The Summer of the Pie Wars

pie iron IBoots the Badass Coffee Babe here!  It’s nearly summertime, so I am thinking that it’s time to branch out into the Arena of Pie.  Campfire Pie.  You might be thinking: Pie out on the trail?  Yes, indeed! with good old-fashioned Pie Irons.  Check them out below . . . they are so much fun! I’m hoping that you find these Pie Irons to be as gadget-y and interesting as I do!  And so simple and magical, too.

I don’t know about you, but there are stories galore that come to mind when I think Pie — stories that are steeped in family tradition from childhood holidays and birthdays and stories that take me back to a time when I found myself in the midst of an undeclared Pie War.  I guess you could say that Pie is an Emotional Food that has the power to stir love, guilt, stubbornness, creativity, and forgiveness.   And I don’t think I can think the word Pie without reminiscing about an important personage from my past whom I will call Pie King henceforth.

Pie King was an old-timer for whom I worked a short summer season in a remote fishing camp located up in the high country.  The camp was in the midst of a roadless area that had with zero amenities, so you can imagine how beautiful and pristine it all was.  Pure silence and clean darkness at night.  No electricity, no running water, no telephone.  Camp was only accessible by trail or by float plane, so business was slow and spotty — thus allowing for time better spent rowing, swimming, reading, writing, roving, and just plain thinking.  And getting all of the chores done, too.

The chores that came with the job weren’t really all that bad: renting the occasional rowboat, bucking up some firewood, splitting wood for the cookstove, filling and trimming the kerosene lamps, doing a little bit of cooking, going down the hill to pick up mail from the Mail Boat . . . this sort of thing.  It all kept me pretty busy in an unruffled sort of way.  Pie King declared me Hired Girl #10 — a name that didn’t take a lot of figuring to figure out.  I was part of a Hired Girl (HG) lineage — #10 in a string of outdoorsy women who had come and gone before me, leaving the HG legacy with an imprint stamped with their virtues, their idiosyncrasies, and their imperfections — all defined and assigned by Pie King.

Pie King had a habit of using the other Hired Girls’ virtues as a way to get what he wanted.  He also had a habit of using the other HG’s imperfections as a way to get what he wanted. During the Pie War, I thought of Pie King as an Epic Manipulator, but now I would say that he was simply a Good Read of Human Nature.  Most people essentially want to Please, especially so in the radiant light of a predecessor’s Halo of Sainthood.  Pie King understood this Wishing-to-Please component of human nature.  I wouldn’t say that he exactly exploited it, but I also wouldn’t say that he didn’t.  After all, there are fine lines crackled and drawn all over life and, with enough backstory, I think the lines get a little blurred and sometimes even erased.

Mr. Pie King spent that entire summer trying to trick, guilt, dog, and wheedle me into making him a pie.  I was also soon to learn that Pie King claimed to have worked out his version of the Zen of Pie thing.  He said he could judge someone’s character based on their Relationship with Pie.   In fact, Pie was one of my interview questions — one that, with Pie hindsight,  I now know was the Weighing Grace as to whether or not I would become the Privileged Hired Girl who would be swamping this old timer’s boats, cutting his firewood, and laying his Morning Fire in the cold cookstove each night.  The interview question: Do you know how to make pie?  My answer: Yes.  His answer: You’re hired.

pie-vintage-image--graphicsfairy10Now I know what some of you might be thinking:  Let the Wookie win and just make him the damned pie.  But it was more complicated than this.  I knew — or maybe I should say intuited — that once I made that first pie, I was going to be chained to the cook cabin for the rest of the summer.  Which was NOT going to happen.  Not on Boots the Badass Coffee Babe’s watch.  And would you feel any differently?  Option A: spend glorious, pristine days working outdoors in the unspoiled high country?  Or Option B: spend the summer in a dark cabin peeling fruit, rolling crust, spicing filling, and baking the danged pie?  I don’t need to tell you which option I preferred.

It wasn’t so much that I disliked cooking and baking, but between hauling water, breakfast clean up, morning chores, and the mandatory chess game at lunchtime  — I wanted to be free to roam the great OUTDOORS.  At first Pie King made passive references when I was leaving the cabin for my daily-afternoon-off: Wouldn’t a slice of pie taste good right about now?  When that didn’t work, he wheedled.  Then he demanded.  He even tried pouting and giving me the silent treatment.  All for Pie.  I simply didn’t get it.

His was not a personality to give up a cause once he started to wave the flag.  Nor was mine.  I, being of sound and stubborn mind, body, and spirit, was not about to give in.  The thought of firing up the cookstove mid-day to a 400-degree oven on a 90-degree summer day was NOT going to happen.  If it had been the middle of winter?  Sure.  Why not?  But middle of summer in the high country?  No.  Mr. Pie King was just going to have to wait until October started to chill the air with the promise of day-long fires. Above all, given the stories of Glorious Hired Girls past, I wasn’t about to start a precedent that I knew I was not willing to continue.

camp at high lakeThe Battle must ensue!  Or so it seemed until one day when I was mucking out the barn.  I was digging through some old camp boxes when I came across some old rusting Pie Irons.  They were in need of a good clean-up, but they were certainly serviceable and a goodly remedy to our sparring match over pie or its lack therein.

That night after supper I got a good bed of coals going in the fire-pit down by the lake before surprising Pie King with the Pie Irons.  It was one of those beautiful high-country nights.  One with swallows and bats streaking and darting across the sky taking care of the mosquito population.  Stars pricked the canopy while a dry moon hung above us while we baked pies.  I kept the coffee hot above the coals while we baked pies in silence — a good earnest silence.   The kind of silence that marked a truce and that laid to rest any animosity that had been brewing in the weeks previous.

Pie King asked me to run up to the cabin and get his stash of Irish Whiskey.  We had nudges and we baked a few more pies to have for breakfast the next morning before letting the coals die down.  He surprised me by laughing and saying he had to hand it to me for sticking to my guns.  That I was skookum.  That I was the longest hold-out that he had ever had in the Hired Girl line-up.  And that I somehow still not only didn’t make pie but he made his own pie in the end.

I laughed, not really knowing what to say.  How do you say thank you after waging such a war-of-wills and then sort of winning.  Not the stuff of humility and grace.  But still.  I still think I read the situation rightly.  I guess there is something to be said for diligence and perseverance in the face of battle, albeit a battle waged in the Pie War.

He told me that he had almost married once to a woman named Lorna.  They had had a squabble over — you guessed it — Pie, among other things.  Their incompatibility had reared its complicated head over an incongruous list of baseball, whiskey, cork boots, and general lifestyle.  How Pie figured into it, I didn’t ask.  I didn’t mine for details and he didn’t offer much more than he thought that  Lorna was likely The One who had gotten away.

I wasn’t expecting any kudos for having been so damned stubborn to an old man who could play heartstrings like they were tuned on a fiddle.  It’s sometimes hard to feel any pride when winning a tug-of-war kind of battle.  But, looking back, I think he admired that I was willing to give as good he gave — and come up with a solution that suited us both in the end.  Maybe that is what he had hoped would happen with Lorna.

Maybe this is what life sometimes is.  A series of solutions that give as good as they take and that leave everyone feeling both pretty banged up and danged good in the end.  A happy ending?  I don’t know.  I’m not the one with the Pie Zen experience.

pie iron IVWe ended up having a few more Pie Iron shots of whiskey before the fire died down. The rest of the season passed without Grand Incident, and I packed up my duds in early October.  Times change and we with times but not in the ways of Pie Iron friendship.  I sent Pie King a home-baked apple pie up on the float plane each summer to commemorate a war well waged.  He never thanked me but he didn’t have to.  Sometimes you can let the Wookie win post-war.

Perhaps this story has gone for too long.  Back to Pie Irons!  Check them out . . . so much fun!  Pie out on the trail?  Grilled Cheese?  Breakfast sandwiches?  Fried potatoes?  Sloppy Joes?   French toast?  Yes to all of these great trail options.

So check out the fun products and cookbooks below!  I tried to find a good video for you . . . . and just wasn’t finding one.   I did find a blog with some recipes (Blueberry Cream Cheese Stuffed French Toast and Stuffed Hash Browns) that sounded pretty though so I am sharing it with you below.

Click here to view the website: http://www.dirtygourmet.com/pie-iron-cooking/

And here is another site that specializes in Pie Iron cooking:

http://www.bestcamprecipes.com/pie-iron-meals/

And is there anything that goes better with Pie than Coffee?  (And Irish whiskey?)  True, you might say whipped cream, ice cream, cheddar cheese, or yogurt . . . but they don’t call me Boots the Badass Yogurt Babe.  I’m all about Coffee as you know, and I would contest that Coffee and Pie are the peanut butter and jelly, the peas and carrots, the wheat-grass and kale of the culinary world.  You can argue with me, and you’ll win.  After all, I’m an easy going kind of buck-a-rina, as evidenced by my summer of working out The Pie Accord with the Pie King.

Check out this super cool Classic Stainless Steel Yosemite 8-Cup Coffee Percolator — like the kind that Pie King kept going on the cookstove throughout the morning.  I love the sounds of a percolator, don’t you?  So retro, cute, and good!


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And for a blue-granite-ware camp experience:

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And in red!  I love this cheery color!


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And here are the Pie Irons!  A fun way to cook a meal and a dessert over the campfire! All for about $14 – $22 — what a deal!

Rome’s 1605 Double Pie Iron with Steel and Wood Handles

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Rome’s 1805 Round Pie Iron with Steel and Wood Handles


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Happy trails to all of you Pie Lovers.  Try out these Pie Irons and make a memory!

Life is a lively event.  Make pie, drink coffee, and get to it!  What’s stopping you?

xox to you, as always . . . Boots

Ode to the Beat-Up Thermos, Marriage, & the Cycle of Life

Hey y’all.  Boots here.  And as we are going into hiking, camping, and glamping season, I am thinking about ways to keep your coffee hot and your coffee cold.  In other words, we are going to be talking about thermal mugs, insulated containers, and the good ol’ homely, tried-and-true coffee thermos in the next few posts.

I can’t even think of the word thermos without thinking about this one couple who used to go out with us on the annual pack trip into the high country each August.  Bill and Doreen Banks were regulars, and they were always toting the same damned banged-up green thermos each year.

Pack_Horses_on_Hemis_TrailNow this thermos had to be one of the most trail-worn thermoses I have even seen.  It was one of those tall green Stanley models that looked like it had been handed down through the ages since the dawn of Manifest Destiny.  You couldn’t help but think of all the lunch hours and picnics that this thermos must have poured its way through to get that mean looking.  It was scarred up, dented, and ugly, and it truly was a testimony to the quality of the Stanley company’s product line.  It was still keeping the Banks’ family coffee hot through all of the abuse it had been subjected to.

This couple, Bill and Doreen, would prepare their coffee together each morning before we saddled up and headed out for the day.  They liked to have a little coffee break with their lunch, and experience had taught them that we didn’t build a fire for just a quick lunch along the trail.  Hence, the necessity for the beloved Stanley.

campfire and coffee brewingOne of them would pull the coffee boiler from the fire while the other readied the Sacred Stanley to receive its daily sacrament of Joe.  Usually Bill poured and Doreen steadied.  Doreen would cluck about the importance of being careful while Bill filled the Stanley to the very brim.

The funny thing was that these two were so proud of their Stanley.  Like it was a badge of honor that they were still toting the same crappy-looking thermos that Bill’s dad had  used when he was alive and working for Boeing.

Maybe it was a lesson in equating age-worn with beautiful. Maybe the Stanley was a testimony to their marriage and a symbol of the trust that they shared.  Or maybe it was a lesson in forgiveness the way that Doreen didn’t cuss Bill out when he splashed her hands with hot coffee as she steadied the Stanley.  Or maybe they were just super cheap people and weren’t about to replace function with shiny new.

I don’t know.  It was way out of my ken.  Other campers would comment on the Stanley’s condition, and Bill would launch into the story about how his dad, Bill the Second, carried it with him to work each day for 20 odd years — all while Doreen would talk over Bill’s tale, adding minor and odd details as to how old Bill’s dad was when he was forced to retire or how many years ago it had been when the two of them had laid claim to the Stanley after Bill Senior’s funeral.

The year came when Bill and Doreen arrived in camp, still with their beloved Stanley.  The first morning in camp, I couldn’t help but notice that the thermos was missing its  lid.  A small part of me wanted to laugh — thinking that there must have been some lulu of a story to explain the carelessness or forgetfulness that led to the decapitated Stanley.  I assumed that we would hear, in full Technicolor, the chain of events that would explain why their Stanley was missing its salutatory cap.

I imagined that Bill had left the cup on the hood of the car after a roadside coffee break, or Doreen had forgotten it on some boulder alongside a creek while picnicking.  It wasn’t until the next morning, when I overheard Doreen fussing over Bill and insisting that he let her pour the coffee, that I knew something wasn’t quite right.  Bill’s hands shook as he tried to steady the thermos for Doreen’s inexpert pouring.

I came to find out later that night over campfire coffee nudges that the Missing Stanley Cup incident was a result of Bill having been hospitalized for several weeks in the months prior.  Doreen dutifully brought him his daily coffee in the trusty Stanley during his stay, and it was believed that one of the nurses on shift had thrown the cup/lid out, mistaking it for garbage.  The outcome of Bill’s hospitalization was still uncertain and they weren’t sure what would allow for Bill in the coming year, but they were grateful that they were able to make one more trip together into the high country before things had the opportunity to go south.

Well, you could have knocked me over with a flicker feather the next year when Doreen showed up.  Alone.  What surprised me wasn’t that Doreen was toting that damned Stanley . . . it was that it had taken on another function as Urn.  Doreen was carrying Bill’s ashes in it and was wanting to bury Bill up in the meadow at Emerald Camp.

We made camp late that afternoon at Emerald Camp and, after dinner,  Doreen asked me if I would grab a camp shovel and  walk with her.  She stopped at a spot that Bill used to called Turtle Pie Rock.  I never knew why he called it that, but Doreen was clear that that was the spot for Bill.   What surprised me was that Doreen wasn’t planning to scatter Bill’s ashes; the Stanley was going to be buried in the hole right along with Bill.

camping-shovel-1I dug for a spell until Doreen told me to stop.  She laid Bill and the Stanley to rest, and I can’t tell you how enormous that moment felt.  I have been to funerals before, and have shed my share of tears.  But this.   Seeing someone being laid to rest in one of his favorite spots on the planet in a damned thermos gave me pause.  I could see how our physical selves all truly return to the ash from whence we came.  The Cycle of Life is enormously dizzying and, if we are lucky, we have someone special in our life who we can hold on to to ease the spin.

We paused before I was instructed to fill the hole.  We looked at each other briefly, and I had tears in my eyes.  Doreen looked away and started to laugh.  A sad laugh filled with stories, tears, fears, and thanks.  Maybe a few regrets.  Regrets that Bill wasn’t there to appreciate the irony about being buried in their Stanley thermos in the middle of the wilderness.  A laugh that spoke of years that had been marked by the zeniths that spiked their days with their unexpected nature of the good, the bad, and the ugly.  And the breathtakingly simple and beautiful.

When we returned to the campfire, I laid a blanket around Doreen’s shoulders.  I poured her a Coffee Nudge and sat with her for a while.  No one else knew that she had just laid her best friend and husband to rest.  It surely does occur to me that hidden sorrow has to be one of the most difficult things that we carry with us in life.

And it just goes to show.  Maybe thermoses, like some marriages, are age-worn on the outside while they still keep the brew nice and hot on the inside.   I really had to hand it to those two.  And to Doreen in her commitment to lay Bill to rest in such a beautiful way.  In spite of Doreen’s shaky year of loss and grief, she was still out doing what she and Bill loved to do, and she arrived toting that same damned Stanley one last time to prove that some things just don’t change.  Won’t change.

Call this some kind of tribute to Bill and Doreen . . . or to Stanley products . . . or to marriage . . . or to fulfilling final wishes . . .  or to high standards to quality . . .  or to . . . I’m not really sure.  Sometimes things just are.

Regardless, I think that this thermos has to be the best one on the market!  Just call this Cabin Door Store post “Ode to Stanley and Bill.”


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Happy fulfilling trails to you from the bottom of my heart,

xox Boots the Badass Coffee Babe

pinto pack horse