I was headed for Capitol Hill, in a rush, as is everyone who has business with Congress. As I walked up the escalator (like I said, everyone is in a faux-hurry in Washington), I almost tumbled into the person behind me.

What stopped me in my tracks was a beacon: A sign for Dangerously Delicious Pies. Amid the awful food court offerings in Union Station was a small stall that offered the thing-I-can’t-resist.

I quickly calibrated my Hill trip. Get my business over with, hie straight back to the DDP, and call it lunch.

After carefully considering the possibilities, I ordered a piece of strawberry-rhubarb pie. Warmed up? No thanks. A good pie stands up to room temperature. With whipped cream? NO. I might have succumbed to a quenelle of ice cream but whipped cream has no business topping a fruit pie.

I took my $6 slice to a nearby table and poised my fork.

It was heavenly. The fruit filling was amazing, the tart rhubarb softening the sweetness of small whole berries, held together with exactly the right ratio of fruity binding. Delicate crust. I savored every delicious bite.

Then I went up to the counter and told the two clerks that their pie was the best pie I’d ever had — outside my mother’s kitchen.

My mother, Mavis Marie Benner Johnson, is a pie queen. She claims she didn’t know how to cook as a newlywed bride, but along the way she learned how to make the best darned pie in the world. Her crust, flaky by the graces of pork lard, is legendary. Her command of the pie genre is without peer.

She is the reason one of my childhood nicknames was PieHead.Image

Cherry, apple, blueberry, rhubarb, peach, raspberries, rhubarb. Of those, her apple is my favorite, scented with a hint of cinnamon. And oh lord the cream pies: tart lemon meringue, pumpkin, chocolate cream, banana cream, coconut cream, butterscotch. I’m sure I’m forgetting some of her repertoire.

The Johnson children could always count on a pie for Sunday dinner. (This is one of the few times I ever wished there were fewer sibs – a pie split eight ways is a mere taste. We still fight over Mom’s pies when we get together. JJJ—get outta the way!)

My mother’s butterscotch pie remains my all-time favorite. Her recipe was passed down from her mother, from a 1950s cookbook. Once when we were home, she made it for my children. My son, Will, said the filling tickled his tummy. Exactly as it did when I was a child…and still does.

In tribute to my grandmother, Eva, and my mother, Mavis: queens for a day on Mother’s Day. I love you Mom.

Butterscotch Pie

1 cup brown sugar, packed                        3 eggs, separated

3 tablespoons flour                                     3 tablespoons butter

4½  teaspoons cornstarch                          ¾ teaspoon vanilla

½ teaspoon salt                                             baked pie shell

1 ½ c. scalded milk                                       whipped cream or meringue

Mix sugar, flour, cornstarch and salt thoroughly in top of double boiler. Add ¾ c. of the hot milk and stir over direct heat until smooth. Add remaining milk, then place over boiling water and cook, stirring frequently for 15 minutes. Beat egg yolks thoroughly. Stir in a little of the hot mixture, and pour back into the double boiler. Cook for 3 minutes longer, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, add butter and vanilla and stir until mixed. (optional: While mixture cools, beat egg whites until stiff and fold into the warm filling) Pour immediately into cooled pie shell. Either top with meringue and bake further, or serve with whipped cream with cool.

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening.

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