Some things are impossible without divine intervention: a virgin can’t bear a child, a man can’t rise from the dead, and you can’t sneak a slice from an uncut pie--without leaving evidence.
Lori and I studied that pie like two opponents contemplating a difficult move on a chessboard. Its yellow filling shimmered--the surface a smooth custard lake surrounded by a graham cracker shore. Aunt Catherine was at the sink, curling lime garnish to arrange on the pie. Soon, each curl would kneel reverently, awaiting the slice of a dessert knife.
Some recipes are a symphony with full orchestra; others, a choral cantata. Key Lime Pie is a song played with a few simple instruments: a creamy, sweet melody harmonized by its tart counterpoint. Aunt Catherine played beautifully.
This particular pie was destined for the church dessert auction. Some determined man with deep pockets would emerge victorious with this trophy. We’d never get a taste.
“Get away from that pie.”
“We should taste it to make sure it’s good.”
“It’s good. Now get away.”
Mom had dropped us off that morning while she did her shopping. Catherine pressed us into service creating this masterpiece.
“Betsy, go pick some limes.”
Every yard on the block had citrus trees. It was an unspoken agreement that neighbors could pick freely. There was only one Key Lime tree on the block and it lived next door. I carefully avoided its thorns as I plucked the small, greenish-yellow fruit.
“Lori, crush the graham crackers.”
Aunt Catherine added melted butter and sugar, combining the trio into a crust which she pressed into a pie pan. I watched her hands, firm and smooth, coax the crust into place. Mom always removed her rings before baking. It occurred to me that Catherine never did; her hands were unadorned.
“Aunt Catherine, why aren’t you married?” It was the kind of question Mom would have silenced with a look, but here the rules were different.
“God just hasn’t led me to the right man yet. Maybe someday. Now, juice those limes.”
While Aunt Catherine baked the crust, I prepared the lime juice and zest. Lori’s touch was suited for separating the egg yolks from the whites, which were saved. Catherine opened the can of sweetened condensed milk and retrieved the mixer from its shelf.
Maybe someday. I studied her again. She’d always just been my aunt. I never thought of her as a woman who might someday get married. She pushed a strand of blonde hair behind one ear. Her eyes crinkled as she laughed at Lori’s attempt to break an egg one-handed. She’s pretty.
Aunt Catherine beat the yolks and zest until fluffy. Lori added the milk while I finished juicing. My mouth watered as the tart tang of lime tweaked my nose. I stirred the juice into the mixture and the filling was ready to pour into its golden shell. We baked the pie, then placed it into the refrigerator to cool.
Later, as we girls sat staring at the now chilled, perfect pie, our schemes for stealing a taste were interrupted by a ringing phone. “Hello?...Hi Leigh...Yes, it’s cooling...Who?...You’re not trying to set me up again, are you?...I don’t know...Well, OK...I’ll bring the girls.” Blushing, Catherine replaced the receiver. “Your mom says she’ll meet us there.”
“What am I bid for this delicious Key Lime Pie, baked by the lovely Catherine Parrish?”
The bidding intensified as a chorus of voices clamored to be heard in the fellowship hall. Ten dollars became twenty; fifty became one hundred. We craned our necks to see the baritone who kept upping the bids.
“Sold for one hundred fifty dollars!”
The congregation roared its approval as a dark-haired man rushed to the front of the hall to claim his prize. After the auction, mom waved him over to our table. “Frank, meet my sister, Catherine.”
Frank set down his pie and tentatively offered his hand. “Nice to meet you.”
“I hope you enjoy your pie.”
“I’m sure I will. Um, what I really wanted was to meet the baker.”
Lori and I closed ranks around our aunt. Who was this guy? The pie--our pie--sat unnoticed by everyone but us. Who was he to take our pie away? We didn’t even know him. And why was he looking all dreamy at Aunt Catherine?
“Oh, I’m being rude. Would you girls like some of this pie? Help yourselves.”
He had potential.
Author’s Note: Key Lime Pie originated in the Florida Keys during the days before refrigeration. Early settlers used canned milk, since fresh was hard to come by. The traditional filling is yellow because of the egg yolks and yellow lime juice. Under no circumstances should you ever add green food coloring. In 2006, Key Lime Pie became the official Florida state pie.
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