Summary: While Hop Sing is away for a few days, Little Joe persuades Hoss to help with a surprise for their father and Adam.
Rating: K Word Count: 3695
Pie for Pa
“Aww, come on, Hoss! We can do it! You know how much Pa and Adam love apple pie!” Seven year-old Joe whined as the two brothers walked into the kitchen no more than five minutes after Ben and Adam had ridden out.
“I know how much YOU love apple pie, Little Joe, and I wanta be able ta sit down tomorrow. Pa left me in charge.” Twelve year-old Hoss squared his shoulders and put his hands on his hips. “And yur idea could get us both sent ta the barn for a ‘necessary talk’! ‘Sides, we got dishes ta do and then a tack room ta straighten up. R’member?”
“But there’s no cake or pie left, and Hop Sing won’t be back ‘til Sunday. Pa fixed stew for supper and put it in the oven. Stew and biscuits! That’s it.” Joe pulled a face. “Can’t eat that with no dessert and we gotta do dishes anyway. I watched Hop Sing make pie a bunch o’ times. It’s easy! Easy as — what’s that thing Pa says?” The animated young boy paused for a moment and then his green eyes lit up, “Oh, yeah, easy as falling off a log!” He shouted with glee and gave Hoss a satisfied grin.
The older boy scowled and shook his head. “Ya know ya ain’t ‘llowed ta use Hop Sing’s knives, r‘member?”
Joe rubbed his hand, remembering a previous misadventure that involved one of the Chinaman’s sharp knives. “Yeah, I know, but I can make the crust and you can peel the apples. How ‘bout that?”
“I ain’t never peeled no apples, little brother, and I really don’t wanta start now.” The hefty boy crossed his arms over his chubby middle.
“It’ll be a great surprise. You can do it. I know you can. You whittle stuff with your pocket knife all the time. Can’t be that much different.”
Hoss gave his younger brother a hard look. He had to admit that apple pie did sound really good and his father and older brother were out on the range and not due back until supper time.
Feeling as though he was looking into the eyes of a sad little puppy, Hoss relented. Oh alright! But ya gotta promise not ta do anythin’ crazy, ya hear!”
Joe’s head bobbed up and down. “I promise! It’s gonna be great! You’ll see!! Now, first thing get me that small bowl up there.” Joe pointed up to a shelf that was out of his reach. Taking the bowl from Hoss, Joe grabbed a coffee cup from the sideboard. “I’ll get some flour from the bin. You get the salt and the crock of lard.”
Hoss bit his lower lip. “I sure hope ya know what yur doin’.”
“Course, I do. Like I said, it’ll be easy.”
Hoss retrieved the salt and lard for Joe and placed them on the work table. Joe returned from the bin with the bowl half filled with flour and some in the coffee cup. He pulled a spoon and two table knives from the drawer in the sideboard. The youngest Cartwright paused after taking the lid off the crock of lard and gave his brother a frustrated look.
“Well, don’t just stand there. I know what I’m doing. Start peeling the apples.”
Hoss wagged his head back and forth. “Don’tcha get smart with me, Little Joe, cuz ya cain’t do this without me.”
“Sorry, Hoss, but we ain’t got all day. You need to get crackin’ on the apples!!” Joe scooped a big dollop of lard into the bowl of flour. He added a pinch of salt and then took the table knives and began working the lard into the flour like he had seen Hop Sing do on numerous occasions. “See, I told you I know how ta do this.”
“Yeah, yeah, but I ain’t seein’ no pie just yet, little brother.” Hoss fetched a basket of bright red apples from the sideboard. “How many of these do I gotta peel, anyway?”
Joe glanced at the apples. “How many are in the basket?”
Hoss did a quick count. “Looks like eight.”
“Hop Sing uses six, if they ain’t too small.” Joe continued to cut the lard into the flour.
“Six! I was hopin’ for two!!”
“That won’t make a very good pie. Come on, Hoss. If I can make the crust, you can peel six apples.”
“Alright! Alright! I’m a’peelin’!” Hoss opened the drawer where the sharp knives were kept and located a paring knife. He then went to work removing the skin from the first apple.
In the meantime, Joe set the table knives aside and got the pitcher of water that sat nearby. He poured a small amount of water into the bowl, but then more sloshed in, his small hands unable to control the large pitcher. Not sure what to do, he took the spoon and began to stir the flour into a sloppy dough. He stopped when he realized that things were not going well. He poured in some of the flour from the coffee cup that he had been going to use to roll out the pie dough and stirred again. Still not happy with how the dough looked, Joe dumped the remaining flour into the bowl. Stirring the contents of the bowl soon became much more difficult as the dough began to stiffen up. When a lot of flour and bits of dough flew out onto the table, Hoss took notice.
“Hey there! You’re makin’ a mess and we gotta clean all this up and get the dishes done b’fore Pa and Adam get home.”
“Making pie is messy. I’ll help clean up. Promise.”
Joe took the cup and retrieved some more flour from the bin and found the rolling pin. Sprinkling some flour onto the table, He emptied the bowl and patted the dough into a hard, ragged ball.
He had watched Hop Sing easily slice through dough with the relatively dull table knife, but Joe had to push down hard and the ball cracked apart unevenly. The boy took one of the pieces and grunted as he pressed down finding it difficult to flatten it the manner he had seen the family cook do.
Joe’s noises caused Hoss to lose focus on his task. “Ouch! Dad burn it! I got slits in my fingers from peelin’ these here apples. The inside o’ this pie is gonna be red from all my blood!”
“Let me see.” The smaller boy wiped his floury hands on his shirt and looked at Hoss’ outstretched hand. “It don’t look too bad. Keep working. Oh! I forgot! You gotta put the apples in a big bowl of water with a little vinegar. That way the apples won’t get all brown and yucky.”
“Vinegar? In apple pie?” Hoss scrunched up his face in disbelief.
“Yeah, that’s what Hop Sing does. I’m sure of it. You pour the water off when you’re done. Go on. I know ‘bout making pie.”
“Yep. I’m sure.” Joe gave his brother a definitive nod.
Hoss did as he was told and went back to peeling the remaining four apples as Joe began rolling out the dough. After a few minutes, the younger boy pushed away his golden brown curls that were sticking to his sweaty forehead with a flour-covered hand. Joe set the rolling pin aside and assessed the thick, irregular disk lying on the table in front of him. As much as he hated to admit it, he was going to need his brother’s help to get anything resembling a pie crust from the lump of dough that was turning into rock before his eyes.
“Are you ‘bout done with the apples?” Joe huffed. “I need some help.”
Hoss did a double take. “I thought ya said ya knew whatcha was doin’!”
“Don’t know what happened. It don’t ever look like this when Hop Sing does it.”
“Yeah, funny thing ‘bout that, huh? Probly shoulda never let myself get roped inta this mess.” Hoss muttered under his breath. “Hold on. I’m jest ‘bout done here.”
Minutes later, Hoss was using his brute strength to flatten the dough. However, when Joe attempted to fold it into quarters and place it in the pie pan, the dough cracked into four pieces.
“Now look whatcha done! I worked real hard and you broke it!” Hoss wiped his perspiring forehead with the back of his hand.
“Sorry! That never happens to Hop Sing. I’ll fix this while you roll out the top. Come on. Get busy!”
Hoss huffed and smacked the remained lump of dough in front of him and then went to work flattening it with a lot of grunting and groaning. Meanwhile, Joe arranged the pieces of the bottom crust in the pie pan and pressed them together to form a unit. “There. All fixed and you’re almost done.”
“Yeah, you better thank yur lucky stars I don’t take this rollin’ pin to yur backside when this is all done!”
“Hey! I’m working just as hard as you! Now we got to get the apples ready. See that bowl with the holes?” Joe pointed to a colander sitting on the sideboard. “I’ll hold that and you can pour the apples in it.”
Hoss dusted off his hands on his pants and picked up the bowl of cut apples. The boys stepped outside the kitchen door and dumped the apples into the strainer without losing any or soaking their feet.
“Ok, now you got to slice the apples and I’ll get the sugar and flour ready.”
“More cuttin’?” Hoss grimaced while complaining. “This is takin’ forever! Golly Little Joe, this better be the best dang pie in the world at this rate!”
“Just cut the apples and put them back in the bowl.”
Once Joe could see that his brother was back at work, the younger boy got a cup of sugar and a small amount of flour in two cups and then went to the knife drawer.
“Don’tcha be gettin’ in that drawer, Joe. Pa ‘ill have my hide iffin you get cut up!”
“I’m just looking for this metal thing Hop Sing uses for the cinnamon stick.”
“Metal thing? Cinnamon stick? Whatcha talkin’ ‘bout?”
“Hop Sing rubs a cinnamon stick on a piece of metal, you know, kinda like what you use on a horse’s hoof only littler.”
Hoss scrunched up his face. “Ya mean a rasp?’
“Yeah, like that. Here it is. I’m being real careful getting it out.” Joe removed a narrow rasp from the drawer and brought it to the work table. He pushed a chair over to a string of cinnamon sticks that were suspended from a hook in the ceiling and pulled one loose from its knot. After doing everything he could think of in preparation, Joe stood impatiently watching Hoss slice the last of the apples.
“Good! You’re done!”
“One thing’s fur sure, I’m gonna ‘ppreciate Hop Sing’s next pie a whole lot more!” Hoss wiped his hands on his pant legs. “Now what?”
“You do the cinnamon. Be careful! That thing is sharp. Hop Sing always has a little bit left. He puts it in his tea.”
While Joe poured the sugar and flour into the bowl and stirred the apples, Hoss worked on grating the cinnamon stick.
“Hey, that smells right good! See whatcha mean ‘bout bein’ careful. This rasp thing is sharp. There.” Hoss held up the remaining piece of the stick. “Think I best quit before I lose part of my finger.”
Joe took a table knife and pushed the ground cinnamon onto the blade and dumped it into the bowl and then took a pinch of salt and sprinkled it over the apples. Giving the contents a good mixing, the boy ran his finger around the side of the bowl and licked off the syrupy liquid.
“Mmmmm!! That’s good! Try it!” Joe smacked his lips.
Hoss pushed a chubby finger into the bowl and stuck it into his mouth. “Hey now! This may turn out better than I thought! I don’t know how you done it, but ya done a good job, Little Joe!”
Joe gave his brother a satisfied nod. “Ok you hold the bowl and I’ll spoon the apples into the crust.”
After arranging the mound of fruit and retrieving a few slices that had escaped, Joe licked off the spoon. Hoss went to work with two fingers cleaning out the residue in the bowl. A snap of his younger brother’s fingers caught him by surprise.
“I almost forgot about the butter. We got to put little bits of butter on the apples.”
Hoss shrugged and continued cleaning out the bowl while Joe went to get the small crock that held the butter. With a table knife, the boy dropped dabs of butter over the sweetened apples.”
“There. Now we’re ready. Think you better help me put the top on cause we don’t wanta fold it like we did the bottom part. That didn’t work at all!”
“Jest a minute. I ain’t done with the bowl yet.”
Joe put his hands on his hips. “Well hurry up! We got to get this pie into the oven!”
Hoss set the bowl aside. “All right. Let’s get this done. Ya better kinda slide your hands under it and then lift.”
Working together, the boys managed to get the crust over the apples.
“Now we got to push down around the edge like this.” However, cracks formed in the top crust when Joe pressed down attempting to seal the two layers together.
“Whatcha gonna do ‘bout that?” Hoss asked with a scowl.
“Maybe we can patch it. You need to cut around the pan and then I’ll do the fork thing.”
“The fork thing? What’s that?”
“I’ll show you, but you gotta do the cutting first.” Joe picked up the fork he had gotten earlier and waited for his brother to cut away the excess pie dough. Then he pushed the tines into the top layer around the edge of the pan. Taking some of the dough that had been cut off, Joe broke off pieces to plug the holes he had made in the top crust.
“Two more things, then we’re done.”
“Two more. What now?”
“You take the sharp knife and make a star in the middle.”
“Make a star?”
“Yeah, four times. Here, here, here, and here.” Joe pointed. “Looks like a star when Hop Sing does it.”
“All right.” Hoss took the knife and did as Joe had instructed.
“Now we do the egg.”
“Yeah, egg.” Joe went to the basket on the sideboard and brought back one egg. “You ever crack an egg?”
“Me? No. You?”
“Nah, Hop Sing don’t let me do it, but it can’t be that hard.”
Joe smacked the egg on the coffee cup causing the white to leak out and run down the side. He pushed his thumbs into the crack; the broken yolk, white, and some shell fell into the cup. After several tries at removing the piece of shell, the boy gave up and took the fork and whisked the egg.
“Can you pour a little milk into the cup. I might get too much. Hop Sing only puts a little with the egg.”
“Egg, milk. Anything else ya need? Seems like we’re never gonna be done!”
“This is it. I promise!”
Hoss brought the pitcher of milk and poured a small amount into the beaten egg. Joe gave it another stir and then smeared the mixture over the crust.
“Now we’re done! You can put it in the oven with the stew.”
Hoss opened the oven door and slid the pie pan in beside the pot of stew.
Hours later, Adam entered the house ahead of his father, ready for a hot meal.
“Hope those biscuits don’t take too long, Pa, I’m starved.” Adam’s voice trailed away and he side-eyed his father. There was an unmistakable fragrance of apples and cinnamon in the air.
Ben gave his oldest a glance when he observed that the table was set and the living room vacant. “Hop Sing? Boys?”
Hoss and Joe soon appeared at the top of the stairs. “Oh hi, Pa! Adam!” We were just cleaning our rooms.” Little Joe offered his father and oldest brother a wide grin and enthusiastic nod.
Adam removed his holster and set it on the credenza. “Cleaning your rooms? You two feeling ok?”
Hoss and Joe trotted down the stairs and were trying not to show how much they were bracing themselves for a reprimand from their father.
Ben gave his younger sons a skeptical look. “I’m glad to see that the house is still standing. Is Hop Sing back? If I didn’t know better, I’d say someone baked apple pie.”
Hoss tucked his thumbs into his belt in an attempt to look older than twelve. “No, Pa. Hop Sing ain’t back. He’s comin’ back on Sunday. R’member?”
“That’s what I thought. And the pie?” Ben pressed.
Joe couldn’t contain his excitement. “We wanted to surprise you, Pa, cause we know how much you like apple pie!”
Ben frowned at his younger sons. “I thought you two understood the rules about messing around in the kitchen.”
“We did the dishes and cleaned everything up! Come see! And we were real careful. I didn’t touch any sharp knives! Hoss did all the cutting. Promise!” Joe’s face was solemn.
“Yeah, Pa, we was real careful and we done all the jobs you told us ta do.” Hoss added, resisting the urge to rub the tiny slits in his fingers left from peeling apples.
Though he was not happy that his sons had broken one of his rules, Ben had to admit that it did appear that Hoss and Joe had been responsible in doing his list of chores. He had checked the tack room before coming into the house and found things in good order.
Ben turned to hang up his hat and place his gun belt on the credenza. “Well now, let’s all go have a look at the kitchen.”
Hoss and Joe fell dutifully in line and followed their father into the kitchen with Adam bringing up the rear. Ben took a good look around. Everything looked as it should and the pie in question sat under a towel on the sideboard. He lifted the towel and had to work to suppress a smile. Though the top crust was oddly misshapen and patched together, the pie looked only slightly over-baked and still edible.
Ben dropped the corner of the towel before a very curious Adam got a good look at the pie. He reached out and placed a hand on his younger sons’ shoulders. “Maybe I have underestimated you boys. You’ve been busy today and done a good job. Run on and get washed up for dinner. Should be ready in about thirty minutes.”
Joe was beaming up at his father while his brother’s smile seemed less certain. Ben’s sons disappeared to their rooms to clean up as their father began preparing the biscuits. Though it seemed like an eternity to Joe, supper was soon on the table. He struggled to eat his small serving of stew and managed one biscuit. Practically bouncing in his chair with eager anticipation, he watched his father and oldest brother clear their plates. Joe was about to ask to be excused to get the pie when Adam took a second helping of stew while shooting a smirk in his youngest brother’s direction. Joe frowned and took another biscuit. He ate a few bites just to pass the time. Finally, he was given permission to bring out the apple pie. Ben cut and served it with some difficulty because the crust broke apart. Joe observed his father and brothers anxiously as they took their first bites.
Years later, three Cartwrights were sitting around the kitchen table enjoying a freshly baked apple pie. Hop Sing stood nearby with the coffee pot in hand ready to top off Ben and Joe’s cups and kept a watchful eye on Jamie’s glass of milk.
“I’ll never forget the looks on your faces when you, Adam, and Hoss bit into your pie. Adam said it was kind of like eating apples and hard tack.” There were chuckles all around the table and Hop Sing nodded, unsurprised by that fact. “But you tried hard, Pa, to make the best of it because you could tell how hard we had tried to please you.”
“Yes, as I remember the apple filling tasted amazingly similar to Hop Sing’s.” Ben held up his fork and then took a bite of pie. “You had obviously paid close attention and had a good teacher.” Hop Sing smiled at Ben’s compliment.
“Well, that was the one and only pie we ever made. Hoss wanted no part of it ever again. He only wanted Hop Sing’s pies.” Joe eyed the half of the pie still sitting in the pan in front of them and let out a heavy sigh. “I’d give anything to be fending him off from the rest of this pie.” Joe dabbed at his damp eyes with his shirt sleeve. “God, I miss him so much.”
Jamie’s chin dropped to his chest and Hop Sing turned his focus to the stove, both unable to deal with the sudden sadness that filled the room. Placing one hand first on Joe’s shoulder and the other on Jamie’s arm that was resting on the table, Ben spoke through his tears.
“I miss him, too. We all do.” Joe and Jamie took in their father’s loving expression. “But I want you know that I’m thankful for all of my sons”, Ben paused and looked over to Hop Sing, “and for a good friend of many years. I’m so happy that we have each other. Hoss wouldn’t want us to be sad, but to remember him with laughter and fond memories.”
The Cartwrights finished their dessert in relative quiet as they pondered the blessings of family and friends and a brother and son who had filled their lives with joy and love.