The first time I met Dave's family, his dad, Gary, asked me what Kirby Puckett's number was.
"Does he play football?" I asked.
Dave's brothers groaned. "Baseball," Dave said, "He plays baseball."
"Oh, was he the one who groped the girl in that bathroom?"
No one said a word. Dave kicked me under the table. When I excused myself to go to the bathroom, I backed my chair up onto the paw of Krissy, the Shitzu-Poo and beloved pet of the household. She limped for days. I wasn't sure I would ever recover.
My husband and I come from different worlds. He comes from solid Midwestern stock. They repress their feelings, eat casserole and play baseball. My family? We're a mess of anxiety and personality disorders, we listen to Gilbert and Sullivan and our favorite sport is Chinese Checkers. When I came to Dave's family, I was a putzy stranger in a strange land. Dave's brothers, Jason and Matt, didn't laugh at my jokes about literature and I wanted to poke my eyes out every time we had to discuss Muskie Opener (it's the opening of Muskie Fishing season, if you're as clueless as I was). So, the moment Dave proposed and I said "yes," I knew I had to do something.
Dave's family priorities go in this order: God, Family, Pie and Baseball.
Just don't make them choose between pie and baseball. And as it just so happens, I'm an excellent pie maker. When I was 10 years old, I won a pie competition by baking a Sour Cream Apple Pie.
So, that first Christmas we were engaged, I asked my future mother-in-law if I could make pie. I was living in a college dorm at the time so I had to rely on her for the ingredients. Matt sat at the kitchen table the entire time I rolled out the crust and sliced the apples. Gary came in and out of the kitchen sniffing the air suspiciously.
"Did we ever tell you about the time Dave ruined a pie," Jason remarked while the pie baked. "We made fun of him so much that he's never made a pie again." He didn't smile. Neither did Dave.
Dear lord, these people don't mess around with their pie, I thought while pulling the pie out of the oven. Once the pie was on the counter, Gary pulled a knife out of the drawer. He's going to cut me! Gary turned and aimed the knife for the pie and cut pieces for himself, Matt and Jason. They all ate in silence, their identical chins moving up and down to a tune that I was sure was my funeral march.
"Well," said Gary swallowing his first bite, "it's clear you are going to need more practice."
My heart sank.
"Yeah," Matt said, "we're going to need you to make at least a dozen more of these pies before you leave. Thank you."
I laughed. "No way! You want more pie, you better start being nice to me."
Jason grinned and swallowed another bite.
"It's time to teach you about Kirby Puckett," Gary said.
That night, the whole family watched the Twins 1991 World Series video and I learned all about Kent Hrbeck, that Ron Gant was really out (sorry, Atlanta) and that Kirby Puckett's number is 34.
That pie taught me how to speak my husband's native language: pastry. When Dave and I got married, we served pie instead of cake. I made the pie as a peace offering after Matt and I got embroiled in a political argument and again the day Gary passed away. In a family where words are few, I've learned that sometimes love is better communicated through apples, sugar and a flakey crust.
Mrs. Jack's Sour Cream Apple Pie
5 C of apples (Granny Smith or Pipping)
2T of flour
1/8 tsp of salt
1 C of sugar
1 C of sour cream (don't use low-fat, because, come on!)
1 tsp of vanilla
1 tsp of nutmeg or cinnamon
½ C of sugar
5T of flour
¼ C cold butter
1tsp of cinnamon
Cream the egg, sour cream and vanilla until thin. Toss the apples with the spices and put them in a pie crust. Pour the sour cream mixture on top. Mix together the topping with a pastry cutter and crumble on top. Bake at 400 for 15-20 minutes.
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