Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Tradition of the Blueterry Pie

This story starts with a young woman named Patry Francis. She lived in Boston, and she worked as a waitress, and even more important, she worked at being a writer. One day, as a result of several twists and turns on the path of life, she was invited to dinner at the home of Marilynne Robinson. These were in the days of Robinson's Housekeeping--a book that Patry particularly loved. And if you've read that book, you know that the characters lived a rather vagabond life, even when settled, and beans directly from a tin can was a typical cuisine du jour. So I am certain that Patry approached the evening of her dinner at the Robinson home with many kinds of curiosity--including the kind that many readers have about the relationship between fictional worlds and the real world of the author who creates them.

Nevertheless, Patry found a lovely dinner--curry, which she had not before eaten, and for dessert an unusual blueberry pie. It had a layer of whipped cream and a layer of uncooked blueberries. No upper crust. Patry admired the pie, and Robinson said that she would share the recipe. However, as it is with life, many years passed, and Robinson did not get around to sharing the recipe.

The next thing to happen in this story was that Patry began to participate in an online forum called Readerville, where readers and writers gathered to discuss books and writing and all things literary. It was at Readerville that I became aware of Patry because of her unusual name and because we had several things in common: (1) She mentioned a meeting with an author named Anne LeClaire. "Funny," I thought. "I too know Anne LeClaire." I had been in residence with her at Ragdale--an artists' retreat in Lake Forest, IL. (2) Patry and I had short stories published in the same issue of Colorado Review. "Funny," I thought when I got my issue. "I 'know' that person from Readerville." And (3) one day, Patry mentioned the Robinson dinner and blueberry pie in a blog post. "Amazing," I thought. "I know that pie." In fact, I had the recipe--one I had seen in Gourmet magazine in June of 1989--possibly around the time that Patry was heading off to dinner at the Robinson home. So I decided to speak up.

At the time, Patry's agent was shopping her novel around, so I wrote to Patry and told her about our three life-intersections, promising to send her the pie recipe. Also, I said in the playful way of lunatics and writers, that when blueberry season came, we should both bake the pie (she in Cape Cod and me in Chicago), and that it would invoke the literary energies and reconfigure the forces in the universe, causing her novel to sell.

I can't remember which came first--the joint baking project or the novel sale (see The Liar's Diary by Patry Francis)--but this blueberry-pie event became a tradition between us. We would bake our pies, and Patry would write about it on her blog, and soon people all over the country joined us in the baking project ("Bake a Pie for Your Muse," Patry called it). They wrote to her about it and sent her their pictures, and this has been going on for perhaps five years now. You can see some of this (plus the recipe for the pie) if you go to her blog.

A year or two ago, Patry became very ill, and I was not sure whether our tradition would continue. But last year, she did still manage to bake, and she posted on her blog about my book sale--the novel Grand River and Joy that I have been telling you about. Patry has an extremely warm, welcoming personality--a "come on in, everyone, and pull up a chair" way about her--and this has drawn many people and commenters and followers to her blog and, in turn, to the blueberry enthusiasm.

I baked my pie Monday night, particularly in celebration of my new novel, and it is typically scrumptious--but even maybe a little bit more this year. And I have some things I could say about it (especially the crust, which I am a stickler about, and which is particularly flakey this year). But I do not know what is going on with Patry, as she has not posted on her blog for a month or so, nor has she answered my recent emails. And if you have read my website, you know that I tend to worry. So . . . I am going to have to find my Patry and complete the blueberry pie circle for the summer of 2009. I'll let you know what I find.


Patry Francis said...

Baking my pies tonight!

Susan Messer said...

Oh, that's very good news. Very good news indeed.