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I baked three pies, one Granny Smith apple, one strawberry-rhubarb and a cherry pie with a lattice top. I gave the pies to the Lake County Humane Society for their silent auction at their annual fundraiser. I posted photos on several social media outlets to help promote the event. The pies generated a lot of interest, which led to some really fun and entertaining comments and conversations. I enjoyed that.
My brother told me the strawberry-rhubarb pie was a waste of time. “No one is going to bid on that thing. Rhubarb is awful; it’s a weed, not food!” he declared. Obviously, he doesn’t like rhubarb.
A lady complimented my lattice top on the cherry pie, asking if I was a Master Pastry Chef. I was flattered, but laughed out loud. No, not a pastry chef. Just a guy who found a bag of flour on sale one day and said, “I think I’ll take this home to make some wheat paste,” then later found out I could do other things with flour. Several people commented on the cherry pie. Another lady asked “Where did you learn to make a lattice top like that?” Her question caused me think.
Mom taught me to cook and bake, but she never taught me much about pie crust. Over the years, many people have shared secrets and given me tips on baking, but I don’t recall anyone ever teaching me anything about pie tops. I myself started to ponder, “Just where did I learn to make a lattice top?”
I thought back to my days of higher education; kindergarten! (“Higher” because I learned more in kindergarten than some of my other years.)
I suppose it was late April. Mrs. Murphy was teaching us to make May Baskets from construction paper. We made a simple cone shape and fastened the edge with Elmer’s Paste, then decorated the basket. Elmer’s was made by Borden and came in a white container with blue and orange print. There was an applicator wand fastened to the inside of the lid. The wand poked down through the paste even when the jar was full. Elmer’s paste smelled good and it didn’t taste too bad either – but that’s another story.
After pasting a colorful strip of construction paper over the top to make a handle, we could fill our little basket with real flowers, or make flowers from construction paper. I stuffed mine full with early spring grass and dandelions from our yard.
On May first, I was supposed to hang the basket on the door knob, knock and run, leaving a cheerful surprise for the unsuspecting recipient. Unfortunately, my little hands didn’t make much noise on the door and we didn’t have a bell on the back door. The grass and yellow flowers proved to be too much weight for the basket and the handle came off on one side. I went inside and handed the arrangement to my mom; she loved it, broken handle and all.
In first grade we moved on to more complex, advanced basket making. Mrs. Sales taught us to cut strips from various colors of construction paper. We would lay out the first strips flat on our desktops, then weave different colors through them. Over, under, over under, over, under. The next strip went under, over, under, over, under, over… You had to do it just right, or you’d end up with a mess and a basket that hand no strength.
When the bottom was done, Mrs. Sales showed us how to use a ruler to bend the edges upward, then weave more colored strips through the vertical pieces. We folded them to follow right around the corners until the ends of the strip met. After pasting the two ends together, we’d repeated the process with a new strip, thus building the sides of the basket. All I had to do was paste a strip over the top to make a handle and voila! I had just made an Easter basket.
Comparing my basket to the one Mrs. Sales made, I was disappointed. I copied her lead all the way through the process, even using the same color strips; pink, green and yellow. But her basket was much better than mine; her weaving was much tighter and there weren’t fingerprints of paste all over hers like there was on mine. My work was sloppy.
I remember looking in the bottom of my basket. There were gaps between all the strips, making small square holes. Sand and dirt, small rocks and other things of importance to a first-grade boy, could easily fall through my basket. I remember thinking, maybe I should cut a piece of paper and lay it in the bottom to cover the holes.
All these years later, thinking about the floor of that basket, it looked like – well – it looked like a lattice top on a pie. The mystery is solved. It was Mrs. Sales, my first-grade teacher, via my beginner’s art skills, who taught me the concept of making a lattice top for a pie.
I smiled, fondly recalling those first-grade memories as I read through the comments on social media about my baking and the cherry pie with the lattice top.
The day after the fundraiser, it was good to hear the pies drew a lot of attention. Of the three, the cherry pie raised the most money, but the strawberry-rhubarb pie created the most interest. (That shows how much my brother knows about pies.) It was most gratifying for me, knowing that a little over twenty bucks worth of ingredients and a few hours of my time turned into more than one hundred dollars for the Lake County Humane Society in Two Harbors, Minnesota.
I think next year I’ll get crazy and put a lattice top on a strawberry-rhubarb pie! Woot-woot! That’ll create quite a stir. Bidders will go wild and the puppies and kittens will eat really well!
Author’s note: you don’t have to wait for a fundraiser. Your local animal shelter will be happy to accept a donation anytime – even today.