It’s All in the Fingers
By Linda DeMers Hummel
I was guilty of being a typical college girl – falling in and out of love too hard, spending hours in front of my mirror, whirling around town on the back of someone’s motorcycle. Predictable except for one thing – Thursday afternoons.
On Thursdays at 2 o’clock, my cousin, Kathy, would put her son down for his afternoon nap, and she and I would tiptoe to her tiny kitchen at the back of the apartment. I’d reach up for the flour. She’d grab the butter from the back of the refrigerator where it was sure to be coldest. All our lives, Kathy and I had shared meals and holidays and shimmery afternoons playing hide-and-seek in the apple orchard across from her house. As kids, we lived only a few miles from each other, and now, by coincidence, we lived in the same college town, hundreds of miles away from what was once so familiar.
I was her helper, doing the easy jobs, like whisking the flour and salt together or coaxing ice water from cubes. Kathy would use her pastry blender to cut in the butter with quick, deliberate motions that came from her wrist. She knew how to drizzle just the right number of drops of water into the mixture.
“I think I’m going to break up with Jack,” I might say as we worked the dough.
“Maybe that’s a good idea,” she would answer. Then after some time discussing the merits and demerits of Jack (or Tim, or Peter), it would be her turn. “Someone in the grocery store thought I was the babysitter again. Do I really look that young?”
I learned how to move my fingers quickly enough in the dough so it looked like cookie crumbs. “The thing with dough,” she’d say, “is that you have to get in and out quickly, before it realizes you’re there.” That was probably something she’d heard her mother say. She came from a cooking home where my aunt made everything from scratch, even brioche French toast. My mother was most comfortable reaching for an easy fix in the freezer and had a whole comedy routine about it. She called herself “The Swanson family’s best friend.”
There were other disparities between us. Kathy had always been the cute one – as if blonde and perky were not enough, she was a cheerleader. I was gawky and shy, the kid you only noticed when Kathy walked out of the room.
In our late teens, without notice, it all changed. She got pregnant and quickly married. She became a mother the same year that I went off to college. There I blossomed. Back at home, she was sleep deprived. When Kathy’s husband was accepted at my college two years later, she and I were reunited, though for a while it felt odd. As I was coming into my own with all excitement of dates and football games and concerts, she was planning meals on a budget and researching preschools.
On Thursdays, Kathy filled the crusts with heavy quiches or with apples or blueberries when she could get them. If her food allowance could handle it that week, she might make shepherd’s pie. We’d talk up until the last minute, until her toddler began calling, “Mama!” from his crib or her husband came through the door after a day of classes.
A few weeks before my graduation, she reached for an index card and started writing in blue marker – the only writing utensil she could find at the moment in her kitchen junk drawer. She laughed and said, “Not that you’ll ever need it,” as she wrote the recipe out, with amounts and directions, like “Don’t kill the dough. Just frighten it.” I’ve made Kathy’s pie crust for every holiday since I left college. Her recipe still makes me laugh when I come across it in my file, but she was right. I’ve never used it.
Now, when we talk on the phone, sometimes we reminisce about those Thursdays so long ago. The afternoons we thought would last forever.
Pie crust is so simple – four ingredients. But even talented cooks could read the recipe for Kathy’s crust and fall short. It’s in the fingers. And best made when you’re laughing or sharing a secret. Standing next to a person you don’t want to lose. Letting a slow, delicious afternoon wash over you. Maybe on a Thursday.
About this writer
- Linda DeMers Hummel is a Baltimore-based writer who has recently completed a memoir, “I Haven’t Got All Day.” She spends a lot of time lately hoping to get good news from her agent.
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