"Turkey Pot Pie" by Terry Hertzler + A Pot Pie for Spring

"Time mutates memory."

"Time mutates memory." This truth anchors the final stanza and springs from the page like a kicked ball bouncing into the street before you have a chance to catch it. It serves as a reminder of how memory shapes us, comforts us, and in some cases, angers us, especially when two people remember the same experience very differently.

The poem begins by setting the scene for a date night gone sour, including roses, attending a movie, and eating dinner at a restaurant, but a moment during dinner triggered an argument. By the end of the evening, the flowers were placed in the garbage, never retrieved. The memory had "mutated" in the mind of each person involved. The speaker recalls eating turkey pot pie at Marie Callender's, his date insists they ate vegetable soup at Chili's. The poet may know the topic of the argument, but doesn't share it with us, emphasizing that the point of all this is not the subject matter, but how we communicate to each other.

Turkey Pot Pie

By Terry Hertzler

We remember it differently, she and I.
That night we ate at Marie Callender’s
before the movie, shared a turkey pot pie.
I gave her roses. Afterwards, we argued,
some feminist point with no connection
to plot or character. At home, I found
the flowers sitting in the garbage, buds
just beginning to bloom.

Actually, she insists, we ate at Chili’s
that night, southwestern vegetable soup,
and the movie represented a typical
patriarchal perspective, and she placed
the flowers in the trash out of frustration
with my thickheadedness, always planned
to retrieve them.

Proust had it right: time mutates memory.
And who knows whose memory most
accurately reflects our actions, recorded
in those slippery spaces between synapses.
I can still taste the crust of that pot pie,
soft crunch of carrots and peas, still smell
the elusive aroma of that evening, steam
rising as my fork punctured that thin shell
and everything escaped.

From Serving House Journal, Spring 2011. Reprinted with permission from the author.

There will be disagreements in any relationship. She wants the painting hung in the dining room, he prefers the hallway. She wants a navy pillow for the couch, he prefers brown. Trivial things, most of the time. But there are also fundamental disagreements, the kind where you might need to walk away and take a minute. Where you'll come to a resolution a day or two later, in the sunlight. Have you ever been angry with someone, then in hindsight realized you couldn't remember what it was you were arguing about, and that, in fact, you were angry about another topic entirely, perhaps something that had happened at work or last week, and just taking it out on them subconsciously? These are the things you work through, that when all the dust settles, will make your relationship stronger.

One thing is certain. The "crust of that pot pie" made an undeniable impression. Even in the pang of recalling this difficult memory, there is the "soft crunch of carrots and peas." In the final lines, I can't help but feel it was the poet's heart that was punctured like a fork into the crust, and the steam released between them at the table was just as hot as the intangible anger that rose to meet it.  

When the poet finds his flowers, his offering, in the garbage, the buds were "just beginning to bloom." There was hope that night. I believe there still is.

Chicken Pot Pie for Spring

I swapped the turkey in the poem for chicken breasts, and added asparagus for a decidedly spring approach to this pot pie. The drop biscuits are from Jennifer Perillo's new cookbook Homemade With Love, made savory with fresh parsley. To avoid dirtying too many dishes, I like to make the pie filling in a large cast iron pan and bake it in the same pot.

Serves 4

For the pot pie
2 chicken breasts
1 bunch asparagus, diced
4 carrots, peeled and diced
Extra virgin olive oil
1 brown onion, diced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup flour
4 cups chicken stock
2 cups frozen peas
1/4 cup chopped parsley

For the biscuits

2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cubed
1 1/4 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons chopped parsley

1. Coat the chicken breasts with oil, salt, and pepper, and roast in a 400 degree oven for about 30 minutes, or until cooked through. Let cool, then dice. Increase the oven temperature to 425 degrees.

2. Bring water to a boil in a large saute pan, then salt the water and cook the asparagus and carrots for 3-4 minutes, or until tender. Drain and set aside. (This can be done well in advance.)

3. In a 7-quart cast iron pan, heat a turn of oil over medium-low heat and add the onions. Cook for 3-5 minutes, or until translucent. Add the butter, and when it's melted, whisk in the flour. Cook for 1-2 minutes, then begin whisking in the chicken stock so that no lumps form. Raise the heat to medium-high, and when the gravy begins to lightly boil and thicken slightly, add the asparagus, carrots, peas, chicken, and parsley. Stir to combine, and season to taste. Cook for another few minutes, and turn off the heat once the gravy is sufficiently thick and stew-like.

4. To make the biscuits, add the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt to a large bowl. Scatter the butter over the dry ingredients, then use a pastry cutter to rub the butter together until you see pebble-sized pieces. Add the buttermilk and parsley, then stir with a wooden spoon just until the thick dough comes together and there are no traces of flour.

5. Use an ice cream scoop to place mounds of dough over the top of the filling. Begin with the outer layer and work your way in until most of the filling is covered. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until the filling is bubbling and the biscuits are golden brown.