Pumpkin Pie Poem

The importance of pumpkin pie cannot be overemphasized. The care with which it is prepared, therefore, is primary. In fact, making pumpkin pie is a more important skill than any type of carpentry, any aspect of interior decorating, and all fiction writing. The skills and knowledge involved in making pumpkin pie are more important than many other activities as well, but those three are examples of what the world can do without, long before it can do without properly made, specifically seasoned, and longingly loved pumpkin pie.

So, ready to begin? Great.

Now, I know the first question usually is, “Pastor Weber, will I need an apron?” My answer is, “No.”

First, get a pumpkin. A 15 pounder, preferably. Drive around the countryside in northeast Ohio, southern Indiana, or south-central Pennsylvania until you see a pleasant, uncluttered farm. (You’ll need to be way off the Interstate to do this properly, so go ahead and get off at the next exit and turn right. That road, any road, will get you where I’m describing if you keep your eyes open.)

Now, look closely at that farm- drive slowly. Are there curtains on the windows? If there are, keep driving. We’re looking for a farm owned by a particular order of Amish- the ones with no tassles on their buggies and no curtains on their windows. Those are the Amish who don’t believe in gaudiness or showiness of any kind. And the Amish who don’t cotton to gaudiness are the Amish who raise the best pumpkins- the very pumpkins, in fact that we want in our pie. When you find that farm, pull off to the side of the road, and out of respect, walk up the driveway to the house.

Now, I know you’ve seen the movie “Witness.” Don’t worry about that old guy who hovers in every scene waiting to scold, answering the door, maybe carrying a scythe. The chances are almost certain that it will be a teenaged boy who opens the door. He will already have a 15 pound pumpkin in his arms because he saw you coming and knows you wanted either a pumpkin or a place to hide for a couple weeks. Whichever it is, he knows you’ll buy the pumpkin. Give him whatever he asks. $10? Fine. $100? Pay it. Be happy he is an Amish teenager and not that young guy who hangs out behind the gas station in town looking surly.

Bring that pumpkin home now. Set it on the kitchen table and whisper to it a prayer of gratitude. “Thank you, pumpkin. Thank you for your orangeness and your- what shall we call it? Meat? Amen”

Now take a carbon steel knife- 8 1/2″ blade only- hold it in your hand and note the fine sharpening job you should have already had professionally done, if you were following my earlier shared instructions. If it has not been sharpened according to my specifications, then I’m terribly disappointed in you. Nonetheless, we’ll proceed.

Cut the pumpkin up. Throw away the inside stringy stuff and the seeds. It’s very messy, yes, just get through it. Don’t cut yourself. When you’ve got it all cut up, carefully pare the skin from the-yes, we will call it- meat. Carefully, I said! When the tough orange outer skin is all off, dice the pumpkin pieces into 1″ squares and triangles (but no parallelograms, that’s too time-consuming).

Take a five quart stainless steel sauce pan, rub the inside of it with a clean paper bag (don’t ask), and fill it 1/3 full with spring water. Or distilled water. Turn the heat onto medium and when the water is just about ready to begin boiling, add

1 teaspoonful of extra virgin olive oil (use metal measuring spoons only)

1 chai teabag

2 tablespoons of sugar

Add the pumpkin meat and bring to a boil. Let it boil, let it boil, let it boil, let it boil, speaking words of pumpkin, let it boil. Let it boil. 4 minutes. Stop.

Drain as much water as possible into a separate container. When it cools you will be giving this water as a gift to your houseplants. Give it to them just before you eat the pie, which will only enhance that impending, incredible experience.

Now, with a fork, begin mashing the pumpkin. I know you want to use your food processor or mixer but think back to the Amish kid. You saw how healthy he looks, right? Did you see his four little sisters looking around the corner at you and his two older brothers out by the barn with their dad and two uncles? All healthy, none fat, And Mom, who you didn’t see because she was out in the grandmother’s house helping out, doesn’t, hasn’t ever, will never own a mashing device other than a fork. So if a fork is good enough for the ten pumpkin pies she will make before next Sunday, it’s good enough for the one extraordinary pie you’re working on.

Mash.

Add a tablespoon of oh so slightly warmed Pet milk here and there as you mash until you’ve got maybe 5 tablespoons of milk mashed into the now almost creamy mashed pumpkin. When you think you’re done mashing, add a half a stick of room temperature butter and a half cup of cane sugar (not beet, not corn) and mash for another five minutes. It helps to sing- a lullaby or a work song, doesn’t matter. Pretend you’re on the porch with that Amish mother and her mother come up from the grandmother’s house and you are all singing and mashing. Five minutes will fly by that way and the pumpkin is now beyond perfect for what comes next.

This is the still point in the dance of the pumpkin pie. Everything that has preceded this moment, from turning off the Interstate to singing with the women on the porch, has led to this moment. Everything that happens from this point forward, including the tear which forms at the corner of your eye when you bite into a piece of this finished pie, is dependent on these moments of quiet and stillness.

Breathe deeply. You are preparing mentally to slather the mashed pumpkin into a ceramic bowl, preferably American-made sometime before 1950. The seasoning of the mashed pumpkin cannot be done in the metal pan in which it has been mashed. It just can’t.

Slather the pumpkin mixture slowly, sensuously with a wooden spoon. No plastic has touched this pie and it won’t. Not starting now. Not ever. Slather, Caress, If you want to use your finger on that last little bit, go ahead. There should be about 3 cups of cooked, mashed pumpkin in the bowl.

Now, the can of room temperature evaporated milk which those several tablespoonful came from- pour the rest of it into the bowl. Don’t mix it in; just pour it in on top of the pumpkin. The slightly off white evaporated milk against the golden cinnamon/pumpkin color in the abstract forms of chance and chaos will make you, if you are not awakened already, moreso. Just look, and don’t think. Nobody on earth, ever, in all of history has seen such a melange. This picture is yours and yours alone. No, you don’t need a camera; you will never forget this.

Other perfect forms: 2 medium eggs (need I say, room temperature?) Maybe you had the foresight to buy a dozen of these from the Amish lad. Good for you for remembering because i forgot! These will be eggs born in the chemical free gullet of the chicken- a free range metamorphosis of nutrients, pure proteins and chlorophyllic, photosynthetic fire.

Hit each egg sharply against a flat hard surface so the shell cracks, but not all the way through, Now open the egg with hands by separating in two parts the broken shell. The yolk has not been broken, see?

Now,

1/2 Cup sugar (again, cane only)

1 tablespoon of Cinnamon

1 teaspoon of Nutmeg

3/8 teaspoon Cloves

Where you get these spices is less important than their freshness. Remember that thousands of people in history have died opening up the spice routes from the East, and from being enslaved by the kingdoms which grew as a result of the riches those spices made possible. The Turks loved their cinnamon! The English loved their teas! It’s easy for us to buy spices anywhere but when you hold that red and white can of McCormick’s Cinnamon/Nutmeg/Cloves, you yourself are now the stillpoint of history. Marco Polo, Genghis Khan, Muhammed, and Vasco de Gama are all going to be a part of this pie, too. Through you, through these spices. They are. They just flat are. Everything that follows the addition of these spices is contained in the 5000 year pregnancy of these moments!

Stir, counter-clockwise at first. 100 swirls. How fast? This fast:

Go to sleep you little baby

Go to sleep you little baby

Your mama’s gone away and your daddy’s gone to stay

Didn’t leave nobody but the baby

Go to sleep you little baby

Go to sleep you little baby

Everybody’s gone in the cotton and the corn

Didn’t leave nobody but the baby..*

Now, 100 clockwise strokes. Just count, Fast, fasterfasterfaster..

This is necessary as millions of molecules of air are being captured in the mixture. Molecules of air that have existed in ten thousand forms in the millions of years of their existence. Some breathed in by Jesus, others given off by the flowers in the gardens of Versailles. It’s true, look it up. The pie is the history of the universe and so are you, but that’s another part of this same story. For another day.

Catch your breath now. Set the bowl aside. Have a cup of coffee. Because next, the crust.

Here is the best crust I know:

http://web.me.com/mikeahmadi/gastronomy/Gastronomic_Blog/Entries/2009/1/17_Tool_Series__Pie_Crust.html

The crust is vital so you don’t want to trust it to..me. I might embellish, or exaggerate, or omit something in the interest of alliteration or hyperbole. I can’t be trusted in the heat of anticipation, in the charged atmosphere of sumptuous smells that are about to fill the kitchen, then our souls.

The rolled crust is ready to be placed into- not stretched onto- a 10″ glass pie plate. First, turn the oven on to 425 degrees. Now,

gently, gently, gently

pour.slather, slather/pour the pumpkin into the crust, up to within a quarter inch from the top, Relax, I know there is still a lot of pumpkin juice- call it pumpkin liqueur- in the ceramic bowl. I am going to give you a gift in a few minutes that you will thank me for the rest of your life, but- first- the pie.  The surface tension should be showing a slight rise in the center of the pie. Yes, it is so beautiful and you are about to make it even better.

Put pinches of cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg on piece of paper. Now call the youngest child in the house. If there are no children, then you remember as young as you can, and let Mommy pour the spices from the paper into your open hand. If there’s a child there, do that now. Let her or him look at it a minute- if h/she spills,..so what? Load her/him up again. Or you. Him/her or you, now..sprinkle the spice over the top.

It won’t be perfect, yet- it will. Y’knowwhatI’msayin? If the little one is there make sure they know that’s the best job of spice-sprinkling you’ve ever seen. If it’s you that is doing the sprinkling, it’s a work of art, isn’t it? I mean, really, it is!

Now open the oven door and you are going to oh-so-freaking carefully lift the pie to the middle rack and gently sliiiiide it into place. Gently, everything..tiptoe, quiet, slooooowly. Now close the stove door. Check again that the heat is at 425 and set the timer for 15 minutes. For fifteen minutes, you and the child can play a game of checkers or draw a picture of turkeys with your hands. And if there is no kid there except you then you can pile checkers up into various aesthetically pleasing piles or draw a picture of a turkey with your hand. (It’s something I do every year, kind of like a mandala: I draw it, it’s pretty and evocative, then I lose it.)

There’s the buzzer! Turn the heat down to 350 degrees. Don’t open the oven door. Just turn the heat down and set the timer now for 45 minutes.

I don’t know what you might like to do for 45 minutes but if you can trust yourself to do something outside the sound of the oven timer, then my recommendation is to go outdoors. But first, get a clean glass from the cupboard. Remember the bowl partially full of the pumpkin liqueur? Pour the glass 3/4 full of it- full all the way would prove to be too much. Now put it to your lips and taste. “Oh what a foretaste of heaven divine,” the hymnist wrote. Now you know what he was drinking when he wrote those words, yes?

Take the rest of the glass outside with you. Contemplate while you are standing or sitting or walking around there, the drive to the Amish farm, the sound of no machinery there, the feel of the pumpkin in your arms as you carried it down the driveway to the car. Without naming the names of everything that is filling your memory right now, just let the images of pumpkin, ceramic bowl, golden/cinnamon colors, lullabies, wooden spoons, and a child’s hand full of the riches of Marco Polo, fill your mind.

Sip. Savor. Serenity doesn’t come in blinding flashes or claps of silent thunder. It comes in glances, whiffs, bumps, and..sips. Savor.

And now it is time.

As you step back in the house the smell fills your nose your face your brain your torso your being and transcends into all that is and the smell wraps itself around through over and above you you are a part of the smell you are the smell and the completion of who you are at this moment is happening as you open the oven door and like a mirror the pie is you and you are the pie yes yes yes yesyuesyes and

with oven mitts you reach, and so gently again now as gently as you would care for yourself and that is what you are doing now, you lift the pie to the cooling rack and you are praying now and you didn’t know you could pray or to Whom or What but you realize you are and in awhile, in just a little while..about an hour, the prayer is answered and you and the child and the child in you and me, please me if I am near,

eat slices of the pie from ceramic plates using silver forks. And it is so good that good is not a word, it is a word that gets in the way of what the pie really is, but it is so good, that we must now move away from it because to succumb to the desire to live forever within the smell of the pie the liqueur of the pumpkin, and the taste of the pie would be to die too early for another piece, another day..

Amen

@David Weber November, 2010

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1955

Here’s what we knew:

Howdy Doody was kind of funny but Froggy on top of the Buster Brown clock was tossing seeds of emotional anarchy into the already hardening arteries of six year old minds.

Froggy was magic; Howdy Doody was all strung up. That meant something; we just didn’t know what, though- not quite yet. Here’s what else we didn’t know:

Telstar, Sputnik, John Glenn, space

Woolworth’s, Birmingham, Malcolm X, race

Assassination

Castro, Khrushchev, MauMau, spies

James Bond, Vietnam, Pentagon, lies

Heroin

Satisfaction, Say it Loud, Woodstock, mud

Chicago riots, Watts, Kent State, blood

Agnew

Mr. Hooper, Meathead, Jim Belushi, death

Junk Bonds, food stamps, drug labs, meth

Guyana

“Plunk your magic Twanger, Froggy,” Andy Devine would tell the apparition suddenly standing on the clock. Froggy gave some of us weird dreams while Howdy Doody made us aware of strings being pulled. Most of us, it turns out, ended up on Froggy’s team. We learned that time passing did not automatically cause anything to make more sense. We learned that there are some things even more mysterious at 61 than they were at 6. We learned that it makes more sense (oftentimes) to stop thinking, to stop trying to figure anything out, and to

accept enjoy embrace whatever it is

because..we’re apparitions standing on a clock, too.

David Weber, November 2010

Veterans of the War to End All Wars Since Then..

There was a big, two-storied house in Punxatawney, Pennsylvania which we’d pass by each summer on the drive to grandma and grandpa’s house down the road in Mahaffey. Mom would drive slowly by the house, which was near enough to the street that the several men sitting on the porch could easily be seen. I watched them so deeply on the slow drive by that I can still see them now, fifty years later.

They were about the age then that I am now: 61. They sat on the porch, gulping with upwardly stretched necks like baby birds raise their beaks in the hope or knowledge that food will soon be gotten. The men gulped for..air? words? thoughts? sustenance? I don’t know. Their eyes strained in the same twistedness as their lips. Some drooled. Their shoulders and arms twisted against themselves in uncontrolled rotations and I remember my ten year old’s gasp when I realized the men were tied with towels to the chairs in which they sat.

There was a woman, a nurse with a white-winged nurse’s hat, who sat at one end of the porch watching the men. I guess she was there every day attending them in their constant moving. I could see the noises they all seemed to be making even though I couldn’t hear them: groaning noises pushed from red throats; unformed words caught in whatever blockages of brain or muscle stopped the thoughts behind the noise.

Somewhere during one the years we drove by them I learned why these men were the way they were. Maybe it was grandma who told me (it sounds like her words): “They were gassed in the war.”

Later still, I learned it was the later-outlawed mustard gas, used in World War One, and I learned that there were thousands and thousands of these men in Europe, and North America, twisting daily in muscle-wrenching ballets, the fortunate ones with nurses in winged hats, but many more alone in upstairs bedrooms or gray-walled hallways.

Veterans of the “war to end all wars,” as that war was called, for awhile.

Veterans. Thank you. Sorry we were so very, very wrong about yours being the last one..

Dancing the Noise Away..

“When the sun rises, I go to work;                                                                   When the sun goes down, I take my rest;                                                                                                                   I dig the well from which I drink;                                                                                                                    I farm the soil that yields my food.                                                                                                                I share creation; kings do no more.”

(trans. By Y.S.Han, in the Christian Century, 1927. This poem is recognized as one of the oldest Chinese folk poems, roughly dated 2500 B.C.E.)

Once upon a time, We were in rhythm, and We danced, We: the Universe, My Ancestors, and Yours. We were indistinguishable then and for a long long time: animated Starstuff at the mercy and the glory of Winds and Waves, Thunder and Moonlight. It was hard to say where You began and where I began and where Your reach ended and where My steps stopped, etcetera etcetera times a billion or two, such was the Eternality and the Encompassing Everything of the Dance.

We danced in the soil to the beat of the sun,

we danced in the rain when there was nowhere to run,

and we danced all night to beat of our hearts.

When we danced that way, we danced as One.

And then one of us rose from the common dust and the rest of us followed and one of us would get ahead and the others would catch up, pass by, get there first, not make room, “Move along now” etcetera etcetera times a billion or two and the Rhythms seemed harder and harder and harder to hear.

And then on May 14, 1801, it became Silent. (Pick a date, they’re all arbitrary, all contrived, all confusing- in fact it may have been a spring day in the 17th Century, or Christmas Day, 1822- the dates, after all, are part of the suffocating, stultifying, stupefying of humanly concocted Noise that hinders our hearing even of our own heartbeats.

It became silent and then..the noise, the real noise the noise of iron-slurried coal and the noise of generators burning and of locomotives and rifles and the noise of screams and steam in heat-searing shudders and the tearing apart of mountains and bird’s nests, of rivers and negros’ backs. And the dancing stopped here and there, then mostly here and there and everywhere..

Many of our moonlit sisters and sun dwelling brothers died under the weight, the crush of the discordances. They rolled over in sweat-wet beds and could stand it no longer and died of any number of medical maladies all of which were hatched in Noise.

And we descended into hell.                                                                               And on the right day, we rose again.

That day, too, is arbitrary and for many (most?) still unrealized, but on that day, a day of particular noise, a day of eye-burning smoke

and ice melt

and fuel spills

and fish kills

and land fills

and death knells,

the Music was heard, again..

By, some on the wind;

by others, on the waves;

by all with ears to hear..

in the beating of our Heart(s).

and some of us remembered

and some of those who remembered,

Danced.

And the rest of us will, too,

and then all of us,

because the noise of silence and

darkness of being still

not-by-choice

could no longer be tolerated

and the jagged edges of the dance floor need to be smooth again

because that’s what we are always moving toward,

that’s where we will learn to breathe again

one by one,

etcetera etcetera times a billion or two,

then to Dance.

2010, David B.Weber

Election Day,2010:Take another little peek at my heart..

Here’s what I want to say:

I was elated on election day, 2008 (It is also, by the way, the day I quit smoking, so that is two years now! And that’s  a good thing). But I am not as  election-elated today. Here’s why:

We are still at war. It was a war in which we should never have been involved  in the first place, it has done inestimable damage to our reputation and future security, and it has been a massive seven year wide-open drain on our economy.

I voted for Obama because above all I wanted to see us out of that God-damned war. (Yes, I write what I mean to say. It is, in fact, a prayer). But we are still in that war. And thousands are dead, including hundreds of thousand of dead Iraqis.

Secondly, it is obvious that Wall Street and the corporate interests that put profit over people are still in charge. They have sent American jobs and factories overseas for years and have found a way to blame the black guy for today’s unemployment. That’s just a nice old American tradition, though. But I have seen NO administration doors slamming in any public way on the lobbyists. I wanted to see some bloody noses, and have seen none.

Third, why are we still noodling around with Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell arguments? Good heavens, Obama administration, let it go!

Now, all that is off my chest; so here is my real concern about today’s elections:

I understand that in times of change, people react in fearful ways. The artificially contrived economic system that was built upon the necessity of an always increasing gross national product- well, that’s also called a Ponzi scheme and Madoff’s Ponzi tumble was but a first metaphor for the whole system’s inevitable tumble. Add economic change to population change, a lessening of academics, a lessening of physical health, and a exponentially increasing population, and people are scared to trembling of a future they can no longer accurately predict.

And many of us also see the problem beyond all of that which makes everything between it and us pale in comparison: the impending environmental collapse. Too many are learning all they want to know about the environment from BP television commercials where it’s always morning on the oil-free shores of sunny Louisiana and the people are just oh-so happy to have their oysters and their jobs back! BP is lying to us, y’know..just as everyone with a bridge to sell or a pill to push is lying to us nightly on the news, and hourly the rest of the day. Including our administration and including every politician whose mouth is moving! But those things still are not what is troubling me the most. This is:

The Jews in Europe were turned into rats by the propaganda machines of central Europe, beginning about a decade before the furnaces were lit. Step by step, they were transformed from upstanding citizens, friendly neighbors, and good friends, into die ratten: vermin with big noses and bigger appetites for the land,businesses and money of good Aryan-flavored Europeans. The Jews “stole jobs,” “carried diseases,” and, of course, weren’t Christian.

The Jewish people- men, women, and children- were dehumanized over time. They were made into ‘the Other.” No longer “one of us,” they were objectified, like rats. Today, different words are used , but the same dehumanization process is taking place: Illegal aliens they are called, welfare mothers (“with nice nails and pretty clothes!” a recent email pointed out), and some things called ‘anchor babies.‘ (Yes, I know there is some strange sociological meaning to the phrase; nevertheless, I think the real intent is to turn especially Hispanic infants into less-than-human infants.)

Here’s what I’m saying, in different ways: Those who have ears (in the biblical sense of that phrase) can hear that whole groups of people are being turned into scapegoats for the failures of a larger majority culture. The fact that our American economy is failing cannot possibly be blamed on our buying plastic clothes from China, plastic fish from Guatemala, and plastic beef from Argentina, can it? The fact that I buy tomatoes put in cans in the Philippines, instead of buying them from the Farmer’s market, or that I go to McDonald’s and put one pound of plastic and a little bit of fatty food on a credit card- well, that’s not my fault is it? “Of course it’s not,” we’re being told with more and more frequency from more and more quarters with less and less shrill voices. “It’s not your fault, it’s the fault of ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS who DON”T KNOW ENGLISH and have too many ANCHOR BABIES and are DRUG MULES and will CUT YOUR HEAD OFF in the desert and who ARE DIRTY and have DISEASES and who are members OF GANGS. Or who are Muslim. Or gay.”

Here’s what I’m saying, in still different words: The tides of well placed propaganda, propelled today by television and radio media- something the Germans didn’t have in their successful efforts at dehumanization- are difficult to stop. The Spanish Inquisition went on for almost 300 years. The round ups and killings in pre-War Europe went on for almost a decade. No matter what we consider ourselves- Republican, Democrat, Green, Libertarian, Tea Party, Coffee Party, no party, Christian, not Christian, atheist, theist, or Flying Spaghetti Monster worshiper..we must, we must we must agree to come together on this: Mexican or Muslim or gay or whoever it is, we MUST NOT allow others to turn them into THINGS. We must not allow mailings, speeches, sermons, political ads, or posters to go unchallenged that refer to persons as anything less than beloved persons.We must be ready, as this other guy I know did, to give our lives for the Other, even for those Others that we might detest personally- like those men who might be nailing our arm to a wooden beam.

Truly, it is the single thing I fear for our country. We can weather economic chaos, natural disasters, and even great fuel or money shortages. But I don’t think we will be able to weather a return to the days when native Americans or Africans, Japanese or anyone else were accorded second class, third class, or bottom class rights as human beings.

We are “one.” And that’s not just biblical, that’s biological, cultural, spiritual, and- theoretically- legal. We do this planet together, with ourselves and the other species, or we will not be doing it at all. I could tell you that some day I will say “I told you so’” but that would be stupid since there will be no one around to either say it or hear it if we don’t remember what it is to  love again.

That’s all. That’s what I wanted to say. I invite you to hold me to my words.

Love, David