I still have the torn sheet of notebook paper on which, in the early 1930s, my maternal grandmother Ethel (Olive) Oliver wrote her recipe for Pecan Pie, supposedly famous in some parts, and at least in her estimation, the best pecan pie ever. FROM ARKCANSAW, she’d scrawled across the top of the page, and underneath that were the words “Cotton King Pecan Pie”. (Grandma wasn’t much for spelling and had her very own version of shorthand. Instead of “before”, she would write “B-4”; rather than write out the word “can”, she simply drew a picture of what was supposed to be a tin can.)
Underneath the title were the ingredients, proportions, the instructions for assembling the pie and the temperature for baking it. What she neglected to mention was how long to bake the pie, a rather necessary detail for something as important (at least to me) as pecan pie.
Her sister Mary’s chocolate pie recipe is even vaguer. “Mary Hudson Chocolate Pie” the sheet of paper says, so there’s no mistaking where the recipe came from, but the rest of it is clear as mud. It calls for “2 squares of chocolate” but doesn’t say what kind (unsweetened? semisweet? bittersweet?) or what size the squares should be (one ounce? More? Less?), a “dash” of salt (not a pinch), and “lump butter”.
I have no idea what that means, and there’s no one left to ask. So even though I’ve eaten Aunt Mary’s chocolate pie, and it is amazing, I’ve always been too afraid to try making it. There are too many missing pieces.
Stuff like that drives me crazy. I want answers. Details. I think it would be an awesome idea to have a AAA Trip-Tik for every day that had every inch of the route - including speed traps and construction zones - mapped out, and came complete with a time of arrival and turn-by-turn directions.
While I might think that sounds awesome, that isn’t how life works.
That’s why I’m telling the pie stories. I need reminding every now and then that while it is prudent to gather the facts and plan carefully when there are decisions to be made – to “study our lesson” as my father-in-law always put it - we human creatures “see through a glass, dimly.” We will never have all the answers this side of eternity, and at a certain point we need to just take that next step or we’ll never get anywhere or get anything done.
Ivan Turgenev says, “If we wait for the moment when everything, absolutely everything is perfect, we shall never begin.” Lemony Snicket put it this way: “If we wait until we’re ready, we’ll be waiting for the rest of our lives.”
Nike is even more direct and to the point. “Just do it.”
I’m going to make Aunt Mary’s chocolate pie.
What next step are you going to take today?