A Slice of Passive Aggressive Pie

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A Slice of Passive Aggressive Pie

By Andrea Goto

Each summer my husband and I flee to the Pacific Northwest and escape the swampy Savannah heat. We spend those three months living with my in-laws. So I decide I’ll do something nice in return for my mother-in-law.

Before you award me the Medal of Honor (which I deserve), you have to know that I adore my in-laws. And I’m not just saying that because they might read this (they think a megabyte is when you use the big spoon). What could be better than a mother-in-law who insists that my husband buy me jewelry for every holiday and considers green Jell-O a salad? But there is a learning curve; one I’m still learning to negotiate, especially when it comes to food and Christmas.

It’s only July and my mother-in-law is already spray-painting ornaments for her seashell-themed Christmas tree. It will be complete—and up—by Labor Day. One Christmas I painstakingly wrapped presents in a tapestry of fun-loving paper—Elmo for my daughter and Batman for my husband—and proudly placed them under her tree. A few hours later I discovered that they had been replaced by gifts elegantly wrapped in gold paper and silver ribbon to match the tree.

“Where are the presents I wrapped?”

“Oh, I just rearranged things a bit,” she replied, sweetly.

I went in for a closer look.

“They’re all stuffed in the back,” I said.

“They are?” she singsongs.

“Under the tree skirt.”

It’s the same with cooking. My mother-in-law eats cookies only if they’re burnt around the edges, hamburger once it’s been transformed into a hockey puck, and a baked chicken if it’s cooked long enough that the chest cavity has sunken in and the legs have fallen off entirely.  Canned green beans must boil on the stove for an hour. Needless to say, she likes her food her way—in all its mummified glory.

Surely after 15 years I’ve learned enough to shrivel a pork loin to my mother-in-law’s liking. And when I come across Paula’s Tomato Pie recipe, I think I’ve hit gold. I’ve never heard of the stuff but my mother-in-law loves tomatoes. And she loves pie. It’s a win-win scenario.

The recipe seems altogether foolproof, with one exception: peeling the tomatoes. I begin with a vegetable peeler and end up with a scene right out of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” I’m surrounded by tomato carnage. There’s nothing of substance left to slice. So I do what any good Gen-Xer would do: I Google it. Which brings me to this thing called “blanching.” Before now, the only “blanch” I knew was that saucy minx from “The Golden Girls.” But armed with my Wiki-wisdom (and four new tomatoes), I’m peeling as fast as fruit leather at a daycare.

When my mother-in-law comes home from work to discover that I’ve made dinner, she is surprised—and a little bit frightened. She would never admit to her fear, but I’ve learned to read between her passive-aggressive lines. So when she asks, “How long has it been cooking?” I know she’s insinuating it’s raw. And “Can I see the recipe?” means she thinks I’m poisoning her.

I steer her to the table and present my tomato pie. It looks—brace yourself—pretty darn good.

After the first bite, I realize that tomato pie might be like fried okra: you like it if you grew up eating it. That, and I didn’t cook it long enough. The grated cheese floats around all lumpy-like in the mayo that’s still on the cool side. My mother-in-law flicks her slice around the plate and then announces, “I really like the crust.”

“Yes, the pre-made crust that I didn’t make is quite good.”

A lesser daughter-in-law would take this as another passive-aggressive stab. But not me. I just consider her comment an attempt to find the little proverbial diamond in the undercooked pie, and I think of the real diamond she’ll instruct my husband to buy for my upcoming birthday.

Andrea Goto lives and writes in Savannah, Georgia. Her kitchen experiments (known as “cooking” in more conventional homes) most often end with a mushroom cloud of smoke or a call to Poison Control. In spite of this, she’s deeply loved by her husband who prefers neon-colored cereals to all foods homemade, and her 3-year-old daughter who will eat almost anything, as long as you call it “chicken". For more info on Andrea please visit her blog at www.andreagoto.com.

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Reader Comments:

ps I’ve never heard of tomato pie,I’ve had green tomato mincemeat cake it is awesome…& we like fried green tomatoes, tomato gravy… love tomatoes got to try your pie recipe:)

By DEBORAH DALTON on July 19, 2010

we grill a lot but like fried pork chops,chicken,& fish..unfortunately do not own a out door deep fry cooker.so I fry on stove top do not like the greasy meat smell after cooking… to cover or freshen air after cooking…I use candles,spices in boiling water,the hood exhaust fan ,a wet towel to fan around over head LOL I heard the towel catches the grease in the air,or I bake something sweet all of the above helps but is there a better solution? please let me know asap thanks

By Deborah Dalton on July 19, 2010

Before Food TV and Paula’s Home Cooking - that
was me.  Coming from a long line of “make from scratch” Southern cooks, I hated the kitchen until I started watching the network and Paula.  At 50, I read recipe books like a novel before they go to the cookbook shelf.  My Mom’s Recipe Book was published in 1939, and still in tact.  Thank God I have learned what true treasures are.

By dewanna allgood on July 09, 2010

I love this artical.Yes I do have a mother-in-law like that. I love her so. But when it comes to house,and food, ay ya-ya.Now when she comes, I make her son cook, no complains there.And she feels so special. and I get a bit of a vacation in one.

By Analilia Anaya on July 09, 2010

This was just hilarious..Paula Deen your the tops..I just love you..smile <3

By Marsha on July 09, 2010

I’ve seen Tomato Pies, but never tried them. I’m going to click on recipe now. I just happen to have maters on my kitchen table.
And I LOVE Paula Deen.

By Mildred on July 09, 2010

Hi Paula, your mother-in-law cooks her food the way i like mine.my pork steak has to be burnt and my cooking have to be burnt around the edges also or i wont eat them.I lke my food well done.and canned vegetables i always cook for an hour.and i got to have lard or butter to cook with..love your shows.

By Sandra Anderson on July 09, 2010

When I was married it wasn’t my mother-in-law it was my grandmother-in-law.  Oh she hated me.  It our wedding pictures, everyone was all dressed to the nines and looked beautiful, that is until that woman got in the picture.  She had on some kind of God-awful dress and a hot pink cotton sweater…yes, a hot pink cotton very old lady looking sweater!  I think my dear Mother-in-law who was her daughter-in-law jumped for joy when the old bat finally died!  She lived to be somethin’ like 90 and I always thought she wouldn’t die because nobody in Heaven wanted her and the Devil was scared of her.

By Lisa G. Wilkins on July 09, 2010

I have in-laws as well who didnt grow up eating anything that wasnt cooked ALL day and a click off shoe leather.  Sometimes, that home cooking is tasty, but it is often colorless, and by that I mean food that is baked COVERED and not allowed to brown with ingredients that are white, yellow and maybe green.  I often hear “its not YOUR kind of cooking Shonna”.  And by that I interpret “food with color, layered flavors and still recognizable as some form of whole food.  LOL Gotta love your family!

By Shonna on July 09, 2010

I love your shows. I have Lupus and cant do very much. The one thing I can and love to do is cook. Thank you so much for all you do.You always keep me smiling. Could you send me the Tomato pie reciepe? Keep doing all the good things you do.

By Tina Franks on July 09, 2010

Carol,  you mean to say that pasta with a can of tomato sauce ISN’T spaghetti? I’ve been tricked!

Teirre and I could cook together any ol’ time. At least it wouldn’t take us very long :D.

By The Culinary Coward on July 08, 2010

ha-ha! Boy, I can totally relate to this because of the first time I made tomato pie! Definitely looked better than it tasted! This really made me laugh especially about the mayo. Yeppa, been there!

By DEBBIE on July 07, 2010

I absolutely loved the article!!!I could be the mother-in-law who had a bad experience with E-Coli, so maybe that’s why the mother-in-law wants to cook everything “to death” as my family says.  Honey, she is not being critical, just afraid her loved ones might get sick from undercooked food.  I think she is really looking out for you, but you may not realize that, other than the diamonds!  LOL

By Gail on July 06, 2010

This sounds like my sister in law Teirre yeah terry, the french have to be different.
she thinks spaghetti is paSTA WITH A CAN OF TOMATO SAUCE,YUK When she saw what I was cooking and I said spaghetti sauce she almost fainted and said but that takes more than 20min.And they say people from New Orleans are great cooks,well not her!

By carol cutrer on July 06, 2010

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