Sunday, December 1, 2013

Ninety-nine Kinds of Pie on the Wall and Bob 'n Ray

Well, not exactly ninety-nine kinds of pie.  Actually nine kinds of pie, which is still a lot of pie.  That's how many kinds of pie were on the White House Thanksgiving menu this year.

There's a lot of cool things about President Obama, but this may be the coolest.  He is obviously a man who likes pie.

What kinds, you ask?

Here's the list from the White House:  pumpkin pie, pecan pie, sweet potato pie, peach pie, apple pie, banana cream pie, coconut cream pie, chocolate cream pie, huckleberry pie.

There's some omissions here that one could sigh over.  Such as mince, blueberry, raspberry, blackberry, butterscotch, black bottom, cherry, strawberry-rhubarb, Key Lime, lemon, grasshopper.  Some people would sigh over the omission of shoo-fly pie. Not me. Its name is better than the pie. Mincemeat is a standard of Thanksgiving in a lot of homes, including mine when a child, but it's really an English thing.  It would be a lot more popular if it didn't have "meat" in its name.  There's no meat in it, but you can put a lot of brandy in instead. Very English touch.

Indeed, pie itself is English, especially apple pie.  Things are not "as American as apple pie". Things are "as English as apple pie."  "As American as Chevrolet"?  Yes.  What about "as American as hot dogs"?  Yes, they're American.  And so is chocolate cake.  We invented chocolate cake.  And fudge.  (Vassar, about 1900.  Stick around and I may post that classic recipe one of these days.).  Chocolate candy in general is American.  Before we Americans started messing around with chocolate, people just drank it.

But let's dismiss history and just stay focussed on pie.  I could riff off here about how hard it is now to make a lovely flaky crust since the health police have outlawed partially hydrogenated shortening.  My daughter is remedying this with vodka.  In the crust.  Not in the cook.  Take that, you health police!

One unforgettable Thanksgiving I made sixteen pies.  All pumpkin, as I remember.  My six kids were delighted.  Each had his/her own pie.  And then some.  But it didn't start out like that.  The process evolved into sixteen pies because I have a double crust recipe I use for crust and the Libby can double pie recipe for filling. But the recipes have different ideas of what size a pie is.  And I have different size pie pans. Therefore, part of the time I'd come out with more pumpkin filling and part of the time I'd have too much crust.  So I just kept going, making pies, and hoping it would all even out eventually.  Of course it didn't, so I quit after Number 16.

It was like the man on the plains of Kansas who was interviewed by Wally Balloo on history's best radio show: "Bob and Ray".  Or as their best fans called it  -   and them  -  "BobnRay".  Wally Ballou  (and you could spell his name any way you wanted to:  Balloo, Ballou, Baloo, etc.) was "radio's beloved reporter".  Of course he was really Bob Elliott or Ray Goulding.  (Or were they Bob Goulding and Ray Elliott?)  Whichever. All the characters were Bob or Ray.  It was unimportant to remember who was playing which roles.  Just like the segment that was about "Lawrence Spechtenberger, Interstellar  Officer Candidate", except when it was about "Lawrence Fechtenberger, Interstellar Officer Candidate."  It was "brought to you by the chocolate cookies with the white stuff in between", except when it was "the white stuff in the middle."

Everything about Bob 'n Ray was loose.  The same with that fame-bringing achievement of the man on the Kansas plains.  He was being interviewed by the gentle and inadequate Wally Baloo for having built the tallest structure in the world.  It had happened in an unstructured way.  He hadn't planned to build this skinny skyscraper on the Kansas plains.  It started out as just a brick barbecue.  But it was a little uneven, with one side a little higher than the other one. And the guy kept building and building in hopes it would eventually even out.  It didn't, of course.  And he kept building and building.  Way, way up into the sky.  Like my pie crust and pie filling, it never evened out.  I won't tell you what finally happened to it.

Bob n' Ray stayed on the air for fifty years.  Ray is dead as of 1990 at age 68.  Bob is still bobbing along at age 90.  (Or is Ray alive and Bob dead?) They gave us the memorable sign-off tags of "Write if you get work" and "Hang by your thumbs".  They also gave us modern comedy.  Before them comedy was mostly gags, a la the Borscht Belt.  You know  -  jokes!  They invented the wild and wonderful styles and formats that in turn gave us improv and stand-up.  From them come Woody Allen, Robin Williams, Jonathan Winters, Jerry Seinfeld  -  who all acknowledge the debt  -   and every other stand-up or or skit artist or lets-pretend rifter since 1948.  They are the inventors of one of the greatest of all human arts and certainly the second greatest American art form.  (Top of the list of American stuff is jazz, then BobnRay comedy and its progeny, then the musical comedy.)

So sit back and listen to some jazz, and stream in some old Bob and Ray shows over the net, and eat some fudge and some pie.  And reflect.  It's a pretty good old world after all that has such things in it.

And has a pie-eating American president as well.

Meantime don't forget:  Write if you get work!   Hang by your thumbs!
Sometime I'll tell about my late husband sitting in on a Bob and Ray show as a teenager back in the early '50s.    


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