

    Honey’s farm is also where I met Comet, the ancient pony stallion. My first equine love. I defied rusty old barbed wire to connect with him. (pretty sure I got a beating for that lol)

    I think of her every day as I work on my farm – strong and capable, honestly tired at the end of the day. Thanks for another beautiful post. Happy holidays and best wishes for the New Year.

    1. What a precious legacy. Our for-mothers are always the biggest inspiration. We’re either just like them or the exact opposite. Great comment, thank you!

  8. Sometimes I read one of your essays and I just lean forward with my head on my hands and get lost inside my head for a bit. That is the best kind of writing I believe–to leave people continuing the conversation.

  9. Evelyn Conoley

    Writing w/tears and a lump in my throat but also laughter in my heart. You always offer the balance, Anna. Coming from a dysfunctional home background makes this my worst time of year anyway and reading your insights brought sympathy and empathy for you. Then I had to giggle since I also have the SAME cookbook and bake the pie the same way and run to the stables w/the trimmings while it bakes. Oh, Anna, you make us all feel related–since we are! Susie Mare thanks you for the reminder to bake us all a pie! Blessings, Ev and Susie Mare

  10. Oh…after reading this gem, I can hold a stainless steel measuring cup up to my ear and hear the oceanic sounds of the herd grazing upon those decadent peels… that sound and the heart waves that entrain to it nourish me beyond the sweetness of memories or even of pie (or for me of strudel)

    wishing you all deep nourishment
    and offerings of gratitude to you Anna and Grandfather Horse and all those who cross paths leading to the same place of the heart,
    Sabina

  11. Dear Anna:

    Thank you, again, for another wonderful message … one that I might have written myself, if I was stronger, more articulate, and had anyone to write to ….

    My grandmother’s pie crust secret was a well-beaten egg, to hold the dough together better, so you could roll it out paper-thin … somehow it always rose to be light and flaky, never thick or doughy … the Pillsbury crusts are just not the same. The last time I baked a pie (Christmas of 1995, maybe?) my mother-in-law, who owned a restaurant, couldn’t believe that * I * (who did NOT cook!) had made the pie (crust and all!) “from scratch!” I gave her the recipe, but doubt she ever used it. The pies at her café were awesome, although I didn’t care for their thick, chewy crusts. Just spoiled, I guess.

    Merry Christmas!

    Angela

    Angela Jenkins

    Arabian Horse Association Life Member

    Arabian horse owner since 1971

    Diamond Magic Arabians

    Beautiful athletes for pleasure, trail, sport and show

    http://www.DiamondMagicArabians.com and http://www.DiamondMagicArabians.weebly.com

  12. Maggie Frazier

    My cookbook (same one) is in tatters – did use it for years – now its hidden in a cupboard! Sitting & watching the “movie” of the horses I loved? Much better than doing “woman’s work”! I guess I was very fortunate in my grandparents & my mom & dad – never heard the kind of gender stuff from any of them! But ex-husband & in-laws? Oh yeah… Somehow being with my horse as a kid and then later in life, as an adult – that stuff just didnt matter anymore.

  13. Anna and all kindly bloggers here. I wanted to share this brief.
    Yesterday, while dropping off a Christmas gift for my equine veterinarian (who was not there), I met a 30-year-old Arabian gentleman and his owner; they have been together for 20 years.
    As I looked at this thin, bony little equid, who has trouble taking a step, I was reminded of everything good in life and how it is our strength of character,heart and courage that keeps us going through the toughest times. More than that, it is quite simply love. Love for anything or anyone, a passion for life through the object(s) of love.

    This little horse (not unlike Anna’s dearest donkey) is hanging on his bony frame, his feet misshapen (due to problems with his hooves, not lack of care), he has Cushing’s disease, missing hair on his coat in several areas, and he can hardly walk. He has other health issues, but with all that, the little gray has not given up — not by a long shot.

    He looked up when we arrived, and staggered toward us in greeting, nickering loudly, “Merry Christmas, who are you?” I almost burst into tears, but I was the saddened one, not he.
    He nuzzled me warmly, and then, with a deep breath, which seemed somewhat labored, he called to his ‘brother’ in the paddock (behind the house); his brother returned the call with affection and love. The little gray then made his way very slowly back to the piece of grass he had been working on when I arrived.

    His old, dark eyes are deep and sunken, and he can’t see very well. Yet, he put all his little strength into coming over to greet us and to ‘speak’ with us. An angel in our midst this Christmas.
    Which reminded me of the quote, “Be not afraid to welcome strangers, for in so doing, many have entertained angels.”

    The little Arabian has a heart and spirit of gold. He reminded me of the strength of our Lord’s little donkey, carrying Mary.

    To all those who care for senior horses in such a heartfelt and wonderful manner, gently supporting their old age and cheering their spirits, as they do ours, bless you all.
    Meeting this tiny, old fellow, has just added to the blessings of Christmas.

    May he live to greet others and to demonstrate that, even with serious health issues and no longer what many may feel as ‘a useful animal’, his heart and spirit can bring joy and tears.

    Merry Christmas, Anna, and to all — you are an amazing group of people.

    With love,

    Nuala Galbari

  14. Laurie

    Feminine pursuits are not my forte; I knit myself into a knot and “crafts” totally escape me. However, I have some competence with fixing the tractor, pounding T-posts, and rigging electric fence. I have taken some grief for these skills over the years, but I for one (apparently the only one) find them inherently valuable and satisfying. Your grandmother was obviously blind to the jewel you are. I hope 2017 is a greatly improved year for you and yours.

  15. jacklincke

    Wow Anna,

    “A heart filled with horses can accomplish anything.”

    What a Christmas present! Thank you!

    Love and Appreciation,

    Mary Jo Sisters, OR

    On Fri, Dec 23, 2016 at 5:45 AM, Relaxed & Forward: AnnaBlakeBlog wrote:

    > Anna Blake posted: ” Inconceivable: I’m going to share my pie recipe. I’ll > pause and give my friends time to pick themselves up. They know this sort > of thing could go either way. There was that time years ago, that I had a > date over for dinner. We hadn’t known each oth” >

  16. I think at this point in my life I’d forget bother to make a pie (never really was a fan of pie, cookies for me) and just fix up a big old bag of apples for the horses instead. I’d like nothing better than to spend the day in a barn with horses. Nothing like the honesty of a horse or dog to center and ground you. The holidays used to be marvelous, now they’re just loud, commercial and fortunately, I can pretty much ignore the whole thing since spouse goes to a friend’s house (someone who prefers I don’t accompany and whom I prefer to never see), the step kids are all gone raising their own families scattered across the country and I can have a quiet, contemplative day remembering the real reason for this holiday and the many trees, gifts and endless love that was shared over the years.

  17. Michelle Hoyt

    This was wonderful, I too bake so that I can give the scraps to my horses, donkey, mule, llama and chickens almost more than for my family. My grandmother was the best baker I have ever known, and her holiday gifts were home made buns, lefse, krumkake and embroidered towels and dish cloths, she was short on money, but long on love for her family.

  18. Anna, thank you for this. I went against my own knowledge of my TB yesterday. And moved him to the “big” barn that is on the property I board at. I listened to the two older gentlemen, who are my fathers age and are old “race horse” people. I have been friends with one of the men for over 10 years now, as long as I have owned my horse. But deep down, I knew that the move wouldnt be healthy for either my boy, or I.
    So I moved 38 bales of hay, with help since my health isnt the best. I moved buckets, and made several trips with wheelbarrows full of his stalls shavings. I had turned him out tha morning from his saf/ happy place and then brought him in later that afternoon to a place that was scary to him. The barns doors are full doors. Not doors that every little bay, and my own chestnut, can stick their head over to greet the person pulling the barn door open. The building made of cement block, not well worn and warm, wood. I knew, deep down. That my son would not be happy. But the other barn was more “convenient” The new “trainer” is a bit nuts, by other peoples standards. But I actually like her. But I moved. And he screamed. And panicked. And I couldnt stay and calm him. I had to be home with my kid. So I left him. No other horses were in at the time I brought him in, while in the other barn there are always some horses in. Always company.
    I worried all night. I panicked. I paced. I got up with the sun. And drove to the barn. I could tell he was upset when he didnt neigh when I called his name. I entered his stall to find his hay un eaten. Water not touched. So I moved him back.

    So now I am crazy, And “I will learn the hard way” All things I overheard while moving my horses things back across the stable yard. Yes, I am. Crazy in love with my horse. If my being a horsewoman, a true caring horse woman. Makes me crazy. Then I will wear that title with pride. Oh, and I can’t make pie for the life of me. Can’t sew either. But my husband dosnt mind. And he came along today to help me move my horse back. And he isnt a horse person at all. He just loves the crazy woman he married.

    1. Maggie Frazier

      How very lucky you are – with your husband AND your horse! And frankly-how lucky THEY are to have you!

  19. “Through the manure and the mud, the horses saw something in us that had nothing to do with sex or career. It was beyond hair color or dress size or age. Horses treated us in a way that our own species struggles with. They treated us as equals.
    There is something about women who know horses. It’s part apples and part muck boots, along with some stray white hairs on her sweatshirt. She’s comfortable in her body because she knows acceptance; the glow that lingers from the barn.
    Never underestimate her. A heart filled with horses can accomplish anything.”

    Wow. This is a real Christmas gift to us all Anna. May I wish you a wonderful day with your horses, in your barn.

  20. Lynell Abbtt

    Every word you write is pure gold, Anna. So grateful to have found you.
    A blessed New Year to you and to all you hold dear.

  21. Mia

    Beautiful. This really hit home, I had a horse in the 90s that was just the motivation I needed to make a major move (figuratively and literally) that changed the entire trajectory of my life forever. This made me ponder that how grateful I am to him for that. Thanks for the memories. It’s a hectic and often crazy time of year and I now remember to breath.

  22. I’m pretty sure my horses will really appreciate your version of the pie!
    Merry Christmas from the 4Shoes!

    If you get a chance to stop by Life at the 4Shoes during the holidays http://lifeatthe4shoes.blogspot.ca/2016/12/kristmas-wish-for-kaydance.html ) I really hope that you will consider sharing the video (Facebook, etc) that I’ve posted about Kaydance, who was abducted in May of this year. You never know which plea will be the one that helps this tortured family reunite.

  23. Lyn Chambers

    This hits home for me. All I ever wanted to do was work with horses. My Mother talked me into going to community college so I would “have something to fall back on if the horse thing didn’t work out”. During that time I lost my way. The only realistic way for me to work with horses and survive was full time live in. Of course I couldn’t do that and school. So here I am at 55 working as an office administrator and wondering ‘what if?’. I have a good life, a good job, great husband, nice house, but all I ever do is count the minutes until my next trip to the barn to be with my horse….or any horse!. It’s where I belong. I’ve always felt it. I inherited my Mother’s fear of the unknown so once I was on the path to ‘women’s work’ I never had the courage to break away and do what I really love. Well, I did. Once. I got a job at the stables I rode at every week. I was in my 20’s and was the happiest I have ever been for those 2 years. I got forced out by a greedy woman who wanted my job and lied to get me fired. Finding yourself jobless and homeless with a horse, a dog and a cat is a terrifying thing. I settled. I had to. I thanked goodness I ‘had something to fall back on’ and I did what I had to do to survive and here I am….. For the record I don’t think I’ve ever made an apple pie but my Mother’s are to die for.

    1. Oh Lyn. Such a bittersweet comment. Life is the intersection of so many different things, from so many directions. Choices are hard in the moment and sometimes hindsight doesn’t help. It sounds like you’ve had a good life and have a horse now, so I am glad for that part. I ask myself a lot of “what if” questions; my future is not at all secure. No one knows how this whole deal is going to turn out. And neither of us is dead yet. Anything is possible. Thanks, Lyn.

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