Ian McMillan: Choices add up to a tricky way to calculate the value of pie...

  • I know that the pie will be lovely, but I’m faced with so many possibilities of what to have with it, like a singer trying to decide between a guitar, an accordion, a banjo or a mouth organ to accompany their song.
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Modern Yorkshire life is so full of choices, isn’t it, and the choices seem to multiply every day until, despite all your best efforts, you become overwhelmed and your boilers start to shut down and you just sit there shrugging your shoulders because you can’t work out which choice to make, which turn to take at the (metaphorical) fork in the road.

Take me, at this very moment. Take this lovely slice of my mother-in-law’s beautiful apple and blackberry pie, gleaming with promise. I know that the pie will be lovely, but I’m faced with so many possibilities of what to have with it, like a singer trying to decide between a guitar, an accordion, a banjo or a mouth organ to accompany their song.

I could have the pie on its own, of course. I could have pie with ice-cream. Or double cream. Or what we’ve always called squirty cream because it squirts from the tube. Or custard. Or Carnation milk. Or a combination of some or all of the above. I realise that this is a great problem to have, and I should be grateful for having it, but none of that really helps. The apple and blackberry pie isn’t helping, either; it’s just sitting there looking beautiful.

I think, given that it’s quite a warm day, I’ll have the pie with ice cream; the cold rush of the ice cream against my mouth will offset the crust and the fruit in a way that would make a celebrity chef slap me on the back with his floury hands. It will make me think that summer’s not really over, that it’s June rather than September. And, of course, I could lick the bowl afterwards.

On the other hand, one of the great joys of my childhood was pie with Carnation Milk; the way the milk would teem out of the tin onto the pie, soaking the crust and making it soft and malleable. The way I would pretend that my hand slipped and so more Carnation than I actually needed would cascade into the bowl. The industrial-strength sweetness of the milk.

Squirty cream, though. Squirty cream. The squoooshing sound as it leaves the container. The way that you can make patterns with it all over the pie. The way that you can get just that little bit too enthusiastic and get squirty cream all over the tablecloth. The way that when nobody’s looking you can squirt cream straight into your mouth.

How about the double cream, though? The carton of double cream from the Fairly Posh Shop? You open it and it’s thick, like sublime glue. That would be the top-drawer pie accompaniment.

Unless you choose custard. That might be better: good old custard, the childhood comfort food that never quits. Pie and custard: now, what could be better than that? Well…

And here I am, the pie on the table and all the creams and the milk and the custard circling the pie like wagons around a watering hole in a western.

There’s only one solution, of course, one real, tried and tested, uniquely Yorkshire solution. Wensleydale cheese! Apple and blackberry pie and Wensleydale cheese. Perfection. With a bit of custard on top. And a squirt of squirty cream. Just a squirt.