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Burnt Pecan Pie: It’s an Omen

This (see pic above) is what happens when you bake in a propane oven and you run out of gas thirty minutes into the hour-long baking cycle of your pecan pie – the one where you doubled the recipe, used the expensive organic eggs and emptied the bottle of Karo syrup you brought all the way from LA. (Well, you think your pie has baked for thirty minutes but the gas could have given out five minutes after you closed the oven door.)

Because you don’t know how to exchange the empty propane tank for the full one that your landlady, Betty, so kindly delivered to your doorstep to prevent this very incident from happening – and because you don’t have a wrench to loosen the tank fittings, even if you did know which part to unscrew – you take your pie over to the neighbor’s house to use their oven. The neighbor isn’t home so you let yourself in, turn on their oven, take a wild guess at what temperature setting you’ve turned the dial to because there are no numbers on the dial and there is no thermometer, you place the pie inside the oven and then you wait outside on the porch, painting your toenails to pass the time. You don’t account for the fact it’s the hottest part of the day until the polish overheats and gets too gunky to use, and you find yourself at that moment missing, ever so slightly, life in LA where you could be getting a much-needed manicure-pedicure combo in an air-conditioned salon on Main Street, while sitting in a massage chair, all for twenty bucks. (Note to self: Store nail polish in fridge from now on.)

You look at your sports watch, proud that for once you have remembered to start the timer when the pie actually went into the oven and not fifteen minutes later, which is your normal forgetful habit, and since it’s been twenty minutes of baking in the current oven, plus god knows how many minutes in the propane-deprived oven in the other house, you think it’s probably time to check on the pie’s progress.

You enter the house and feel an immediate sense of alarm at the smell of smoke. You open the oven door and become enveloped by a carcinogenic cloud of burnt sugar and egg mixture, which has flowed like lava out from its retaining wall of pie dough and into the neighbor’s once-clean oven. Your eyes burn, you begin to choke, and in spite of this – or because of this –you have the sense to turn on the fan to help clear the air. The fan doesn’t help. You turn your attention back to the burnt sugar lava. While the pecan pie filling is hot it remains in a molten state, but as you attempt to scoop it off the bottom of the oven you find it immediately hardens into a black cement-like substance. In your state of panic you throw the now gunked-up spoon into the sink where you watch the spoon attach itself with superglue force to the aluminum basin and know that will be one more thing to clean — or more like chisel off — to remove evidence of your unauthorized pie baking in your neighbor’s house.

You finally get a sense of control, the air has cleared enough to breathe again (even though your clothes will carry the burnt scent for the rest of the day), and you resume the baking of the pie. You think you’ve reduced the oven temperature enough to prevent further burning so you go back outside to paint a second coat of nail polish on your toes, the appearance of which, if you may say so yourself, has already improved after the first coat. About five minutes later you decide it’s the prudent thing to do to check on the pie and when you do you realize you have not turned the temperature down, you have turned it up! Smoke billows out further into the kitchen-that-is-not-your-kitchen while what filling is still left in the pie bubbles away like a witch’s cauldron. You turn the oven dial the other direction and say, “Fuck it, I’ll just leave the oven door open. That should help.”

You know the pie is doomed, yet you figure someone, somewhere may still want a piece, regardless of its over-baked condition. Your Midwest values have taught you not to waste anything. You do have a concern, however, that whoever is brave enough to eat it should know the name of a good dentist, just in case.

You leave the mess in your neighbor’s kitchen as it is, convincing yourself you will return as soon as possible to clean out (chisel out) the oven. But you are so determined that you will succeed in baking a pecan pie today (you have ulterior motives, it’s for a “special friend” you are trying to impress) that you drive five miles to the overpriced convenience store and pray they carry Karo syrup. They do. You happily pay double what you paid for the same bottle in LA and return home. You then call up another neighbor, one who is home, and like a damsel in distress you sweet talk him into coming over with a wrench to swap out your propane tank.

Ignoring the Burnt Pecan Pie Omen — for that is surely what this is (after all, your “special friend” is married to someone else) — you begin again. Life’s lessons are so hard for you learn.

After a while you notice your neighbor’s car is back in the driveway and realize you’ve forgotten to clean their oven. When you call, you find out your neighbor has been in the hospital all day, and right then you decide, “Well, that’s it. My sick neighbor will be the recipient of the new pie. If it turns out.” As for the burnt one, even the neighbor who fixed your oven takes one look at it and – perhaps aware of its bad karma, as well as its tooth-breaking capabilities – wisely says, “Uh, no thanks.”

MORAL OF THE STORY: Be Careful Who You Bake For. And always have your own wrench on hand.