It’s almost Thanksgiving, so this is a story about a pie. Well, not just a pie. A pie and a long friendship.
Jordan and I, we sometimes joke, met three last names ago (or two marriages each ago) – in August of 1998 in the middle of Missouri in an Honors College bio-for-non-science-majors class. We’ve honestly been friends for so now long that the details of our first meeting are fuzzy in my mind; I know she very dramatically introduced herself to me as “the black sheep of [her] family,” and I laughed and told her my entire family was black sheep, and we went to get coffee after our lab ended and have been friends ever since.
Our sophomore year, we lived together, and somewhere, blessedly not on social media, is a picture of me (with bright-red hair and a very flat, very bare midriff) rinsing dishes in the sink with keg beer we had left over from a party. Jordan is standing to my right, laughing while pumping the keg. On my 19th birthday, we did a horrible karaoke duet, which – again – is blessedly not recorded anywhere. We celebrated 9-9-99 together and still text each other every year to mark the occasion – this year was the 20th anniversary, and neither of us could believe it.
But back to the pie. Jordan was better than me at a lot of things. She always did my makeup before we went out because if I tried to do my own, I’d look like a toddler who got ahold of my mommy’s cosmetics. (This is still true.) She often lent me clothes because hers were much more stylish. (Everyone should have a college roommate who is the same size as they are.) She’s a great dancer who was always willing to grab my hand and drag my wallflower self onto the dance floor against my protests.
I was good at things, too, though. I proofread most of her papers, I could hold my liquor better (perks of being from New Orleans and from a family full of black sheep), and I cooked most of our meals.
Junior year, we decided not to live together anymore – I wanted an apartment closer to the J-school, and she was considering pledging a sorority – but we stayed close, and when she met the boy who would become her first husband, she called me to ask for help.
“I need to make him a pie,” she told me. “He says his favorite food in the entire world is rhubarb pie. Do you know how to make rhubarb pie?”
“Of course,” I said with the confidence of a 20-year-old who had never even heard of rhubarb. “You can make anything if you know how to read a recipe!”
“I went to the store and bought a pie crust,” she said, “but I don’t know what to do next.”
“I’m coming over,” I said, “but I’m not letting you use a store-bought pie crust. You’re going to make your own. Go out and buy butter and … I don’t know. Rhubarb, whatever that is, and probably, like, cornstarch and … you have flour and sugar, right?”
“… No …”
“Jordan! Go buy flour and sugar, too, because you’re an actual adult now and those are staples you need to have. Butter. Sugar. Flour. Eggs. Rhubarb. Go! I’ll look up a recipe and meet you at your apartment.”
What could go wrong? If you’re following a recipe, you should be safe, right? But when I got to her place, she had not bought butter but some kind of low-cal butter substitute that said in huge bold letters on the package, “NOT FOR BAKING!”
We should’ve stopped there. We should have gone back to the Schnuck’s (the Missouri version of Rouses) and bought real butter, but I think it was winter and cold or maybe we were just lazy and foolhardy, but at any rate, we decided to try it anyway.
And the rhubarb was frozen, and we didn’t thaw it properly, just dumped it into a saucepan with too much sugar, which promptly scorched while the rhubarb remained raw.
What we ultimately pulled out of the oven about 90 minutes later was a crime against humanity.
The rhubarb was tart and bitter and tough and stringy. The filling was burned and gluey. And the crust? It was sort of like plastic, but it also had melted more than browned. We bravely both took a taste, locked eyes in horror, and then fled to the trash can to spit it out. And then we collapsed in laughter. We were actually laughing so hard we couldn’t breathe, let alone stand up.
From our heap on her kitchen floor, we managed to blurt out, “NOT FOR BAKING!” before absolutely losing it again.
When I was telling this story to my girls the other day, as a cautionary tale against culinary overconfidence, I finished with, “And it was the worst pie I’ve ever made.”
Georgia piped up from the backseat: “Mama, you might have made a bad pie, but you made a good memory!”
Of course she’s exactly right. I wouldn’t trade a million delicious pies for that one abject failure that came with a lot of laughter and has given us years of entertainment.
This Thanksgiving, I hope that all of us – my family and yours – make good memories and good pie! (Just not rhubarb. I’ve never eaten it again.)