Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Blueberries for Sal

   

It's that time of year again. Meaning that my friend Patry and I bake a blueberry pie for our muses. For the full story, please follow the link in that first sentence. Although the recipe is the same every year, and for me, the pie comes out pretty much equally splendiforous every year (which is why I feel okay using a photo from a year past), there are always subtle variations: (1) What, in particular, I am hoping for from my muse. (2) Who I share the pie with.(3) How I'm feeling as I make and compose the various parts of the pie--the crust, which I always make from scratch; the blueberries, which I purchase from the local farmers' market on Saturday morning; how the berries look and how I feel about them as they begin to cook down in the pot; how the cream looks as it's whipping up and how I decide when to stop. (4) How the pie is received when I serve it and whether I feel comfortable telling the eater(s) about Patry and me and Marilyn Robinson and the muse and so forth.
     If I went into all of this, you would likely abandon me as too verbose, as I actually have a great deal to say on all four of those points, including my decision on how many blueberries to buy at the market, and the farmer instructing me on the best "price points," but me being afraid to take advantage of those price points because I might end up with too many berries and they might go to waste. And then there I was worrying about what the farmer must have thought of me because I chose to buy fewer berries for the same amount of money that would have gotten me more berries . . . oh, well, I really didn't intend to go into that.
    What I wanted to go into was the experience of the berries in the pan, which I have written about before on Patry's blog. The point is that you put the berries in the pot with sugar and corn starch and just a little lemon juice, and then you turn it on moderate heat and wait for them to "cook down." Every year, I get this same worried feeling, though, because the whole thing looks so dry, and I can't imagine that it's ever going to turn into anything other than that dry pile of berries. (You won't be surprised that I have similar concerns about my writing.) This year, however, with memories of past successes, I tried a new approach: watchful patience. Well, it was really a more auditory kind of patience than a watchful one. I lowered my ear to the pot and listened for burbling developments. I didn't stir prematurely. I didn't get overly anxious. I watched carefully, and I listened. And it likely took as long as ever for the process of "cooking down" to occur, but I felt differently about it. 
     The other thing I wanted to mention about the pie was that it got me thinking about my muse and who, exactly, my muse is. Many years ago, I wrote a poem (one of the few poems I've ever written) in which I envisioned my muse. And she looked something like my mother, sitting by the old manual typewriter, smoking a cigarette with her hair set with bobby-pins. I have written about my mother as muse elsewhere. This time, as an updated muse image, I have started to think of Sal, the little tomboy girl from the old book Blueberries for Sal. In the story, Sal is picking blueberries with her mother but dreamily wanders off and ends up following a mother bear instead of her human mother. It all turns out well for everyone, even if it's a little shocking at first. But I've decided now on Sal as my new muse. Kerplink, kerplank, kerplunk--that's the sound of the blueberries falling into Sal's tin pail. And here's Patry and me, the one time I met her in person, when she came to my house during her book tour, and I made blueberry pie for her (with frozen berries), even though it was St. Patrick's Day and berries were not in season.

6 comments:

Patry Francis said...

That was probably the best St. Patrick's day feast in my Irish life, and I love the way that photo captures it. I also love your image of a muse with bobby pins in her hair smoking a cigarette (a mental picture that also recalls my own mother when she was young.) But most of all, I love the care you take with your pie making, a thoughtful preparation that begins with the selection of the blueberries. It's the same loving attention to detail that makes your writing so beautiful and true.

As you know, my pies (and my life!) tend to be a more slipshod operation. Another pattern that has developed over the years is that you always make your pies first, and I, the eternal procrastinator, follow some days (or more) later. This year, this WEEK, I am deep in the revisions for my new novel so I thought I would probably put off the pie until the weekend. But tonight, after reading your lovely post, I know it has to be tomorrow--both our local farmer's market day, and my father's birthday.

Love to you and Sal of the wondrous blueberry bucket.

Susan Messer said...

Thanks, Patry. Exciting to hear that you're deep into revisions. May the muse be with you, whatever form she takes.

I forgot to mention re: the pies, that at our "height," due to Patry's popularity as a blogger, we had people all over the country making this blueberry pie recipe with us and sending in reports and photos. My friend Jody, who was a first-grade teacher at the time, made one out of clay (or maybe she just imagined doing it; I can't remember). Also, after I posted about Sal, I checked and see I misspelled the sound of the berries going into the tin pail, but I'm not going to correct it. Just saying . . .

Jim Poznak said...

Probably, your muse evolves, like your writing. Or, maybe your muse sends in a replacement muse when she knows you are ready for an upgrade. Or, maybe you have multiple muses, and they form a tag-team, carefully selecting which of them you need when. Or, maybe they vie for your attention. Or, maybe all of the above.

Susan Messer said...

Hmmm. I'd never really thought before about all the muses one might have in a lifetime. Did anyone ever say it was only one per customer?

Patry Francis said...

Susan, you won't believe it, but I FINALLY made good on my promise from 7/20. Exactly three months to the day.

Susan Messer said...

Oh, wonderful. Can't wait to get over there and take a look.