Food for Thought: The contents of the crust
Published: Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, February 6, 2013 15:02
You set out on a perilous quest with only your love of freshly made food to guide you. You struggle through the treacherous mile to Whole Foods, and you ache on the mile back with grocery bags splitting and spilling as droplets of rain begin to fall.
You reach your tiny, communal kitchenette and begin to tackle the logistics of cooking on an unfamiliar stove with your new pots and pans. Questions abound: Is the burner electric? Is it even heating up? If you leave dishes in the cupboard for future use, will you ever see them again?
The leaky faucet taunts you as you stand unceremoniously at your post in front of the gigantic garbage cans, staring at the wonky shelves that cannot hold your cutting boards even if you want them to. Are you delusional? Would it be better to simply accept what the dining halls offer? Can a bowl of your own hand-cooked pasta and vegetables be worth this toil?
For some extraordinarily courageous Wendy Wellesleys, the answer is yes. At a time of our lives when domesticity takes a backseat to studies and college-aged enjoyments, it can be easy to think of cooking as a chore or a hassle. But there is a primeval, innate magic in food. Wherever you go, whoever you are, you cannot live without nourishment. To you, food may not be an important cultural rite or a familial memory. You may not be a vegan, vegetarian or calorie-counter, but you do eat—we all do.
So what motivates a Wendy to take that plunge from being a passive eater to a warrior on the frontline of the battle against her residence hall’s sticky stove? I won’t claim to have all the answers but, over time, I do hope to explore what cooking means to me. By evaluating our relationship with food, we begin to understand one of the bonds that makes us human.
One of my strongest bonds is with pie. As the saying goes, it is what all other types of recipes strive to be “as easy as.” Advice about the creation of pie is also some of the best I have ever received.
Of course, some words—or foods—are instilled with power because we give them meaning; the phrase that reverberates in my mind was never directly given to me. In fact, my great-grandmother said these words to my mother, and they passed on to me through some sort of familial osmosis: “The best pie crusts are made with lard.” Thanks to a science project in middle school, my friends and I learned that lard is an ingredient in soap. It led to several declarations that people would never use soap again, before they realized the implications.
Pie is not my favorite food, but that gem of wisdom floats in my mind. This is powerful advice because in a world full of pie metaphors, there are multiple meanings. Perhaps my great-grandmother meant for me to reflect on those words when I read about gloomy economists who stated that the rich get more of the economic pie, that deep down they are only getting something full of a waxy “soft white solid or semisolid fat obtained by rendering fatty pork” (Merriam-Webster). Usually, though, I think her declaration is symbolic of how I see the world: beneath every perfect picture is something real and sometimes unexpected, just as lard bubbles under the surface of a delicious treat.
Did I enjoy pie more when it was made of love and goodness, or when words meant one thing only? I confess, I haven’t tried to make lard-filled pie crust, as it’s simpler to buy ready-made Oreo crusts without having to wonder what is in “milk’s favorite cookie.” However, I cannot ignore the excitement I feel when reflecting on the meanings of words and foods. At a college where we encourage each other to think critically, I believe cooking is an extension of our natural desire to learn about the world.
You may not decide to start your own adventures in the kitchen this week, and you may not be as captivated as I am by the symbolic attributes of pie, but I hope you will take a moment to contemplate a meal that means something to you. Who knows? You might begin to understand those brave souls trudging with their groceries through our damp fall weather a little better.