It’s such a silly thing — the Great Thanksgiving Pie Incident of 2018. I’d been going through the assortment of recipes I managed to inherit from my grandmother, and I thought I might try my hand at a chocolate pie. Mugger almost always baked a chocolate pie at Thanksgiving, and other times of the year, too — it was one of her staples. The recipes I have are all cut out from newspapers and magazines — many are unclear, and some are literally incomplete — and there are probably half a dozen chocolate pie recipes. One of the cut-out strips of paper, however, had an adjustment — “3 corn starch” — written out to the side in Mugger’s handwriting, so I thought that might be a strong contender for the recipe. So I gave it a shot.
I should probably preface this story by explaining that I literally only cook one thing in the kitchen every three months. I’ve never made a chocolate pie before. I’ve never made a meringue. I’ll be forty years old in a few months, and I’ve never made a chocolate pie. But my mother was 55 when she passed away, and I’m pretty sure she’d never made a chocolate pie, either.
I cooked the pie at the temperature for the amount of time the recipe stated. 350 degrees for 15 minutes. But the recipe added the qualifier “when the meringue starts to brown.” Every time I opened the oven, that meringue was as white as Christmas. I kept it in for another five minutes. And another. Still pretty white — you could imagine that maybe it had a light tan cast to it, but it was nothing what I remembered my grandmother’s looking like.
So I got a stroke of inspiration. Maybe I just needed to put the oven on broil and get it brown. I mean, that’s what you do when you’re finishing up casseroles and frittatas sometimes, right? So I did, and I watched it through the oven door with Kye. And it started to brown and get that weird sugar-sweat on it I could remember being on my grandmother’s chocolate pies.
“See, that’s what it’s supposed to do,” I said. “Now it looks perfect.” Thomas took the baby, and I opened the oven door to get the pie.
And the pie burst into flames. I’m talking, entire pie, high flames shooting out of the oven.
I squealed, or screamed, or cursed — I’m not sure what — and Thomas told me to close the oven door. He gave me Kye, got potholders, opened the oven door, blew the pie out like a candle, and took the (now completely blackened) pie outside. Smoke poured into the house, and the smoke detectors all went off. All the kids rushed into the kitchen to see what sort of disaster had occurred. And I couldn’t stop laughing, because of COURSE I would almost set the kitchen on fire trying to bake a pie.
But the adventure (or misadventure) has given me a inherent sense of peace and belonging, and might be the most perfect thing to happen to me on a Thanksgiving Eve. I grew up in a family of mishaps and missteps — we were determined and passionate as we did everything COMPLETELY wrong and we laughed about it anyway. My mom and her sisters would tell stories about Mugger’s kitchen fires — I think one of them was her burning a cake and the fire department coming to the apartment, if I’m remembering that correctly. Setting a pie on fire while trying to use one of Mugger’s old recipes is such a direct connection — it’s just the kind of thing Mugger would have done, and I could see her finding it hilarious (and also giving me a hard time about it — because, really, don’t you know how the “broil” setting works, Devon?) It’s such a ridiculous example of the legacy I carry, but it’s also a perfect example because it’s so ridiculous — because we were ridiculous, and that is why I’ve become the woman I am.
And it’s why I’m so perfectly matched with the person I’ve chosen for domestic partner and life-mate. Because I can be ridiculous, and he delights in it. Because his family is the same way. And, in fact, the first thing we did was send his parents pictures and video of the entire debacle, which began a storm of hilarious text messages and shared laughter. (And also because he does all of this without letting the house burn down.) I’m the kind of woman who sets a pie on fire, and Thomas is the kind of man who loves me anyway — and perhaps even a little because of that fact. There is no judgment — or, at least, any judgment that might exist is alway overruled by love.
And then I flash-forward to the future — of Aisling, Kes, and Kye, sitting around a future Thanksgiving table as full-grown, independent adults, sharing the story of that time Mom set a pie on fire. How the smoke detectors went off, how Aisling was so disappointed about not having chocolate pie, how Kes was convinced that if she’d made the pie then it wouldn’t have caught on fire (and she was sure to tell Mom that.) Kye will probably have no memory of it, but she would have been there, and Aisling and Kes will tell her the story, and she will find it amusing to hear. And, by that point, this story will probably lead into a series of Mom-almost-burning-the-house-down stories, because domesticity is not my strong-suit, and I’m sure this will happen again. It will become part of the narrative of our family, a story that is shared over and over, because it’s a story that embodies our values, and that tells a truth about who we really are.
And these kinds of family stories are the best kind.