You know those people who can't throw anything away? The ones who scrape off the butter wrapper before putting it in the trash? Whose refrigerators are so full of leftovers that it's impossible to tell that the ancient jar of pickles on the second shelf is holding up the broken first shelf and should under no circumstances be removed? Whose cabinet doors hold back avalanches of plastic containers and lids, foil pans, styrofoam meat trays and paper cups that have been put through the dishwasher?
Well, my mom is one of them, so I know what I am talking about when I say that such a person might one day be tempted to make a pie.
Especially if it's the day after Halloween, and the street in front of your house is covered with "perfectly good" smashed pumpkins, which in my neighborhood it always is, because smashing pumpkins is not just a great name for a rock band but a custom among local treat-or-tricksters.
When my mom headed out across our lawn to rescue those battered chunks of pumpkin flesh, I started wondering whether age 10 was old enough to quit school and rent an apartment in another state. I watched through the dining room window as she gathered a huge stack of pumpkin pieces, willing her back inside before a car passed.
She peeled the pieces and boiled them for hours but realized when she started to cut up the cooked flesh that--what with spending the night out on the highway and all--it was a little on the tough side.
But not to worry. That's what ricers were for, weren't they? Well, weren't they?
Our old-fashioned ricer was a cone-shaped colander on a stand. My mother put the pumpkin into the colander and forced it through the holes with a wooden plunger into a bowl beneath. About 20 pounds of pumpkin later, she had enough lumpy-looking filling for one pie. She added brown sugar, cinnamon, ground cloves and eggs. She would have added vanilla except that she accidentally grabbed the bottle of green food coloring instead.
As soon as she stirred the mixture, the deep orange pumpkin turned to a very dark brown-green: Bowl-o'-Okefenokee.
Fortunately, color wasn't everything, my mother said, and there was no sense in wasting all that good pumpkin. Time to make the crust. Except, oops, all we had was whole-wheat flour with big pieces of bran in it, the kind that's great for making oatmeal cookies. This stuff made a pie crust that looked like a big scouring pad.
My mother baked it at 375 and then added the filling and baked it some more, until a toothpick inserted in the middle came out free of any big globs of brown-green goo.
That night my mother and I were invited to the neighbors' for dinner, and we brought that pie along for dessert. I was nervous as a cat. When our neighbor Herb tried it, he turned to my mother and said, "Terry, this is the worst darn pie I've ever tasted."
My mother looked slightly insulted, but only for an instant. I exploded into one of those laughing crises where your face feels like it's collapsing and the people around you start to fear for your sanity.
I'm sure the neighbors thought the pie was a trick-or-treat prank, but I was too much of a mess to explain anything. When I could see again, my mother had shrugged off Herb's commentary and was serenely eating her slice as daintily as if she were at high tea with Miss Manners.
I have to say that my mother's thrift didn't always get so out of hand. We had many delicious dinners, and the mold growing in the refrigerator notwithstanding, my mother cooked "health food" at a time when green Jell-O with marshmallows was considered a food group. (You'll notice we had whole-wheat flour on that fateful day after Halloween, and that was suburbia, 1971.)
When I look back, I realize not everything that came out of my mother's kitchen was the stuff of nightmares. But when it comes to Mom's pumpkin pie, to this day I freeze: I'm 10 years old again. It's Halloween. I don't eat it. I can't eat it. It's just too scary.