The World Needs More Pie

"Give a Piece a Chance." — Books. Blog. Pie Classes. And a Pinch of Activism.

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Wuz Up Wit Dat Hip Hop Pie Class?

The “Black Ops” as they called themselves,
striking their first pose of many.

A few weeks ago I posted some pictures on my Facebook biz page from a pie class I taught at my house (my house being the American Gothic House, in Eldon, Iowa). I have posted many, many pictures on that page over the past few years and NEVER have I had so many “likes” and comments and shares. It also begged the question: How did this class come about? I’ll tell you how.

My BFF in Eldon, Patti — or Mizz D, as she is known at work– is a high school English teacher. She uses my blog to get her students interested in reading, and as a bonus, they get a pie class taught by me at their school. (I love those Home Ec rooms — all that counter space and five ovens.) Here’s the story of my first class I did with her students: Click here to read.

I’m on my third year now of teaching Mizz D’s classes. You would think teaching pie making to 60 restless teenagers would be exhausting. But it’s quite the opposite. I always get so energized and encouraged by seeing these kids pay attention and stay focused (something that is apparently much harder to get them to do in their reading classes!), and I get especially buoyed watching them leave so happy with their finished pies. Really, if you know high school students then you are familiar with their normally snarky attitudes and sullen ways. Put a homemade pie in their hands — one they made themselves — and they are absolutely ebullient!

But there was a little “incident” after the last class I taught. We had 30 pies sitting out on a table and the kids had to leave them there to cool while they went off to their next class. They were to come back at the end of the day to collect their pie.

Their own pie, not someone else’s.

One girl, whose name I won’t mention (and I will also restrain myself from calling her other things), couldn’t find her pie so she knowingly just took one that looked good. (Do you see why it would be easy to call her other names?)

The pie she ran off with belonged to a kid named Terrance who had just moved to Iowa from Alabama. Eventually Terrance came into the room and…that’s right, no pie. (They had all created their own designs on the top crust so they KNEW whose pies were whose.) Terrance was feeling pretty down. I could imagine the feeling. He had worked hard on his pie. He was looking forward to taking it home to share with his mom. He was now empty handed. Pie-less and pissed off.

It broke my heart. I mean, some of these kids at this school have a hard enough time getting through life as it is. They don’t come from privileged means, they don’t always get enough support or attention or love — let alone enough to eat. Not that pie is going to save their lives or keep them from flunking out of school or joining a gang or landing in jail, but…at least taking home a finished pie is something they can be proud of, something they can show to their parents, something that can give them a boost to their confidence, even if just for a day.

“She can’t just take someone else’s pie,” I growled. “If she thinks it’s okay to take a pie, what else is she going to take? Is that how she’s going to go through life, taking things that aren’t hers? There needs to be some consequences for this.” Oh, you should have heard me rant! I was furious. And I felt so bad for Terrance I blurted out to Mizz D, “You tell Terrance we’ll make more pie. Tell him I am going to give him a private pie class at my house.”

And so I did. Terrance (far left in pic below) brought along two of his classmates, Isaiah (center, a freshman who is on the varsity football team and now wrestling team) and Osha (right, pronounced “O’Shay” who may need to work on his reading skills but, wow, can he make pie!)

In anticipation of their arrival I set Pandora to a hip hop station. They not only liked it, they walked straight over to my computer and turned up the volume. Way up. They also found the knob to control the bass and they turned that way up too.

At last we could get to work. Sort of.

They knew ALL the words to all the songs so while they were working the butter and shortening into the flour not only were their hands moving, but so were their lips and their hips. They were singing along AND dancing. My instruction couldn’t be heard above the noise — er, music — but, hey, they were having fun. And it was equally fun to watch.

In spite of the distraction of the computer (they kept going over to play songs on YouTube — I have now been educated to the rhythm and lyrics of Chief Keef — who is currently back in juvie hall — and Jay-Z and his popular song “Poppin Tags“) we managed to progress with our pies.




Mizz D not only chauffeured the boys to my house (they aren’t old enough to have a drivers license) she also participated in the pie lesson.

Once the pies went in the oven, I had the guys help me carry some of my 50-pound bags of flour and sugar to the storage room in the basement. (I have learned the value of delegating to save my energy — and my back.) I left them down there and went back up to the kitchen and when they returned Terrance asked, “What about those basketball shoes?”

I had no idea what he was talking about. Though I did wonder what kind of snooping they were doing to come up with such a question. “You mean my bike shoes?” I asked. I don’t play basketball, let alone own anything resembling basketball shoes. “Show me what you’re talking about.” So we went back downstairs and sure enough, there was a Nike box sitting right on top of a pile of other boxes with a brand new pair of shoes in it. I had forgotten that H left a bunch of his stuff when he moved out over a year ago (remember him?!)

“Try them on,” I insisted. Terrance slid his narrow foot into the black high top and pinched his thumb down along the toe, leaving an indentation in the leather. “Okay, so they’re a little big. But your feet are probably still growing. Just put an extra insole inside and wear thicker socks. Take them. They’re yours.”

He grinned. I think the basketball shoes might have meant more to him than the pie. Especially since the [enter expletive adjective here] coach at his school wouldn’t let him on the basketball team because he didn’t have the right shoes. (WTF??? And you wonder why these kids get in trouble????)

I don’t have pictures of what happened next but two of Mizz D’s students from her old school stopped by. These girls are very cute, athletic…and white. They have been raised on farms, whereas the boys have all moved to Iowa from big cities (Isaiah and Osha are from Chicago). The girls are also into country music, not rap.

I was checking on the pies in the oven and I heard some stomping coming from the living room. Oddly, I also noticed the absence of the bass beat that had been permeating the house all evening. The girls had changed my Pandora settings to a country music station and the stomping was coming from the boys — who were LINE DANCING! They had no idea what they were doing, but given their natural dance ability they looked like they did. The boys had also hiked their pants so their butts and boxers no longer hung out. Instead they had pulled their waistlines as high as possible, pretending to be nerds.

I have never heard such laughter in my house. I have never seen such smiles. And I have never seen such a heartfelt, spontaneous and natural mingling of cultures, sharing of customs — and a speedy exchange of phone numbers and Facebook pages. All because of pie.

Yeah, high five (or thumbs up, or fist bump, or whatever) to that.