I headed west out of the city a couple of weeks ago with friends. Our destination: the St. Jacob’s Farmers’ Market. My destination: peach pie.
Oh, I was as keen as my friends to stuff my market bag with field tomatoes and zucchini. In fact, I filled my bag and then several others, too. I came home with a fat bunch of leeks, tiny pearl onions, a rainbow collection of sweet peppers and a carton of spicy, red habaneros.
I also came home with two peach pies.
This was my second visit to the St. Jacob’s Market since moving to Toronto a year ago. It’s a place of profound goodness, by which I mean you not only buy good things there, but the people selling them are good. As in friendly, cheerful, exactly what you’d expect from market vendors who are selling you what they’ve grown or baked themselves.
On my first visit to St. Jacobs, I’d discovered a pie seller. I was in the company of my friend, Cindy who was visiting from Moncton; so really, I should say we discovered the pie seller together.
We also discovered hot apple fritters, links of smoked sausage, rounds of cheese and fresh curds. But we were both were drawn to the booth where you could buy any imaginable kind of pie for $6.
The pies were packaged in white boxes with a cellophane window – kind of like a pie peep show. Eyes wide, we ogled the goods, trying to decide what we wanted: rhubarb strawberry or apple crumble, blackberry or lemon, coconut cream or cherry?
We settled on peach custard. By the end of the weekend, when the pie had been reduced to a few crumbs on the plate and more than a few inches on our waists, Cindy and I decided it was the best pie we had ever eaten.
Now, this is saying something because Cindy is an amazing cook and my mother makes a fine apple pie. Personally, I make no boasts where pies are concerned. Pastry crumbles when I touch it.
We ate one third of the pie for supper on Saturday night. On Sunday morning, I sat in church trying to listen to the sermon, which isn’t generally a problem. I like the pastor in the church I attend. He preaches practical stuff and is the kind of preacher who carries a stack of books to the pulpit and reads pertinent bits and pieces to shore up his sermon. I like that and generally give him my attention.
But not on that Sunday morning.
On that Sunday morning, all I could think about was the peach pie. If the preacher would just speed up a little, I mused to myself, I could head home to slowly savour my next slice. On that Sunday morning, salivating replaced salvation in my church lexicon.
I confessed my sin to Cindy on our way home and while she hadn’t quite experienced my guilty pleasure, she was equally interested in putting that pie to rest.
Lest you think I am exaggerating about the pie, let me just describe it for you: pure, creamy custard folded into a buttery shortbread and topped with barely sweet and not-to syrupy, lightly grilled fresh peaches. Can you really blame me for missing the sermon?
Not surprisingly, the peach pie took on iconic status that weekend. Cindy returned to Moncton, but I’ve received several emails from her wondering if I’d reacquainted myself with the pie lady.
And so, on my most recent visit to St. Jacobs, I purchased not one, but two peach pies. After all, who knows when I will be back to the market? And Thanksgiving approaches: surely I’ll be in need of a pie or two.
But I couldn’t wait for Thanksgiving. Using a Friday evening dinner with friends as my opportunity, I served one of the pies. I’d managed to resist the temptation to open the pie when I was alone, knowing I’d probably eat the whole thing in one sitting. It was that good.
Or at least, that’s what I expected. But it’s not what happened.
Oh, the pie was tasty, the custard creamy, the peaches tart. But something was missing. It wasn’t quite as iconic. It tasted, in fact, a little flat.
I pondered what had happened from one pie to the next, even as I ate several more slices through the weekend. I was taste-testing, I told myself. Trying to figure out if the cook had missed an essential ingredient.
Eventually, I realized it wasn’t an ingredient that was missing. It was Cindy.
A peach pie experience is ever so much better when shared with a good friend. Her company was what made the pie spectacular. Our conversation flavoured the experience. The pie was just the starter.
It’s Thanksgiving weekend. All over this great country, people will be sitting down to feasts of food. And even if peach pie is on the menu, let me give a small word of advice: appreciate the food, but love the people that go with it.
Lynda MacGibbon is a transplanted Maritimer living in Toronto. This column appears each Friday in the Moncton Times & Transcript. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @lyndamacgibbon.