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At some magical point in time, as a number of little girls grow to be grandmothers, they seem to have acquired a keen sense of culinary physics, which instinctively allows them to know the exact point at which hot becomes - piping hot. Recognition of this sensory demarcation is not taught in schools. To my mind, the stories of the arrival of piping hotness reside not in roadside cafes or white tableclothed dining rooms, but solely within the confines of a grandmother’s kitchen.
The word “piping” is steeped in memories of sight and smell. The lowering of an oven door revealing a steaming side of tender roast beef laying in its’ own juices or the withdrawal of the cinnamon dusted crust of tonight’s apple pie. Its’ enough to fog-up your readers but what a delicious difference one word makes. As an adjective, it came into common use in the fourteenth century, the same period in which the followers of Jesus began to be called, among other things -- Christians. Though food right out of the oven has been served since the days of the Black Plague, caution should be taken. Consuming food or drink at brutal temperatures, can cause a scaring of the palette. Demonstrating once again, there is a fine line between pain and pleasure. As in life, tempering is required to appreciate that fine line.
If memory serves me right, well-designed grandmother kitchens usually come fully equipped with deep window sills which serve as a kind of purgatory or cooling off spot before dangerously hot foods can be safely consumed. This has become the traditional temporary home of a vast array of fruit pies. Picture gentle breezes rustling wide the buffalo red gingham cotton curtains on either side of the window frame. What has begun must not be rushed. As an experienced culinary chemist presides over the cooling, a nearby crowd has contracted a severe case of something dentists refer to as – “mouth-watering”, brought on by intense anticipation. Hypersalivation can be a problem. In some cases, a physician should be consulted.
No one wants their food or drink too hot or too cold. Piping hot is good old whistling heat. It’s molten steel before it becomes an I-beam. I like my I-beams cold and my pies warm. The bakers and cooks among us know the balancing act that takes place getting to the that sweet spot in the middle. The bite or swallow that offers a memorable taste, and possibly allows for a “Proustian moment”.
The pie’s creator has removed the delicacy from its’ window perch. A steely knife is drawn and wielded with care. Once seated, your mind is a racing jumble of excitement. You know what’s about to happen and you know it’s going to be good. Your senses are about to inhale decades, maybe centuries, of inherited talent with the undefined ability to discern hot from piping hot in two languages – Fahrenheit and Celsius.