425: Paladins And Pie

on December 16, 2009 in Book 15

In Which A Classic Dish Is Mocked

Hazel loaded Ian and Two up with canvas shopping bags of cooking supplies she selected from her room, and then we all filed out of the room so that Honey could get her sleep. I hadn’t really noticed until she said something, but she did look to be in pretty bad shape. I couldn’t imagine how things must have unfolded for those in Harlowe when the murder was discovered… had everyone been roused out of their beds? But Honey had looked like she was suffering from more than a night of interrupted sleep.

“Is your cousin okay, Hazel?” Amaranth asked her once we were out in the hall.

“Don’t know,” Hazel said. “I really don’t. I hope so, though… I don’t know if I could stay on here if something happened to her.”

Oru and Shiel excused themselves and headed back to their own room. It still felt like we were the only ones on the floor… that was probably a fallacious assumption since it had felt that way when the three of us came upstairs, even though the gnomes’ room at the end of the hall had been full of people. It was just so quiet.

“It’s so still,” Amaranth said. “It’s never this quiet.”

“It is after midnight sometimes,” Two said. “And before the sun comes up.”

“Sunday mornings, maybe,” Ian said.

“There are kinds and kinds of quiet,” Hazel said. “This is the kind that ought to be filled, if respectfully.” She gestured to me. “Come along, then.”

“I’ll see you guys later,” Amaranth said. She gave me a quick kiss and a pat on the rear and then headed back for our room.

“Bye, Amaranth!” Two said as we headed towards the lounge.

“Bye, honey,” Amaranth replied.

“I suppose it wouldn’t suit her to mess about with butter and eggs,” Hazel said as Ian put his stuff down on the table. “Put that on the counter, if you please,” she said. “We’re going to need that space to work.”

“Oh, okay,” Ian said, and he moved it to alongside where Two had already put hers.

“I’m kind of surprised she’s gazing the ethernet,” I said. “She’s got to have books she could read if she’s bored… I mean, if nothing else I’ve got a bunch of history books out on my desk.”

“They’re not likely to have anything about your grandmother in them,” Ian said.

“What?” I said. “You really think she’s going to be looking up more stuff on my grandmother after I made it clear…”

“That you aren’t interested?” Ian said. “That’s probably why she wants to do it alone… she’s got to be curious.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s pretty damned interesting,” Ian said. “Hell, I’m interested… and not just because she’s your grandmother. It’s interesting.”

“What’s so interesting about her gran, then?” Hazel asked.

I would have told her “nothing, really,” but I was too slow.

Ian said, “She’s a famous… or once-famous, maybe… paladin, I guess.”

“I think ‘famous’ is maybe pushing it,” I said.

“She has a fan site,” Ian said.

“That means she has fans,” I said. “I mean, none of us had heard of her… I’ve only ever run into one person who has.”

“Then how did you not know?” Ian said.

“Have you met her?” Hazel asked. “She’s kind of oblivious.”

“Yes,” Two said, nodding. “Kind of oblivious.”

“Two, you don’t have to agree with everything your friend Hazel says,” I said.

“I don’t!” she said. “Only the things that are true.”

“What exactly is a paladin, anyway?” Hazel asked. “I’ve seen one, one time… we were going to dock on an island in the middle of the river but had to wait because there were some men there, one with a great big white horse and silver-white armor. I asked my mum if he was a knight and she said he was a paladin, and I asked her what that meant and she said she thought it was like a priest who blesses with his sword. They were checking the island for ghosts, if you can credit that… apparently the locals had reported odd lights and sounds, faint figures that vanished and reappeared. Daft, really. We stayed there all the time and never saw anything the like of that.”

“Yeah, basically they’re knights,” Ian said.

“They’re more than just knights… there are a lot more orders of knighthood than there are ones for paladins,” I said. “Paladins are supposed to be to Khersis… well, any god that wants armed champions, maybe… what knights were originally to lords. But even knightly orders that are devoted to a temple aren’t the same as paladins.”

“Oh, yeah, I’m not saying you don’t have to be pretty badass to be one,” Ian said. “And it seems like your grandmother was way more than qualified.”

“Oh? Bit of a scrapper?” Hazel said.

“Little bit,” Ian said.

“I really, really am getting sick of this topic,” I said.

“I come from some fairly impressive stock myself,” Hazel said. “My ancestors fought in wars in every shire they were driven out of.”

“They sound like real, uh, winners,” Ian said.

“Hey, they specialized in guerrilla tactics,” Hazel said. “Those don’t work if you’re fighting from a position of strength. They had to lose to win.”

“So, they won eventually?” Ian asked.

“Er, not as such, no,” Hazel said.

“The thing that’s really strange to me about her being a paladin,” I said, “is that she always made it pretty clear what she thought of the Imperium’s influence on religious affairs. She was just fine with the other way around, but she’d border on treason any time there was something in the news about official action involving a temple.”

“Are there any paladin orders left that aren’t under the Emperor?” Ian asked. “I thought Magisterion III pretty much consolidated all of them.”

“I think there might be some smaller holdouts… I know they didn’t all fold, he was satisfied to get the biggest ones,” I said. “But if any of the independent orders survived, I’m actually pretty sure the Imperial Dragons aren’t among them.”

“I thought you were sick of the topic,” Hazel said.

“I am!” I said. “I just… this is part of why it bothers me. It doesn’t make any sense to me.”

“Well…” Hazel said. “Granted that I don’t know your grandmother all that well, but I’d guess that she was a paladin before she was your grandmother.”

“Well, yeah,” I said.

“It seems just possible that a human might change her mind about something, given enough decades,” Hazel said.

“She was so passionate about it,” I said. “It was the only time I can remember her getting heated up about something… I mean, I saw her angry, but not like this. I can’t imagine she ever felt differently.”

“Well, maybe things are different for the tallfolk,” Hazel said. Her voice kind of quirked up on the first word, like a verbal shrug.

“What do you mean, different?” I asked.

“We’ve a saying: ‘there’s none more righteous than a reformed sinner’,” Hazel said. “It could be she’s done something she regrets.”

“She didn’t sound regretful… just angry,” I said.

“Maybe being angry at everyone else who are still in the wrong hurts less than admitting that she was one of them,” Hazel said.

“My grandmother can be pretty scary, but I have a hard time imagining her doing something she’d regret that much,” I said. “I mean, know she doesn’t regret the scary things she does now.”

“Uh… remember all that stuff about doing blackguard work in the Shift?” Ian asked.

“Ian, I know this probably just sounds like the same denials I’ve been giving, but… she really wasn’t there then,” I said. “The timeline doesn’t work out.”

“Maybe what you know is her cover story,” Ian said.

“Unless she coached my mother to lie about her childhood, I really don’t think so,” I said. “And I really can’t see that happening.”

“It seems to me that you can’t see any of this happening,” Hazel said.

“Trust me when I say that I know my own mother,” I said.

“Oh, well… of course,” Hazel said. “I didn’t mean to imply… sorry. Anyway, enough idle talk… we’ve got work to do.”

With that, she seemed to undergo a sort of transformation. I’d never seen her as business-like, as determined… grim, even… as she was once she decided that cooking was the thing to do. She told Two to take an inventory of anything she had on hand that would be useful. I expected Two to look confused or ask for clarification, but she just said “Okay!” and went off towards our room.

“Now, first thing we’re going to do is a pie,” Hazel said, climbing up on a chair. “I want to make more than one pie of course, but we’ve only the one oven up here, and one pie will be better than no pie for the purposes of drawing people in. Bring me the green bag, Ian, love?”

“Uh, okay,” Ian said. He grabbed it off the counter and swung it over to the table.

“Thank you. Alright, now,” she said, turning to me. She reached into the bag and pulled out a tube of soda crackers, a bag, a rolling pin, and a measuring cup. “We’ll start with the easy and fun part… I need you to crumble me up about two cups of these.”

“What, for the crust?” I asked, taking the crackers from her.

“No, I’ve got a pastry crust already made,” Hazel said. “I’ll show you how to make it sometime if you’d like, but one thing at a time. The crackers are the filling.”

“We’re making cracker pie?” I asked.

“Well, it’d be apple pie but we don’t have any apples,” she said.

“Yeah, but… surely you can come up with something better than crackers,” I said.

“Not if we want to make apple pie.”

“What?” I said. Ian snickered. I whirled around to face him. “What’s so funny?”

“Come on, Mackenzie,” he said. “A country girl like you has never heard of mock apple pie?”

“I’m not ‘country’,” I said. “I’m small town… and yeah, I’ve heard of it. I didn’t think it was made from crackers, though. I always figured it was made from… um…”

“What?” Ian said, smirking a little.

“Nothing,” I said, blushing.

“What were you going to say?”

“Fake apples,” I said. I looked at Hazel. “I told you I never really had anyone cook with me before.”

“I’m not laughing,” she said. “Anyway, I picked this because it’s a human recipe, something your mum might have known. We picked it up traveling the waterways. Break the crackers up a bit before you open them, then dump them directly into the bag and you can work on them with the rolling pin.”

I complied. It was kind of satisfying to squeeze the tube a little and feel the square crackers breaking beneath my fingers even as I felt awkward doing it. I tried sticking the end in the plastic bag before opening it, but I tore it too much and lost some of the contents, and then more when I tried to shake the rest out.

“It’s fine,” Hazel said. “I have more. I don’t know how many of these make a cup, anyway. Now, don’t powder them… we want it kind of coarse, for the texture.”

The rolling pin crumbled the remainder pretty quickly.

“So, what, do you flavor it with apple sauce or apple juice or something?” I asked.

“This might be hard to understand when you can get anything canned at the market, but this was invented because folks who didn’t have apples couldn’t get things made from apples, either,” Hazel said.

“So how do you make it taste like apples?” I asked.

“The power of suggestion,” Hazel said. “Don’t get ahead of yourself… we’ll get to it. That’s fine enough, dear, let’s see how much it is.”

I had to crush up more crackers to get the required amount, but I didn’t mind. It was satisfying, if slightly messy work.

“I think it’s a little under two cups,” I said, lifting up the cup towards my face to see for sure. “Should I do more?”

“You want to lower yourself towards the flat surface, not lift the cup off it,” Hazel said. “More accurate… and safer… that way.”

“Oh,” I said.

“Anyway, a little under’s fine,” she said. “This isn’t alchemy we’re doing. Some ratios are important… other ones you can fudge a little, at least when Two’s busy elsewhere. Not another word about the amount, now.”

I looked up automatically, out the glass wall. Two was heading back down the hallway.

“Okay,” I said. “Now what?”

Now it’s time for a little alchemy,” Hazel said. “We brew up the magic apple potion.”

She had Ian get her out a saucepan from another of the bags, and bring a blue one with a bag of sugar sticking out of it over to the table.

“Hello again,” Two said. She held up a notepad. “I have the inventory.”

“Good,” Hazel said. “Could you get me your own cups of water, love?”

“Okay!” Two said. She took another measuring cup over to the sink, and very quickly filled it up exactly to the two cup line, twisting the knob to slow the water as it approached the level and then cut it off when it reached it. She then set the cup down on the counter and lined her eyes up with it, scrutinizing it for a second before nodding.

“Right,” Hazel said. “Two’s the magic number,” she said to me. “That’s why this recipe’s so easy. Two cups water, two cups sugar, two tablespoons of lemon juice, two teaspoons of cream of tartar, a bit of zest from the lemon rind…”

“Where were people able to get lemons from if they couldn’t get apples?” I asked.

“That’s a modern innovation,” Hazel said. “Makes it taste a bit more fruity.”

“So why not just use apples?” I asked.

“More work to cut and peel apples than it is to cut and peal crackers,” Hazel said. “And I’m apt to eat apples that are sitting around. Not so with lemons.”

“I can tell who peeled the crackers,” Two said, wrinkling her nose at the crumbs on the table and floor.

“Be nice, love, it’s her first time,” Hazel said.

“It’s not her first time making a mess,” Two said.

“Well, my mother always said that if the gods give you a talent, you should use it,” Hazel said.

“I don’t think your mother was talking about messes,” Two said.

“In point of fact, she was,” Hazel said. “I was a fair bit of a hellion in the kitchen when I was younger. My first pie was a crime against nature.”

Hazel got to work assembling her “potion” in the saucepan, mixing the sugar and water and the powdery stuff she called cream.

“You bring it to a boil and then simmer to reduce it a bit, then flavor it with the lemon and let it cool down and get syrupy,” she said to me, handing it off to Two who put it on the stove.

I could see why Hazel preferred cooking with a partner in a human sized kitchen. I wondered how well the two of them would be able to work together in a gnomish-sized one. It seemed like no matter where they went, their efficiency would suffer… the thought made me sad.

“Is this really going to taste like apple, or is it going to taste like lemon-flavored crackers?” I asked.

“Well, you don’t put a lot of lemon in it,” Hazel said. “Just enough to give it a tart little bite. The cream of tartar reacts with the sugar, making it… fruitier, somehow, and the texture of it, once it’s had a chance to set, is very close. You put cinnamon, a little nutmeg, maybe a little brown sugar in it… those things don’t taste much like apples, mind you, but apple pie tastes like them. About ready there, Two?”

“Almost,” Two said.

“How long do you have to cook the syrup for?” I asked.

“Longer than she does,” Hazel said. “That girl’s magic in the kitchen.”

“Two is the magic number,” Two said. She lifted the pan off the stove, holding her hand over it. The steam coming from it disappeared.

“If you can’t do what she does, it’s about fifteen minutes to simmer and half an hour to cool,” Hazel said.

Hazel put some melted butter along with a brownish seasoning mix in the bottom of a pie crust and then had me dump the crackers on top. Two poured the mixture over the top of that, then Hazel sprinkled more of the butter and spices over it.

“That should do it,” Hazel said. “Now we cover it up to hide the shame of our counterfeiting and stick it where no one can see it for half an hour, and that’s all there is to it.”

“And it’s really going to be like eating an apple pie?” I asked.

“You’ve probably eaten it before and didn’t know it,” she told me.

“I doubt it, unless I was very young,” I said. “I don’t even really like apple pie.”

“Well, then, you’re in luck,” Hazel said. “Because it really isn’t apple pie.”


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3 Responses to “425: Paladins And Pie”

  1. pedestrian says:

    she said he was a paladin, and I asked her what that meant and she said she thought it was like a priest who blesses with his sword.

    “Two is the magic number,”

    “I don’t even really like apple pie.”

    “Well, then, you’re in luck,” Hazel said. “Because it really isn’t apple pie.”

    A.E., you have such magic with words.

    Current score: 7
  2. Pamela says:

    Thanks for the recipe.

    Current score: 4
  3. Jechtael says:

    “…odd lights and sounds, faint figures that vanished and reappeared. Daft, really. We stayed there all the time and never saw anything the like of that.”
    That’s like me deciding to become a hermit in a part of Africa untreaded by anyone not indigenous and being confused when a visitor tells me there have been stories of a pinkish-yellow ghost with hair like a waterfall of sandy clay of late.

    If blackguard are the same thing here as they were in D&D 3.5, I don’t see Blaise being one.

    Hazel’s so… homey, when she’s cooking. Less of a hellion, and more of a… mother? Something like that. Whatever it is, it’s nice on her. I know a lot of people don’t use scent memory as much as I do, and those who do have likely had different experiences, but Hazel in a normal chapter makes me think of sweet beer. Maybe mead, maybe apple-flavoured beer. In the kitchen, she reminds me of stone-cooked Italian loaf bread, fresh from the oven.

    “I don’t think your mother was talking about messes,” Two said.
    “In point of fact, she was,” Hazel said.”
    I hope I’m not the only one who read an entendre in there until Hazel clarified, that the “messes” were Hazel and whatever siblings she had XD

    Current score: 5