I can't point the way, but I can bake a pie
At the farmers' market this morning, the summer raspberries have appeared. Zucchinis loll in a casual pile, fresh garlic and beets are stacked in bundles on the plywood tabletop, but the raspberries are given pride of place. On a red-and-white-checked tablecloth, presented in clear plastic half-pint boxes, the soft red berries with their promise of tartness, juice, and sweetness glow like jewels. They're priced like jewels.
Holly, who runs the stand, sees me wince. She gestures to the back of her pickup. "I've got a jam flat."
A jam flat is a cardboard box, 12-by-20 inches, that holds eight half-pint boxes. Bruised and crushed berries just as flavorful, but cosmetically unfit for the jewel display end up here.
A jam flat is a reprieve from the harsh economics of raspberries: berries for pie and jam, and still all the raspberries you can eat. Once, when my daughter Laura was 4, I bought a flat and put it beside her in the back seat. On the drive home, she worked her way through several boxes; at jam-flat prices, I could just laugh at her dripping hands and red face.
"It's more than a flat," Holly confides. "It's 12 boxes. I'll give it to you for $12."
Raspberries are more perishable than a sunrise. Use them today or lose them. Today I have perennials to cut back, a review to write a living to make. No time for raspberries. I hand her $12.
Laura graduated from college last week. She's at home for a few weeks, maybe a few months, she says, while she figures out what she's going to do. Laura doesn't move easily from one era in her life to the next. She has lags, like the low places in the road where the fog stays. Her road veers into a low place and she gets fogbound. All around her the sun is out; in the sunlit countryside her peers are driving on their way. Months pass. Her fog lifts, and she drives on into brightness.
I know this about her. It's her fog to sit in, and must be hers to find her way out of.
Five boxes of berries fill my two-quart glass measuring bowl. I mix cornstarch, a little water, and a cup of sugar, and pour it over the berries. No matter how gently I fold in the mixture, the berries smash; their juice runs the color of rubies into the sugar.
I learned to make pie dough while I was pregnant with Laura. Two-and-a-half cups of flour, 2-1/2 cups of cold butter, cut into small chunks. I mix it with my fingers, pinching the butter into smaller pieces, pressing it into the flour until the mixture is the consistency of coarse cornmeal. Work fast, with a light touch so the butter doesn't warm and get too soft. Add ice water, as little as necessary to make the dough hold together. The morning is overcast and chilly; at the market, it was drizzling. Perfect weather for piecrust.
Roll the dough out between sheets of wax paper, two sheets. Let them cool in the refrigerator to relax the gluten. Ease one chilled crust into the cast-iron pie pan. Spoon the berries and their juice into the crust. Squeeze half a lemon over the berries, and dot them with butter.
When I left for the market, Laura was in my office, dark hair hanging over her laptop. She's cruising websites, looking for internships. She's still there, scribbling notes, printing out things she's found.
I cut the second sheet of dough into strips and lay half of them across the berries, creamy stripes against the red. Even in the cool air, the dough softens. It tears easily. I lay a strip over the first vertical, lift up the second, and pull my strip under it. Over, under, over, under, as quickly, as delicately as I can, I weave my crosswise strips to make a latticework crust. It takes all my concentration and all my skill to move the strips, repair them where they break, and finish before the dough melts into shapelessness.
Cut off the excess, crimp the edges into a lip with a fluting, pinching movement. Paint the crust with beaten egg, sprinkle with sugar, and slide it into the oven at 450 for 15 minutes to brown the crust, then bake at 350 for another 45 minutes.
The overcast breaks up, the house fills with the rich smells of pie crust and baking fruit. Laura walks into the kitchen. She doesn't know that I've made the pie for her, that I've made a pie because I can't dispel her fog, or map her direction.
She's in charge of that. But I can make a raspberry pie.