“This chess pie is not setting up, I moaned. “It’s still jiggly in the middle. Bring out the soup ladle to serve it.”
“Well, it will taste great,” replied my husband, Tom. As he tried to peer over my shoulder to sneak a peek, I palm-jammed the oven door closed, leaving the pie to pull itself together. Sweet Jesus, I need this pie to be perfect. This may be THE perfect guy.
Barbara, our daughter, was bringing her boyfriend, Dave, home to spend time with us. At seminary in California, Barbara, the Tennessean, had met Dave, who was also a Southerner. He was a teaching assistant in her systematic theology class. Soon a friendship developed. Presbyterian happy hour at a local bar provided a venue for rich conversation over food and wine. Their friendship flourished and grew into a romantic relationship.
Tom and I left for the airport. I drove, muttering about the pie crust while gripping the steering wheel, so anxious I couldn’t even settle back into my seat and instead leaned forward like an old lady. Tom carried on in an aggravated voice, reminding me to just be quiet and not fuss over that pie. I didn’t hear him.
Well, I reckon I could dip the pie into bowls and call it chess cobbler. I hope he doesn’t tell his mother.
I spooned a generous serving of cobbler into Dave’s bowl and watched his face like he was a tasting judge at a county fair. He scraped his bowl, licked the spoon, nodded his head and smiled.
Tendrils of vine climbed an arching trellis creating a space of shade, a sort of sanctuary, along a peaceful path. Kneeling on one knee, Dave presented a small velvet box to Barbara. Nestled within was a diamond secured in a vintage setting, a ring fitted for a girl with delicate, slender fingers whose classic style avoided flashy bling.
Phone calls to the engaged couple’s families elicited squeals of happiness from coast to coast. A virtual photo album chronicled the day, from Barbara and Dave’s arrival to the gardens at Los Angeles’ Getty Museum to a celebratory lunch at The Getty Restaurant.
Desserts were works of art, a chocolate wonder and creamy concoction presented with Happy Engagement penned in a chocolate script on individual plates. Corks were popped. Stemmed crystal glasses were filled with bubbly effervescence that mirrored the glow of the bride-to-be’s face.
I was vindicated. My pie had fallen apart, but Barbara and Dave’s relationship held together.
Take a deep breath. Wedding planning was going well, but I was nervous about running out of food. In my own experience, after the doxology was sung at a wedding service, I’d fast-foward to the reception venue to scarf down savories and sweets and a generous portion of moist wedding cake.
Jesus fed the five thousand, but we needed more than bread and fish.
Barbara and Dave chose a caterer who could whip up a Southern theme featuring Memphis barbecue and a Cajun shrimp boil. I joined them at the caterer to sample the options.
We tasted barbecue sliders oozing with sauce that slid into the pulled pork before it dripped down our chins, and mini-onion tarts—savory, well-seasoned, baked in flaky crusts.
I clinched my napkin into a wad and asked the caterer when she would need the final guest count. How would I know? Not everyone RSVPs. If I under-estimate, the food will run out, like the wine at the wedding in Cana…but I won’t have Jesus around to ask him to miraculously refill the appetizer trays.
I remembered one of my favorite paintings, The Peasant Wedding by Bruegel the Elder, a Flemish Renaissance painter. I had viewed it at the Kunsthistorisches in Vienna in 2005, studying it, staring, imagining myself in the setting.
In Bruegel’s typical fashion, he painted a crowded scene in which individuals transport bread from oven to table on an old door, a child sits on the floor, musicians stand close to the table where several guests are eating. The groom appears absent. It looks like a sixteenth century “Where’s Waldo?”
Seated discreetly in the back of the scene is the bride. Although many experts think she looks passive or unhappy, she appeared to me unfazed as she observed the festivities. Food and drink were plentiful; guests were satisfied.
Barbara thumps my arm and startles me.
“Mama, she says they can do individual pecan pies instead of a groom’s cake. How many do you think we should allow per guest?”
September 15, 2012
The visitors’ center at the nature preserve provided a warm, inviting reception venue. Strings of clear lights were suspended from the vaulted ceiling creating a sky of twinkling stars. Outdoor terraces overlooked a dark, woodland landscape. Soft candlelight and arrangements of magnolia leaves, eucalyptus, white roses and woody stems graced round tables.
When I arrived—Tom had gone ahead of me to welcome our friends—guests were mingling, sampling the hors d’ouerves as waiters moved unobtrusively through the crowd. I don’t remember who greeted me, but I remember the joy that welled up when I saw out-of-town guests scooping out grits and loading their plates with chicken and waffles.
All I have needed, thy hand hath provided.
I only got a glimpse of the groom’s pies, but everyone raved about them. With a sheepish grip, one of my friends confessed that she had eaten four.
September 16, 2012
Dancing until a late hour left my back aching. I stretched from side to side, brewed my morning coffee, and opened the refrigerator door. Leftovers in ziplock bags did not look appealing for breakfast. Then again…pecan pie would be good with my coffee.
I opened several food storage boxes stacked on the kitchen counter. Cake. Cake. Cake.
The pies were perfect, absolutely perfect. And we had run out.
My favorite part is the opening line.
Thank you. I like that one, too.
As always, I was transported to several different places and who among us Southern gals has not had a pie or cake flop and lived to tell about it.
Thank you for reading, Katie! Yes, I’ve had cakes get a sink-hole in the middle. 🙂
You do such a wonderful job of evoking strong, Southern imagery throughout this piece! I am so impressed by (and envious of) your skill at using something quotidian like food as a thread to weave a larger story about love, place, and family. You transported me back to Vienna and to Memphis and to the Getty – such treasured memories. Thank you!
Thank you. It was a joy to write this one!