Every August, the Kansas heat ceases to be punishing heat and becomes cruelly disciplined heat. That is our signal to escape. We flee by driving straight through an Iowa haze, further north by the hour, looking for a lake. When we finally stop in Duluth, Minnesota, we cross a bridge that skims the long blue curve of Lake Superior, and I can taste the woods. I remember what it means to like summer.
We will spend the night there, happy to swim, eat fudge, and watch the aerial bridge rise and fall in the dark. The next morning we’ll take off on Highway 61 for a three-hour drive to the northern lodge we love, and on the way up, passing fish stands and agate shops, we’ll roll through Two Harbors and stop at Betty’s Pies.
We share the Betty’s tradition with thousands of families, fishermen, leaf-peepers, canoers, kayakers, truck drivers and rock hounds. They all love Minnesota, they all love pie, and since 1958 they’ve sat at Betty’s counter for slices of Lemon Angel, 5-Layer Butterscotch, and Bumble Berry.
Now I am a most dedicated pie eater. But the slices are huge, and often follow a late Betty’s breakfast of scrambled eggs, thick ham, and fresh-baked raisin rye toast. I think of the miles ahead; I check my purse for Maalox. I look at the daily pie board before breakfast, weigh the consequences, and decide.
But my daughter – well, Josie has jackrabbit metabolism and her father’s iron stomach. It seems impossible, but we created an even more devout servant of the pie than me. At Betty’s, the screen door slams behind her and I yell, “Wait, look at the lake!” But she is already inside, scanning the board for raspberry, huckleberry, every berry.
At the table, I encourage a split – come on, the slices are so big - until she gives in, sulking. After that, each bite is watched, and the forks move fast. This much-hated splitting makes me the pie Scrooge every time.
Except one time.
I’d been hearing some vague backseat crabbiness since we packed up and left Duluth that morning. I’m bored, I’m hungry, I’m hot. I’m cold, I’m bored, I’m sitting on something. I flicked my eyes up from my book. Greg was staring at the road, he’d heard nothing. I’m sitting on something.
“No, you’re not.” I kept reading.
“I am sitting on something. I am sitting on something and it’s bothering me.” Now she was a faint buzz.
“No, you are not.”
This went on. Sitting, bothering, blah blah blah. Now and then I’d humor her.
“Maybe it’s a ponytail holder.” No. “An eraser.” No. Now crabbing in earnest, she says it feels like a rock. Bothering me!
Then, silence. “I got it.” Whew!
“It looks like a diamond.”
Mm hm. Boy, the trees are tall. Greg, still in highway hypnosis.
She keeps at it. “It looks like…I think it’s a diamond.”
“Mm. A diamond, under your shorts. Whatever.”
I thought nothing of it for exactly six more minutes – and then a wild thought told me to look at my hand. Wedding band – check. Engagement ring –
I whipped off my seat belt and spun around. On my finger, the engagement ring I’d worn since 1992 sat prongless and empty – but in Josie’s little palm, glinting with cartoon sunlight, was my diamond.
“It was a diamond, it was a diamond, I TOLD you.” And it was. Somewhere between Lawrence, Kansas and Duluth, Minnesota, the little rock had taken a tumble. It could have been on the highway, under the wheels, or at the bottom of a rest stop toilet, but it was in my daughter’s vindicated, beaming hand.
I was so happy. So happy that something unpleasant, something I didn’t even know had happened – a weeper, an insurance hassle and almost certainly a vacation-ruiner – was already solved. We were all three smiling and gaping at the tiny miracle of Josie sitting on a diamond.
I tucked it into a zipped pocket of my makeup bag, which I never touch by the lake. It would sit there safe, and all week I was nervous, like a jewel thief with a secret – but we had a bang-up time, starting right after the incident with a stop at Betty’s Pies.
Josie’s reward was humble, but divine – her very own, no-split, enormous piece of Bumble Berry. That’s Betty’s special four-berry mix, a juicy heap under flaky crust. Such a small prize – but who doesn’t love the halo of good deeds, the thrill of being right, and a great big piece of lakeside pie?
Bumble Berry Pie
from The Original Betty’s Pies Favorite Recipes Cookbook
pie dough, enough for a 10-inch two-crust pie
1 cup blueberries
1 cup blackberries
1 cup raspberries
1 cup strawberries
1 cup sugar
5 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons corn starch
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Preheat oven to 375 F.
Line a 10-inch pie pan with your favorite pie dough.
(This one – from La Martha – is a classic, and works beautifully for fruit pies.)
Combine the sugar, flour, corn starch and cinnamon, and mix well. Lightly mix in the fresh fruit and pour into the pie shell.
Dot with butter and cover with a top crust. Prick the crust and sprinkle with sugar.
Bake for about 50 minutes in a regular oven, about 35 in a convection oven; until juices are thick and bubbling from golden crust.