This past weekend I celebrated Purim, a Jewish holiday/carnival in memory of the time that we almost all died and then didn’t, again. We’re commanded to get drunk! Adults give children noisemakers on purpose! Sometimes the rabbi wears tights!
Here’s the story: King Ahasuerus of Persia kicks his wife to the curb because she doesn’t want to do a striptease in front of all his friends.
To find his next queen, he has a mandatory beauty contest for all the young women in his kingdom. After a lot of anointing and parading he chooses Esther, a young Jewish orphan in the care of her uncle Mordechai. She keeps her faith a secret and lives in all the bliss that comes with being forced out of her home to marry a royal manchild.
Ahasureus has an advisor named Haman, who really gets off on asserting his authority. Soon after the wedding, Haman decrees that everybody in Persia has to bow down to him. Jewish people aren’t really into genuflecting though. When Mordechai refuses to bow, Haman decides that the reasonable, proportionate response is murdering all the Jews. Ahasureus not only okays this plan but gives Haman ten thousand silver talents to get it done.
I made this raspberry-rhubarb pie to stuff into my face while watching Independent Shakespeare Company’sMuch Ado About Nothing at the park. The filling is tart and bright like Beatrice and Benedick’s banter; the crust is rich and full of flakes like Leonato’s household. It’s a ridiculously satisfying pie for a ridiculously satisfying play.
Making pies isn’t all that different from telling a story, and this pie is an excellent mirror for Much Ado About Nothing. Every character responds differently to the pressures of the plot, and every element in a pie responds differently to the heat of the oven. The most interesting part of a story and a recipe is the ways in which characters and ingredients combine and play off of one another through the conflict/oven. Nobody wants to watch Don John be a dick to his brother with no preamble and nothing at stake. His dickery is much more interesting when he uses his brother’s sense of honor to pit him against sweet, maidenly Hero on her wedding day. But before the play reaches that dramatic wedding scene, the characters need to mix together, form relationships and alliances, and plan for a future that can be threatened by Don John’s plots. So too must the ingredients for the pie crust be stirred, cut, mixed, chilled, and rolled out before going in the oven.
There are two main romances in Much Ado About Nothing: Hero/Claudio and Beatrice/Benedick. Beatrice and Benedick steal the show, like the rhubarb-raspberry filling of the pie. But their romance wouldn’t be possible without the machinations of Hero, Claudio, Leonato, and the rest. Beatrice and Benedick’s love is given structure and poignancy by the romance and trials of Hero and Claudio, much like fruit fillings are supported by pie crusts.
(Note: All the screenshots in this post come from Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing, which is a ridiculously joyful interpretation with an unparalleled butts-to-rhyme ratio. There is a sample under the Read More link.)
She cooked a four course meal for eleven people with four separate sets of dietary restrictions. She did so while hosting an enormous group of out-of-town relatives, running her small business, and still managing to be a lovely human being. My mother is fucking magic.
I took over for her when it came to desserts. When I asked, “Mom, what fruits are in season?” she said, “None.”
When I said, “Mom, what fruits should I put in this dairy-free cobbler?” she said, “There are apples in the drawer and I bought you those frozen raspberries.” And I thought–her head is about to explode. Let’s just make this work.