In the history of cooking it is likely that no family that was neither starving nor earning its daily bread from baking has placed more import on the simple fruit pie than has mine. Family lore insists that my grandmother, Lucille Mae Rose, set out to cultivate a pleasurable culinary creation for her then new husband, Franz Anton Kenel. My grandparents wed in 1917 and an oft repeated tale states that when Tony took a bite of wife Lucy’s loving, if inept, attempt at pie baking he chewed, swallowed and said, “Poor pie better than no pie.”
These six words have been uttered with varying inflection time and again through what now comprises five generations of Kenel. Nearly 100 years have passed since their union and this mantra of left handed compliment survives unscathed, though those who now utter it are more likely to do so with a conciliatory smile than as an admonition to the cook. My grandfather was legendary for his reticence and close mouthed, cards held close to the chest colloquialisms.
My father oft said that Tony could negotiate complicated business dealings while uttering only, “Hmmm,” in various tones, volume and duration, each transcendental ‘ohmmmm’ imparting more meaning than an entire page of my scribbling could ever hope to convey. Those who dealt with Tony knew that whether he spoke six words sequentially or merely communicated through archetypal, grunted inflection that the subject upon which he focused was likely both complicated and of Earth shattering significance. Thus the words, “Poor pie better than no pie,” could be viewed as Grandpa’s Magna Carte, Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights and a business contract all rolled into one.
Getting one’s share of the pie is an oft used phrase intended to indicate receiving a portion of a wondrous thing. My siblings and I came to misunderstand this colloquialism because our father Francis, Grandpa Tony’s middle son, had an interesting allotment system for pie distribution. Likely we’ve all seen a cartoon where two people have agreed to split a pile of loot fifty-fifty but the transaction goes south when the person making the distribution does so by handing out the coins in a one for you, one for me; one for you, two for me fashion that results in a very inequitable and uneven sharing of the pie.
This was thoroughly demonstrated to us as children when Dad’s pragmatic distribution method was demonstrated to us time and again as he would take a freshly baked pie and cut it “equally” so that all seven of us could receive our fair share. Dad’s Math determined that the easiest way to divide a pie equally among seven was to simply cut it into quarters and then to again divide in half three of the quarters. This left six pieces that were roughly an eighth of the pie and one that was an “equal” share that measured twice the size of the others and one quarter of the total. Woe be it to the child who tried to claim the lion’s share of our sweet treat as she, or far more likely he, was greeted with an admonishing, “Uh, uh, uh! That’s my piece!”
As though we were ever in doubt!
Happy Pi day, everyone! I hope it’is a sweet one!
3/14/15 @ 9:26:53