Like many people who were under lockdown during the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, I found myself with some extra free time. I cleaned some closets, did some extra push ups, participated in lots of Zoom meetings, ordered some groceries online — nothing out of the ordinary.
One night, however, in the midst of my usual pre-bedtime Instagram scroll — not a healthy habit I know — my eyes rested on an image that stopped me in my tracks. It was a photo of a cranberry apple pie, but not just any pie — its top crust was decorated with intricately braided dough and rows of tiny cut-out hearts. It was the most beautiful pie I had ever seen.
I had seen gorgeous, elaborate birthday and wedding cakes before, of course, but there was something about this homey yet detailed design that seemed within my reach. Before long, I was deep in the internet rabbit hole of intricate pie designs and how-to videos and was ordering extra flour and butter online. “I have a PhD in online pie crust tutorials!” I joked to a friend on our morning walk.
I recreated that braided and heart-studded pie straight from the Instagram photo, and it was beautiful. I filled it with strawberries and fresh rhubarb from our farmers’ market, and it was delicious. Beginner’s luck, perhaps, so I decided to try again.
I found another beautiful pie to recreate, this time a custard pie decorated with pie-crust roses. Again, it worked, and it was delicious. I posted photos of both pies on Instagram, and my friends loved them.
“Keep posting these pies,” wrote a friend a few states away who was in the throes of entertaining two young kids in lockdown. “They are making me smile!”
“Quit your job!” commented another. “These are amazing!”
I haven’t quit my day job as a writer and I have no plans to do so. But pies have been making me smile too, and I don’t just mean that on a superficial level. I have made more than two dozen pies in the past three months, and this new obsession is one of the practices that is grounding me in these uncertain times. It’s soothing to bake, creating something beautiful from start to finish in just a few hours.
A newfound passion for baking is something that something many of us — those of us who are fortunate enough to have the leisure time and resources to do so — have uncovered in recent months, and there are plenty of good reasons why. Baking is practical, creative, meditative. It enables us to connect with food and with others.
In addition to the creating, I have also found meaning in the sharing. It’s fun to surprise someone with a homemade treat, and I’ve made new connections with neighbors, friends, and family. I found out that one neighbor loves to eat pie for breakfast with coffee (why haven’t I tried that yet?), and discovered through an Instagram message from an aunt that strawberry rhubarb pie was my grandfather’s favorite.
I now know the favorite pie flavors of my co-workers, cousins, and Facebook friends and have dozens of recommended recipes bookmarked. It’s been heartening to communicate about something so seemingly lighthearted yet so meaningful. After all, there are few things more personal than what we eat.
And baking can be used as a tool for social change — in June I participated in the nationwide fundraiser Bakers Against Racism, raising funds for a local Black-owned bookstore. Again, making even more connections beyond my usual networks was energizing and heartening.
Whoever coined the phrase “easy as pie” didn’t get it quite right, if you ask me. I wouldn’t classify pie-making as easy. It’s time consuming, a little tricky, and doing it well requires practice. But for me, it has been a meaningful practice and has made life amid a pandemic not easy, but certainly much easier to endure.