Birthday Pie

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(This is an excerpt from the chapter "Birthday Pie" in the book The Mother's Mite.)

It’s hard to say exactly how one of my favorite mother’s mites began. Perhaps it all started because we had rhubarb plants growing spontaneously on the sides of our spring ditch in my backyard when I was young, with plenty of bright red strawberries just ready to pick in our garden. Or maybe it just blossomed out of my original experience with strawberry-rhubarb pie at age five, when I actually devoured my piece of pie while most of my cousins wouldn’t take a single bite of theirs. However it initially happened, my mother was absolutely brilliant to start baking me a strawberry-rhubarb pie on my birthday each year because it has always been such a unique and highly appreciated gift.

One of the main things I adore about eating this odd-looking dessert is how the sweet, fluffy whipped cream offsets the tart, often sour taste of the rhubarb. My mom, flat out, makes the flakiest piecrust on the planet and uses only perfectly ripened strawberries. But, to be completely honest, a person simply must be crazy to like rhubarb—regardless of their upbringing. It’s sort of like watercress. Or asparagus. You may think these gourmet delicacies are saved only for the finest restaurants until you’ve driven down the back roads of my hometown. These plants are just instinctively springing out of the earth around every pond bank and irrigation canal. They are certainly not served beside freshly made soufflés. They are simply served from the small town ground!

I’ll never forget receiving an unexpected package one mild September day when I was living in New England in my early twenties. The FedEx man delivered a small box marked “fragile” that had been sent overnight from Seattle. And even though I had experienced many of my mother’s fabulous pies on my birthday—and it just happened to be my birthday—I never imagined or expected her to seek out rhubarb, find some fresh strawberries, and bake me a pie while I was living on the opposite side of the country.

Now, does this sound like a “small and simple” thing to you?

To me, it would have been a monumental undertaking. But to my gastronomic mother, it was easy and uncomplicated. “It was nothing,” she responded when I gushed in gratitude.

And do you know why it was no big deal for her?

Because she knew that pie would send a powerful message to me. A message that she loved me. That she was thinking about me. And that she cared about my special day. We women usually come wired that way, with a homing beacon for discovering the gifts that matter most to those we care about.

Even now, whether my mom is baking a pie for my birthday, helping one of my children with a special project, or just dropping by for a quick visit, she continually gives me the precious gift of her love. And that’s the most meaningful gift of all . . .

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