The Pie

By Lori Ann Curley
Wisconsin, USA

The Pie

For one weekend in late January every year, my parents volunteer for a church retreat. They don’t lead any activities, but they prepare all the food, from meal planning and shopping to cooking, serving, and cleaning up. Mum doesn’t use processed food, either. She buys all the individual ingredients and makes everything from scratch: Friday’s taco feast, Saturday’s breakfast with her special homemade cinnamon rolls, the soup and sandwich lunch, and a formal dinner Saturday night that includes chicken, baked potatoes, and homemade pie.

That’s right, homemade pies for 60 to 100 people: blueberry, banana cream, chocolate, cherry, apple — and my personal favorite, lemon meringue. Mum makes them all from scratch.

For almost a decade, I helped Mum and Poppy during this weekend-long feast. The only year I didn’t help in the kitchen was the year I attended the retreat myself. Otherwise, I sliced vegetables, laid out the buffet, coordinated volunteers, and waited tables for Saturday’s dinner — whatever was needed.

One year, Mum discovered that one of the boys attending the retreat had diabetes. Most meals were no problem, as people with diabetes usually know how much carbohydrate is in a slice of bread, in taco meat, or in any other food served during the weekend. I noticed the boy looking longingly at the cinnamon rolls at breakfast, but he chose corn flakes over sugar-coated cereals, took fruit instead of rolls, and then went to sit by himself.

The retreat was famous for its homemade pies, though, and Mum didn’t want this boy to feel left out. When the pies were placed on the buffet near the end of the formal dinner, I went around to each table announcing that dessert was ready and listing the variety of pies. When I came to the table where the boy with diabetes sat, he didn’t have the same look of  excitement on his face that everyone else had. So I said to him, “You get a whole pie to yourself.”

“What? But I…” was all he could say before I interrupted him.

“It’s made with a sugar substitute. You do like chocolate, right?” He nodded his head and his expression turned from sad to glad. “Good, I’ll bring you a slice; everyone else has to go up to the buffet to fetch their own.”

When I went into the kitchen for the pie, I told Mum to look at the boy. His face was beaming as he talked animatedly with the other people at his table. Mum said, “He looks like he finally feels he belongs here.”

The main lesson Mum taught me about cooking was not a technique, but that the cook should tailor a meal for the people who will eat it. Her lesson applies far beyond cooking, because through cooking she taught me that serving people is about meeting their needs, not your own. Her example is with me always.

Originally published as HeroicStories #390 on Mar 10, 2003

13 thoughts on “The Pie”

  1. Thank you so much for publishing my story again. To give a brief follow-up: my parents died 12 days apart in 2007, and at the wake, I eulogized my mother with this story. Now I am teaching my own son and this most important lesson about cooking.

  2. This mum should get a medal for her kind and loving service. I can’t imagine cooking for so many people and still making note of one individual who needed her extra touch. God loves people like her extra special in my opinion. Bless her giving heart.

  3. I’ve seen that look of joy on the face of a party guest at our house. She had sent us email a good week before the party, letting us know all the foods she’s allergic to. She finished up the email with a comment that she did NOT expect us to accommodate, but just wanted us to know why she wouldn’t be eating anything when she got there. She simply didn’t want us to be insulted. When she arrived, my husband (the cook) walked her through the kitchen, pointing out all the things that she couldn’t eat — and all the things she *could* eat. He made certain that a reasonable number of foods were legal for her. The stunned joy on her face was wonderful! To this day, she adores coming to parties at our house.

    But we do this because we ourselves have dietary limitations. We have NO expectations that people will accommodate us, and we know how difficult it can be if you’re not familiar with cooking for folks with limited diets. We always celebrate anyone who is willing to take on the challenge! Bravo to Lori Ann’s mom for being one of those people.

  4. What an amazing woman: diligence and excellence without sacrificing being observant and kind. And at the same time able to teach these to her daughter? Wow. I’ve been in the boy’s shoes, because of gluten, not sugar, and I know how healing it is to be included. Thank you for this simple yet powerful lesson in how to be a blessing to others, with food and beyond.

  5. Would you please ask Lori Ann if I can have her permission to post this quotation in my classroom:
    “serving people is about meeting their needs, not your own.”

    And how shall I write the credits? With her name and Heroic Stories?
    Thank you.

    • By all means, please feel free to share that quote and anything else related to “The Pie.” This is a story written out of love and a desire to keep my parents’ lifelong lessons of giving going strong.

      I prefer that all three names be utilized: Lori Ann Curley, but if you use just my first name, then just use Lori. Think of it as an odd number of names for an odd person.

  6. I helped in the kitchen for a group event once, and made the baklava for dessert.
    I knew one of the high-ranking participants was diabetic, so asked her (ahead of time) what she’d like for dessert. She listed off a few things, almost like she didn’t really expect to be provided for.
    When dessert was served, the look on her face was priceless: jaw dropped, amazed, happy.
    All I’d done was give her a slice of angel food cake and arrange several kinds of colorful fruit on it so it looked nice.
    (This was also available to anyone else who asked for a diabetic-friendly dessert.)
    It didn’t take much effort, and the reward was great. She felt valued.

  7. A really GOOD story! I liked the write up, and especially the ending…. And I am glad at the comments. They made me feel good! THANKS! (I am diabetic, too!)

  8. Such a thoughtful, well-meaning gesture, and I’m sure appreciated by the young man.
    Unfortunately, sugar substitutes are Not the free pass some think. Research has found they ‘trick’ the body and still jack up blood sugar And can cause weight gain in those trying to lose weight. Plus, the chemicals in them can cause long-term problems.
    Other ingredients as well contribute to overall ‘sugar’ intake. Corn flakes are also loaded with sugar, even though not coated with it.
    Everything you eat turns into glucose for your body to use, actual sugar just does it quicker.
    I do appreciate the mother’s kindness and hope my information doesn’t detract from it. Just trying to use the opportunity as there is Much misinformation about diabetes and what people can eat.

    • Oh, I understand from where you’re coming. This story took place in the 1980s when the main sugar substitute was saccharin, and aspartame was just being introduced in gumballs.

      Now I am married to a wonderful man who happens to have diabetes, too; and I know the restrictions involved with his diet. The teenager in the story understood exactly what the pie contained and made his choice accordingly. He was delighted that someone would be so thoughtful.


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