Richie Partington's Reviews > Pie

Pie by Sarah Weeks
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Nov 05, 11


25 April 2011 PIE by Sarah Weeks, Scholastic Press, October 2011, 192p., ISBN: 978-0-545-27011-3

"Well, you must tell me, baby
How your head feels under somethin' like that
Under your brand-new leopard-skin pill-box hat."
-- Bob Dylan

What is your favorite flavor of pie?

I don't bake pies these days. Instead, I'm frequently baking simple fruit crisps: lots of fruit filling in a pie plate covered with a topping made of half whole-wheat pastry flour; half quick oats; a generous measure of cinnamon; and just enough safflower oil to form a crumbly mix. My favorites are apple crisp (either filled with Gravensteins or Granny Smiths or McIntoshes that are first cooked into a chunky apple sauce); peach crisp; blueberry crisp; and cherry crisp.

But Polly Portman? From her childhood onward, she was a natural born pie maker:

"It wasn't much to look at, just a big room with a long wooden counter, a couple of tin pie safes, and a secondhand oven she'd picked up at an auction, but as far as Polly was concerned, the place was perfect. Being a humble person, she gave her pie shop a humble name -- PIE.
"When PIE first opened its doors in 1941, Alice Anderson hadn't even been born yet, but people in Ipswitch loved to tell the story, so she'd heard it a million times. The night before the opening, Polly was too excited to sleep. Finally she gave up, got dressed, and went downstairs to the shop. While everyone else in town was still snoring in bed, Polly tied on her favorite apron (leopard print, of course) and began to bake. By the time dawn spread its buttery light across the morning sky, there was a row of beautiful pies cooling on the counter and a crowd of people outside the door waiting to buy them.
"Polly had put a great deal of thought into the pies she made that morning. She wanted to be sure there was something for everyone. For the berry enthusiast, she made triple berry pies filled with a medley of ripe blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries. For the more adventurous she created green tomato and Concord grape pies. Of course there were traditional pies like cherry, apple, and rhubarb with golden top crusts spread like quilts over the sweet warm fillings, and cream pies galore -- chocolate, coconut, and banana. Polly even managed to come up with something for the pie lover worried about an expanding waistline -- a refreshingly tart low-calorie buttermilk pie, sprinkled with fresh nutmeg.
"The citizens of Ipswitch had been sampling Polly Portman's pies at church picnics and 4-H fairs for years, so they were tickled pink that she had finally opened a shop of her own. Their delight, however, quickly turned to concern when they discovered Polly wasn't planning to sell the pies she made in her shop; she was planning to give them away.
"'Why on earth would I charge people money for something that brings me so much pleasure?' Polly asked Reverend Flowers when he stopped by the shop one day to pay her a visit.
"'How else do you expect to stay in business, my dear?' he responded, a touch of worry creasing his brow.
"'You of all people should know the answer to that.' Polly laughed, then handed the reverend a sour cherry pie, which she happened to know was his favorite, and sent him on his way."

As I said, I don't bake pies these days, so you can certainly trust that after Alice's Aunt Polly died, it wasn't I who was responsible for liberating Lardo the cat from Alice's bedroom or ransacking the pie shop and Aunt Polly's apartment, apparently searching for the secret pie crust recipe that Aunt Polly has bequeathed to Lardo.

But SOMEBODY was responsible.

PIE, set in Ipswitch during the summer of 1955, is a high-spirited, hoot of a whodunit for upper elementary and middle school readers. This tale is going to inspire a mess of pie baking in your neck of the woods.

The story is told from the point of view of ten year-old Alice, the apple of Aunt Polly's eye. Alice, who has spent so much quality time on the tall red stool alongside her beloved auntie, has been bequeathed Lardo the cat. But Lardo doesn't even make it through a single night in Alice's bedroom before, apparently, being catnapped.

(I'd recommend keeping a close eye on Aunt Polly's funeral, which takes place in Chapter 2. It seems like a mighty good place to meet lots of potential suspects.)

Those who are familiar with a certain famous and esteemed children's literature award are going to get quite a belly laugh out of reading the history and details of the national pie making award that Polly wins an unprecedented thirteen times in a row.

And as sure as life imitates art, I bet that there will be a passel of people dishing about PIE when the year-end lists are being compiled.

Richie Partington, MLIS
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