**This is a creative book review, a work of fiction depicting some events from the story and may contain spoilers.**
As a special treat this past Labor Day, my husband and I decided to go away, without the kids. We went up to New Hampshire because we’d read about this completely fantastic pastry chef. He’d just opened his own pie shop next to this fancy restaurant. We don’t really enjoy super fancy restaurants but I have always loved peach raspberry pie and that happened to be this chef’s speciality.
When we arrived at the pie shop, we were immediately welcomed by an amazing aroma. It reminded me of fall, Thanksgiving actually when the house is full of the smells of baking. This place smelled like we were home. There was a gentle bustle in the room but it was such a relaxed atmosphere. Something we were afraid could not be found in such a renowned kitchen or associated with anyway. There were no austere waiters in crisply ironed attire. The Chef himself was moving around the room and speaking do the different guests.
We found a cozy table near the back of the room where we could see the pie making process in action. There was a display case near us and a work area with a glass partition on the counter. The staff was making dough for the pie crust and filling pies. The pies were prepared right there in front of you. The Chef would walk by and check the crust, look at the remaining ingredients and offer some advice.
In the world of pies, there are lots of opinions on what makes the best crust. A flaky crust, not soggy and not dry is the ideal. The pie we had that weekend had THE BEST pie crust I’ve ever had. When you like pie, and take the time to make your own pies, coming across a pie crust like this and not asking about how it is made is next to impossible. I decided to go to the counter and watch. It was interesting that one person worked on one complete pie at a time. There wasn’t an assembly line where one person makes the crust and someone else handles the filling.
The Chef-Henry Wheeler came over while I was watching and asked me if I was a baker. I told him I only dabbled in the traditional holiday pies. I explained that I just wanted to see if I could sneak a peek at the process and find any tips. To my surprise, he offered to show me himself. That’s how I found myself 10 mins later, washed and aproned making pie crust with Henry Wheeler-pastry chef extraordinaire.
He was very easy to talk to and before I knew it, he was telling me how he had come to learned this recipe. I just assumed that he’d perfected it after taking a class in culinary school. The truth behind the recipe was, well, shocking!
He said he learned to make this pie the Labor Day weekend when he was 13, when he and his mother were held hostage by an escaped felon.
Apparently, they were out on a rare shopping trip, his mother was a bit agoraphobic and didn’t like to leave the house. They found themselves approached by a man, Frank, who had simply asked for their help.
They didn’t find out until they brought him home that Frank was an escaped felon. He had been to the infirmary due to an appendectomy and decided that it was his one chance at freedom and jumped out of the second story window of the prison infirmary. He needed some medical attention but Henry’s mother, Adele was able to patch him up well enough. Frank persuaded them to take him in so that he could recuperate and hide.
The next few days were spent eating real meals, not just the frozen or canned foods Adele typically prepared. One afternoon, a neighbor stopped by with some extra peaches on the verge of overripe, so Frank decided to make a pie with them. He taught Henry everything he needed to know about pie making that afternoon.
“You could always add more water to your dough, but you could never take it out. The less water, the flakier the crust,” and “never over handle the dough,” are the two major things Henry remembered from that afternoon.
I told Henry that he was fortunate to learn such an amazing recipe, and just look at what it had done for him in his life. Henry reluctantly agreed. He told me that the most important part of his culinary education came from Frank that one weekend. I was eager to know myself and hoped I could remember everything without writing it down.
” ‘It’s all about instincts. Pay too much attention to recipes, you lose the ability to simply feel on your nerve endings, what’s needed at the time.’ That’s what Frank told me,” Henry said.
That really struck me. I thought back to my childhood and realized the best meals we had never required a recipe. My mother simply added what she felt the dish needed, salt, pepper, ginger, garlic, whatever. Maybe if I’d paid attention like Henry did, I’d have realized this sooner rather than later.
I asked Henry if he was grateful to Frank. He said he was very grateful to Frank for a lot of things, not just the pie recipe. It seemed to me that Henry had learned a lot more than just pie making that weekend.
When we got back from our trip, I looked up the case about Frank. I was able to learn a few more details about that Labor day but not too much. I often wonder what ever happened to Frank.
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Author: Joyce Maynard
Publisher: William Morrow and Company
My Thoughts: I really enjoyed this book. I love the idea of an entire novel taking place in such a short span of time. I really enjoyed Joyce Maynard’s writing style. The characters she creates in this story could be your neighbors. They are real people with real problems and real pain. It really makes me wonder if pain heals pain.
My Rating: ★★★★