Today is the day I tried cooking a strawberry pie.
Strawberry pie may not seem all that special. There are many more elegant desserts: roulades, soufflés, flaming crepes. But to me, strawberry pie has always somehow ranked among the fanciest of Fancy Desserts.
Piled high with huge red berries and even higher with mounds of sweetened whipped cream, that glistening red-and-white slice may really be little more than a brightly colored sugar delivery system, but, since I was a boy, it seemed a piece of the good life.
I grew up in a small Southern city. In those days, we didn’t dine out a lot and there weren’t that many choices for restaurants when we did. So, any dinner or Sunday lunch cooked and served by an honest-to-goodness, sit-down-to-be-served restaurant seemed special. And ending a meal with strawberry pie made it even more of an event. It seemed a special dessert reserved for dining out.
We ate plenty of fine homemade desserts – pecan pies, boiled custard, coconut cakes, even fresh ice cream – but never strawberry pie. That, in my limited boyish imagination, required some special skill reserved for the cooks at exotic eateries such as Morrison’s Cafeteria or Shoney’s Big Boy. (I told you the choices were few.)
To tell the truth, our homemade desserts probably tasted better, but somehow strawberry pie was proof that you were out and about and seeing what the world had to offer. It was going-out pie.
As we start to escape (we hope) from COVID lockdown, I have been preparing to go out into the world again and thinking about how I spent my time during the past 15 months or so. Throughout my career as a newspaperman, I’ve spent a lot of time on the move. I’ve lived in different states, seen new sights, witnessed strange events and met a wide variety of people who were either confronting extraordinary events or doing important deeds or who simply had interesting things to say.
Like most of us, since March 2020, I’ve mostly stayed at home. I wish I could say I’ve used the time wisely. I could have practiced to be a better guitarist or written a novel or learned French. I didn’t. I did some work from home, but I suspect I’m one of many who simply whiled away empty hours doing mundane things: crossword and jigsaw puzzles, gardening, watching a lot of TV, occasionally cooking something that seemed interesting.
I think I understand, at least in part, why it was so hard to rise to the challenge offered by the empty hours of lockdown. COVID made everything scary.
In the days before widespread vaccinations, COVID made going out of the house into something threatening. A simple trip to the grocery literally could prove fatal. Working at your office could make you sick. People were – and still are — fighting over wearing masks, keeping apart and just how to act in the company of strangers.
In a world like that, it was easy to keep to oneself and fall back on simple pleasures. Puzzles. Books and magazines. TV shows delivered up by Netflix that provided hours of English detectives and French detectives and even Icelandic and Korean detectives unraveling twisted crimes.
Those things offered a measure – or at least a feeling — of control. They seemed to say that the world, despite the weirdness of lockdown and the sudden scariness of strangers, hadn’t really changed. My little domestic pleasures provided a sort of comfort food for the scared.
Which brings me back to strawberry pie.
I spotted a recipe online recently and thought there could be no better way to celebrate the beginning of the end of pandemic lockdown than to bite into a slice. Just like when I was a kid, it could be a sign I was out of the house and into the wide world around me.
So, I made a strawberry pie.
I haven’t tasted it just yet. It’s still cooling in the fridge.
But it looks damn good.