One of the most rewarding aspects of my job is introducing the idea of Hedgebrook to women for the first time. There is a place in the woods on Whidbey Island with six cottages that are always filled with women writers from around the world…It sounds like a fairy tale, and I feel pure delight as see I how brightly their eyes light up. Sometimes all they can say is “Oh….wow.”
At Hedgebrook, we are all about words, women and food. So, naturally, when I traveled to Portland for Wordstock last weekend, I met Kate Lebo.
Kate Lebo is an award winning poet and baker. She runs a cliche-busting pastry academy in Seattle, called Pie School. She approached the Hedgebrook booth in a mod vintage dress with a handful of felt letters strewn diagonally across it. After a brief conversation, she invited me to a reading from her new book, A Commonplace Book of Pie.
How could I say no to pie?
The next day, I sat down for the reading, curious to see what she would do with the flour, water and butter on the table. After a few moments, she began. Here’s the thing: the reading was magical. It wasn’t just a reading, it was a demonstration on how to make a pie crust from scratch, seasoned with readings of her pie poetry.
She held her baking implements and ingredients as if they held supernatural powers.
“I think that recipes are connected to magic spells, especially if you don’t know how they work.”
She sifted King Arthur flour back and forth between two measuring cups as though she were conducting a symphony, until the she had two and a half cups in the form of a floury cloud. She then discussed the differences between lard, butter and crisco, while carefully dissecting two sticks of butter, warning us that the butter must ALWAYS be cold.
“If your butter is warm, it will wrap around the particles of flour and laminate it like an ID badge so no water can get through.”
A Commonplace Book of Pie is not just a cookbook. Or a book of poetry. It is both and more. She asked members of the audience to divine their pie fates by naming their favorite and seeing what the pie/poetry oracle of her book gave back to them. She wrote the poems hoping that the readers would see themselves reflected in the poems that were paired with the pies.
Nicole Hardy chose Key Lime. After which, Kate jumped in and said “I’m going to read pumpkin.”
“I love pumpkin pie!” I offered emphatically
She smiled, looked and me and said “I wish I had a recording of you saying that just like that.”
And then she read this poem to me:
Contrary to popular opinion, pumpkin pie-lovers are adventurous, quizzical, good in bed and voluminously communicative. No need to ask a pumpkin-pie lover if he’ll call ahead for reservations. He’ll arrive at the restaurant early, order a drink and have the waitstaff in his fan club before you get off work, By the time you arrive he might even have the hostess’s number. Do not trust him to say the right thing to your parents; do trust him to charm your friends. Consider for a moment a can of Libby’s pumpkin puree, how a pumpkin does not have a choice, but if it did, it could become a porchlight or smear on the street. It could be hollowed and hallowed and filled with soup and served in a bistro to people who do not smash pumpkins. It could rot, unsold, in the field, or fill this can of future pie. Do you see now why pumpkin pie is not boring? If it were, more people would know how to talk to bartenders.
Illustration by Jessica Lynn Bonin
I saw myself in both the poem and the pie and I couldn’t stop grinning.
I love meeting the authors behind the books. I can tell you stories about sitting at the Farmhouse Table with Gloria Steinem and being so nervous, I thought I’d never be able to stand up again. Or the time Karen Joy Fowler recalled how her daughter would walk her pet tumbleweed around the neighborhood. And how I would later put aubergine streaks in my hair so I looked more rebellious while reading a character from her new novel.
Sitting in Kate Lebo’s reading was the first time I truly realized what care an author takes with her words that will ultimately (hopefully) become a book. She chooses them carefully, like ingredients, placing them in the right order, taking them to the right publisher and when everything is over, there is a book, signed by the author, just for you. Uniquely yours. As though you had ordered it at a diner. A la mode.
This piece was originally posted to the Hedgebrook Farmhouse Table Blog and can be accessed here.