When I was about 15 years old my dad started baking pies. Not just any pies. Masterful, mouthwatering pies. Apple raspberry, blueberry lemon meringue, caramel peach, and my personal favorite, strawberry rhubarb (with both strawberries and rhubarb freshly harvested from a summer garden). I never got around to asking why my dad took up making pie. Maybe it was the clay-like feel of the pie dough, or the artistic sculpting of a beautiful lattice top pie crust. Or maybe it was just that he would take a slice of pie over a piece of cake any day. Whether motivated on by artistic expression or a sweet tooth, his pies were both beautiful and delicious.
You could tell a lot about my dad from his pies. Besides love for his family, he believed in the value of integrity and hard work above all else. No pre-made crust would ever be used in his pies, no no no, he made every single pie crust from scratch. He was also very selfless about his pies. Pies were made for special occasions, other people’s birthdays or big family gatherings around the holidays. His pies were made to be shared or given away. A tangible labor of love.
I asked him for his pie recipe a few years ago when I was living in Connecticut. He sent me a page long email from my stepmom’s email address. “Here you go,” he said. “I can’t technologically think of an easier way to send you this other than to just type it out. I got the TV on in the background where the Giants are crushing the Raiders.” There were entire paragraphs describing the specific pie crust protocol he had honed to perfection over the years. His secret? Equal parts shortening and butter and a very particular chilled water and dough mixing technique. He ended his email with, “Good luck! I have to play the last performance of the opera this afternoon. And yes, the hero and heroine both die in the end. All the action made even more dynamic due to the aesthetic renderings of the bass drum/cymbal player.”
As his disease progressed, my dad lost the ability to complete tasks that required sustained focus, like making pie or playing music or painting. He still loved going down to the local diner to grab a mid-afternoon slice of pie though. Last year, when I could no longer sit down to have an intellectual conversation with my dad about school or art or ask for his advice, I made him pie. He helped me count the cups of flour for the pie dough. “One, two, three, four five.” We were making a double recipe. Then, his attention span exhausted, he said, “You got it, right?” “Yes dad. I’ve got it,” I said. “”Okay, I’m going to go lay down for a bit then.” “Don’t worry about me dad. You go lay down. I can take care of the rest of the pie.”
In loving memory of my father, Mark Jay Sullivan.
He passed away peacefully this December 22, 2012.