At the dinner table my daughter asks, "Dad, when are you going to post something new?" I reply that nothing interesting has happened to me lately so I don't have anything to write about. "Write something about your wife's funny quirks," suggests my son. "Yeah," says my daughter, "write about how at the dinner table Mom always…"
"NO," interrupts My Favorite Wife, most emphatically. So I won't be writing about that. "Then write something about the Pfalz," says my daughter, referring to the Palatinate, the region in southwestern Germany where MFW grew up. It's a place famous for potatoes, white wine and an extremely rude-sounding and loudly spoken dialect that is largely incomprehensible to people from other parts of the country.
Hmm, I don't have a whole lot to go on here. A large part of what I've posted so far is driven by comparisons of peculiar American behavior vs. peculiar foreign behavior. It might be wearing a little thin for my loyal readership of at least two followers. (I've never had "followers" before. Now I have two, according to my blog page, which is a tremendous ego boost. I am trying to figure out how to transform them from "followers" into "minions" so I can get them to do my evil bidding.) So, lacking any other ideas, and wanting to get my kids off my back, I think I'll combine their suggestions into an "all of the above" approach and tell you a little story about pie.
For a number of years now, we have celebrated Thanksgiving at the house of some friends of ours. Not every year, but most. Besides us, there's a whole core of regulars who attend, consisting of their family and friends, with slight variations from year to year. It's a big group of people and there is a lot of food to be prepared. So the first time we went, MFW, who loves to bake, volunteered to bring a dessert, and she has done so every year since then.
Now I have to tell you something about the culture of baked goods in the Pfalz. By the way, for you Gringos out there, that's pronounced Pfaltz, with a "t" in it, to rhyme with "salts". As noted above, in English it's the "Palatinate", but that's a mouthful to say and a pain to type, so I'll just use the term "Pfalz". Incidentally, that's the High German name for the region; the local dialect doesn't know the "pf" sound, so the locals call it "die Palz", i.e., with just a "p" sound at the beginning. It seems that they weren't paying attention to something called the Second Sound Shift that occurred around 500 AD—they were probably too busy eating potatoes, drinking wine and yelling at each other to notice. Also incidentally, there's a town in New York called New Paltz that was founded in 1677 by people who emigrated from that part of Germany. Wait, what was I talking about? Oh yes, baked goods.
There is a whole culture of baking among the Hausfrauen of the Pfalz. I think this extends to some degree to the rest of the country, but it seems to be particularly pronounced where MFW comes from. In the Pfalz there is an unwritten law that every social event involving food must include vast quantities of cakes, pies and tortes, which will be collectively contributed by the women in attendance (baking apparently not being considered a manly pursuit). On the surface it's a friendly kind of thing, but in reality it's a cut-throat competition in which recognition is given for both quantity and quality.
Quality will be recognized by requests for the recipe for any well-received item. Unacceptable quality will result in the shame and humiliation of having most of your cake left on the tray for you to take home again. Consistent bad quality will subject you to the insulting behavior of MFW's aunt, a famously blunt person who is rude in a kind of charming way, a favorite family story about her being of her once having taken a piece of her own cake along on a social call after announcing that the baked goods proffered by the hostess on previous visits were of substandard quality ("Dere ihr Kuuche schmackt mer nit!").
Quantity will be recognized by, well, quantity. The prevailing standard, as nearly as I can tell, is that at any such gathering there must be at least one cake for every man, woman, child and dog in attendance.
The curious thing is that the cake is not eaten for dessert. Rather, it is part of Kaffee und Kuchen, which is the lead-off event at all of these gatherings, typically sometime in the early afternoon. Everyone drinks a few cups of coffee and eats eight or nine slices of cake. And then it's time for lunch. If you can only manage two helpings of the main course on top of all that coffee and cake, the hostess will assault you with the question, "What's wrong? You don't like it?"
Which brings us back to tonight's dessert, which will in fact be treated as dessert and not as a kind of auxiliary main course. I would not describe MFW as a Hausfrau, as she would probably do me an injury if I did, but one thing she did bring with her to the Land of the Free is the aforementioned Pfälzer Hausfrau baking aesthetic, in which "enough" is never enough and "way too much" will just barely suffice. She spent most of yesterday and much of this morning baking. I generally dread these baking sessions because she starts out with way too much ambition and way too little time. She of course means well, because she's just trying to make everything everyone likes, but she becomes totally stressed out trying to make the deadline and terrorizes the whole family as all other needs and priorities are sacrificed to the Imperative of Pie. We try not to take it personally, because we know that she is just following the ancient instructions that are encoded in her genes, not unlike the mysterious instincts that send the eels to the Sargasso Sea, but we're always glad when it's over.
Fortunately, this year was much better than most in the time department, so it wasn't the test of domestic tranquility that it has been in other years. And now I am looking forward to finishing my Thanksgiving dinner with an excellent piece of MFW's cherry pie that she made especially for me.
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