You remember how I squealed on Hubby in the Tackle Box Teddy story? As he read that painful episode from his teen years, it reminded him of a later episode (when he should’ve been old enough to know better) and – believe it or not – he suggested I tell the tale to the world. Can you believe it? Well! I couldn’t flip open my laptop fast enough. (Apparently, some people prefer even bad publicity to no publicity.) So here’s
…yet ANOTHER tale
just NEVER DOES PAY OFF.
Sometime in his late twenties and early thirties, Hubby developed a baker streak. It was during that inauspicious era when sourdough anything had become popular. Some enthusiastic sourdough-er gave us a sourdough starter batch, which I planned to ignore until it stank and then throw it out. Hubby, however, took up the challenge and decided to become a sourdough baking wizard. (Did I mention he rarely set foot in the kitchen at this stage of life?)
After introducing him to the stove, oven, and of course, the eminently useful Joy of Cooking cookbook, I left him to it. After conferring with the other women in his life who did know about these things, he spent his Saturday mornings – with our boys pitching in – trying his hand at sourdough pancakes, sourdough biscuits, sourdough cookies, sourdough pizzas, sourdough breads, sourdough cakes, and sourdough pie shells.
It was that last one that tripped him up, but I’m getting ahead of my story. (See, the photo above is already beginning to make sense, isn’t it?)
All fall, he honed his sourdough baking skills. Developing productive new skills is almost always a good thing. Boasting about it? Rarely ever a good thing. After the whole Tackle Box Teddy debacle, as I’ve said, you’d think he would’ve learned this lesson but then I couldn’t be telling this story if he had, now could I?
That was a year when we would travel the 1100 miles back to spend Christmas with my family in Indiana. Every time we talked with my parents on the phone that fall and early winter leading up to Christmas, he bragged on his sourdough whatever – but especially on his sourdough pie shells.
After listening to way too much of his braggadocio, I decided to let him fall on his own sword. I decided not to tell him about my father’s pre-Prevention-reading days and the days before our trek down the path of culinary austerity, which were well before he entered the family. I decided not to tell him what he had no way of knowing – that my mother was the meanest pie-baker for miles. Her tender, flaky crusts filled with her perfectly sweetened apple fillings had disappeared in seconds at family reunion dessert time.
Meanwhile, clueless Hubby kept on with the endless bragging.
A day or so after arriving at my parents’ home, Hubby realized he’d remembered to bring the sourdough mixture, but not his pie crust recipe. “Oh, well,” said The Braggart, “I can remember most of it.” You’re way ahead of me, aren’t you? If you know anything about baking, you know that remembering “most” of a recipe is a recipe for unpleasantness at the table.
On the Day of Disaster, overconfident Hubby entered my mother’s kitchen and announced he was making his very own Famous-Amos, sourdough, cherry pie and could she please get out all the necessary accoutrements and then get out of the kitchen? Those were the last questions he asked, bless his heart. From there on, he had things wonderfully under control. No need to ask silly questions about liquid-to-flour proportions, differences altitude makes in baking, pie dough handling, or anything else. No siree. He was on it.
After a while, though, the determined set of his mouth told me perhaps his “most” recipe wasn’t working out so well. Didn’t care. I went on about my business. Several more minutes passed. Mother, artfully keeping a sly eye on his progress, whispered to me, “If he doesn’t stop pounding and stretching that crust, it’ll be tougher than a boot!”
“Not to worry, Mother. I’m sure that no matter what happens, most of us will enjoy dessert immensely.”
By the time the dinner hour arrived, there was a feverish feeling in the air. Everyone around the table – except Hubby – knew what was coming after the main course: a totally inedible dessert. We couldn’t wait! After clearing the table, Mother set the pie, pie server, and dessert plates in front of Hubby so that he could do the honors (knowing full well she didn’t have the muscle required to wrestle concrete from a pie pan).
As he began to cut, Hubby’s expression changed from smug self-satisfaction to mild concern to all-out panic to gritty resolve. Now everyone knows the first piece of pie is the hardest to get out. This pie’s first piece was, well, harder than most. Hubby sawed and hammered and whacked and chiseled until he had the first piece on a dessert plate.
Whew. Six more to go.
When all seven dessert plates of cherry concrete had been distributed, the fun began. Mother gamely took her first bite, tried to down another, and thereafter, picked at the remaining stone-like mass. My much younger sister took one bite and asked to be excused from the table. Witnessing all this, I tried to choke down a small morsel and decided it just wasn’t worth risking my teeth. Once our sons saw their very own mother abandon the sinking ship, they mutinied, too, and quietly slipped out of their seats and slithered into the living room.
Now, never let it be said that my father didn’t know how to play the game. Not only was he able to hew a bite-size piece from the rocky stuff, he managed to chew his first bite and – here’s the amazing part – swallow it. After the obvious effort it took to swallow it, he said, “THAT is delicious! I believe I’ll have another bite.”
Of course, the next bite was a process that took just as long as the first bite process. It, too, had to be hacked off the mother ship, speared with his fork, and then chewed and chewed and chewed, and then bravely swallowed. After the second bite, he proclaimed, “My, that’s tasty!”
And on it went – long after my sister, my mother, our sons, and I, and – yes – even Hubby had given up and left the table. Hubby slunk off to the family room and pretended to watch the evening news. Our sons hung out safely in the living room. Mother, Sis, and I did the washing up, and cleared the table, except for my father’s dessert plate and fork. We turned off the dining room lights and left him to it. Every ten minutes or so, from the darkness, we all heard another, “Well, this IS superb pie!” or something to that effect.
After his final bite of cherry concrete, my father (who by now you know was The King of Understatement) pushed himself back from the table and stood up to announce to anyone still within earshot – once again – “I believe that is the FINEST cherry pie I have EVER eaten.” And with that final pronouncement, he walked quietly (though a little stiffly, since he had a bellyful of concrete grinding down a few hapless cherries) to the family room.
Here’s the part you’ve been waiting for:
the first pay-attention point.
Understated comeuppance is sometimes – though not always – more effective than beating someone over the head with an “I-told-you-so.” In fact, in certain circumstances, it can be THE most effective Boast Buster there is.
And, as you’ve just read, someone in that house desperately needed more than a wimpy serving of comeuppance. My father, ever glad to oblige, administered a walloping dollop of comeuppance with a master’s hand. I’m telling you, it was a performance worth the suspense and the waiting.
But hey, there’s more –
a second pay-attention point.
BOASTING CAN HAVE
The next year, my parents and sis made the same 1100-mile trip, traveling the opposite direction, to spend Christmas at our house. Christmas morning dawned, and the gift orgy began. My seemingly innocent little sister (egged her by her parents, no doubt) handed a small package to Hubby.
“Why thank you!” said The Braggart. (Here’s a third pay-attention point I’ll throw in for free: don’t thank the gift-giver for a gift until after you’ve opened it.)
He opened the beautifully wrapped package to discover – yes! – an antique pie tin (the very one you saw at the beginning of this blog post). As you can see, it states demurely, “Home Made Pies” – just what every sourdough baking wizard needs.
While Hubby’s sourdough baking phase has long since passed (thank goodness), his pie tin (given a full year from his ruinous boasting fiasco) finds its way to a prominent place in our house from time to time. This happens for the same reason that Tackle Box Teddy has to make similar appearances: when you-know-who needs a not-so-subtle reminder of how boasting really never, ever, ever pays off. And it works – for awhile.
©2016, Teresa Bennett