It took decades of intense study, trial and error, bitter defeats, and missing the mark by just that much but, I’ve finally got it right. My joy knows no bounds. Last night in the Doc South test kitchens, I created a perfect Shepard’s Pie. Yes, angels sang near the toaster oven, as I spooned that most delicious and perfect of winter meals out of the pan and into my family soup bowl. I could almost hear my sainted Mom cheering from her heavenly home as I took the first bite. I truly re-created her treasured delight.
Back when Mom walked among us, she would often, in winter, make Shepard’s Pie in 55 gallon drums. That would almost be enough for one dinner in our house. With my brother Ed and me and our father, the feeding frenzy for Shepard’s Pie might last well past midnight. Humpback whales feeding on entire schools of herring had nothing on us. There was never a drop left for the next day.
Mom once called me to her side and behind shuttered windows and locked doors guided me down the path to true Shepard’s Pie enlightenment. I studied hard and learned well. I can’t tell you how many pounds of hamburger had to be discarded and used for lowly meatloaf or sloppy joe because of my early foolish moves. But in time I learned well.
The big trial came for me one day when I came home from high school and saw Mom waiting in the kitchen. I never saw her face so serious. She made me kneel before her and raise my left hand. I did as she commanded. She told me it was time for the final challenge. A tear of joy trickled down her cheek as she handed me her wooden spoon. With the spoon now in my hand, she commanded me to make a Shepard’s Pie for tonight’s family supper. I had one hour. If the family ate it all, the spoon was mine.
I jumped to my feet. Saluted and bowed. Then, I ran to the sink and started peeling potatoes according to ancient dictates. Friends it was all a blur of corn and peas. Traditional spices, flying and wafting in the air. Ground chuck sizzling to just the right shade of brown. All the time, Mom stood off in the corner with her arms folded watching my every move in silence. I never felt more alive.
My Shepard’s Pie was completed with thirty seconds left to go. Mom called to my brother Ed who was watching cartoons. My father slurped the last swig of his beer. The family came in silence to the table and sat down. This was it.
My father and brother each sniffed the air as the Pie I made came out of the oven. I looked for subtle changes in their expressions as the pie was placed on the center of the table. I noticed a very slight smile come over my fathers face. He approved of the aroma. My brother Ed grabbed his favorite spoon and held it in his fist. Both my brother and father were hunched over the pie. Their eyes were glazing over. Suddenly, there was a spoon flashed by me like lightening. Then another flash of another spoon. The frenzy started. It looked like my brother and father were in the middle of this wildly spinning propeller. My Shepard’s Pie was a hit. There wasn’t going to be room for desert. You could actually see the pie level dropping like bathwater out of a tub. Mom was smiling and crying at the same time. I don’t think I’ve ever been prouder of anything I’ve done as I was that great and wonderful evening.
From that day on, every now and then, Mom would let me knock out a Shepard’s Pie for the family. She’d say she had a headache and asked if would I make dinner. I’d say sure. Of course, she was just fine. She just wanted to keep my skills sharp.
One sad day Mom passed away. It broke our hearts of course. But, in time, the memory of her life with us became almost like she was still here. Memories can be very solid if you wish them to be so. For awhile, I didn’t make Shepard’s pie anymore. I’d get kind of choked up trying to eat it. I’d remember mom in the kitchen sitting in her chair playing solitaire as I peeled potatoes. For some reason, I just couldn’t go on. I’d use the potatoes for home fries and maybe make myself a hamburger. Shepard’s Pie was out.
Then one day I was making toast, when I thought I heard mom’s voice in my head. I think it really was her. She was a bit mad at me. “When are you going to make another Shepard’s Pie?” You love Shepard’s Pie!” I didn’t dare interrupt her. “Why are you being so stupid? Get busy and make that one meal you really love. No, I’m not going to tell you how to make it. You’re on your own now. It’ll be good for you to have to figure it out again. It’ll keep you out of trouble.. Don’t let me catch you buying a frozen Shepard’s pie either there mister.” You get the idea. Mom was on a roll. My ears still hurt.
Well, that was about two years ago now and I’ve been trying to make the perfect Shepard’s Pie since then. All attempts we’re dismal failures. Oh, what ever I made was edible I guess. But, it wasn’t perfect. That’s for sure. I guess I had to re-walk the path to pay for my slacking off. It took many nights of countless potatoes peeled and hamburger fried. Each time, I hoped that I finally had it right. Some how, there was a secret ingredient that I was overlooking. There was so much disappointment coming my way but, I had to keep going.
Funny, but just on a whim, I was walking up one of the aisles at the A&P when Mom’s voice came to me again. She hollered at me to stop and look to the left and, there it was at eye level for a dollar ninety nine, the lost ingredient. I remember saying to myself, ” Now I remember, there it is. Yes!!”
With joy in my heart and very soul, I snagged that item and drove home as fast as I could. The pie went together in record time. I could hardly wait for it to be done. Oh, when it was finally ready, I can’t describe the joy I felt. My wife Sandy said that I looked like a chipmunk with all I had in my mouth but, I didn’t care. The riddle of Shepard’s Pie is now solved. Life is good.
I can only tell you the ingredients for a proper Shepard’s Pie. You must, travel your own path for it’s actual creation. Here’s what you will need. Amounts are up to you. Hamburger, potatoes, milk, butter, salt, pepper, gravy, peas, corn, onion. Enjoy your journey Grasshopper.