(123-01-20) On the Origins of Pie
On the Origins of Pie
Summary: Morning in the Shambles. The butcher's mother pays a call upon the baker's wife.
Date: 20/01/2016
Related: None

The warmer weather results in the windows and doors to the bakery being cast open to try to relieve the extreme heat. Even the storefront with its' thick stone walls remains a bit warm, so the mistress of the bakery hangs closer to the doors at the street to try to keep cool. Her linen gown has the sleeves pulled back and tied and her chemise is rolled to the elbows. Audra fans herself with her hand lazily as she watches the crowds wind through the Shambles, occasionally hawking her husband's bread for the supper-table.

From across the narrow street and down, at a distance of hardly five feet from the ground, a luridly green headscarf bobs its way along. It pauses now and then to yield the way or to speak a greeting; soon the figure beneath it resolves into the familiar small scrawny form of Mistress Esme from the butchery, wearing a dress striped in burnt orange and a different shade of green, bearing in her arms a bundle which consists, as do so many which come into the bakehouse, of a full pie-tin wrapped in a clean linen cloth.

"Good morning, Mistress Audra," she utters with a courteous nod of her head, her accent resolutely lower-middle-class and with perhaps just a tinge of King's Landing beneath decades of Oldtown and the Shambles. "If your ovens aren't too full at this hour I've a steak and kidney — for my son's dinner, or his supper if there's nothing else for it." She accompanies her words with a rueful smile, acknowledging that some days one is simply rushed off one's feet. But then, her pies always have a way of arriving at the head of the queue, she and Terris having done business for so many years.

Audra hrms as she's addressed, looking over with a smile. "Oh Goodie Esme. Of -course- we can get that in the ovens for you, no trouble. Hot day like this always sees business fade a bit. Is that all or would you need more seen to?"

"The pie's all; thank you kindly." And Esme steps further inside and finds a place to set down her linen-swathed pie, and having scrubbed her hands unnecessarily upon the spotlessly clean apron she didn't take off for this little errand she dips a hand into the pocket concealed beneath it and the requisite payment passes from her bony old grasp to the rather pretty young fingers of the baker's wife. "I like the heat," she admits, and indeed even in the stifling air of the bakehouse proper she isn't perspiring yet; "when you're as old as I am, dearie, and winter's no friend to your bones, you will too. I'll stay a moment if I'm not in your way—?"

Audra motions her along. "Then come in, please do." She chuckles brightly and passes back the coin before it can be too firmly pressed into her hand. "And we can just count credit towards a bit of beef next time we have to order."

Esme is a tenacious old thing; her hand retains Audra's in a surprisingly firm grip, pressing the money into her palm, and then her other hand comes up to close the younger woman's fingers about it. Her own hands then vanish into the pockets of her striped dress to prevent any further back-and-forth. "Now, you know I don't like to be beholden," she chides, fixing her with a gently reproving dark gaze. "And good neighbours have my best rates regardless. We've all got to get along together, after all, and I'm sure you've noticed since you arrived that by and large, we do." She nods, as though pleased.

Audra leads in to the warmth of the bakery, tucking the coin away into a pocket of her apron for later processing. "You and my good man have known one another longer than I have known him, who am I to alter the process," the young wife says with a chuckle. "Hopefully I can streamline things since my running the shop here lets him oversee the ovens or the cart-work."

"He is a good man," Esme agrees mildly, casting what appears to be a casual glance about the bakehouse's interior. In fact she's reckoning up Terris and Audra's own production, how many pies and so forth from outside are waiting to go into the next batch, and what it'll all likely amount to in ready money. She always takes a quiet interest in such matters. "Buns always fresh, and nothing in the flour that shouldn't be, eh?" She lifts an eyebrow, rather knowingly. "You're fortunate in him, Mistress Audra, and I daresay he's fortunate too — a wife's hands are more to be trusted than a hired girl's." This uttered in a lower voice, in case one such might be listening.

Audra settles at one of the communal ovens and casts a smile at the apprentice working the fires. "Goodwife Esme's got the next, can't keep her tied up now can we?" He gives a polite nod to both the ladies and offers to put the pie on to bake.

"A wife has more to care for than a hired girl," the golden haired woman replies with a smile. "Having a future to plan for two. Or more someday."

There's another murmur of thanks from the steak and kidney expert, whose pie will shortly be lending a particularly exquisite meaty fragrance to the hot, sweet bakehouse air: she watches her pie go in and nods appreciatively.

"More cares, but then fewer," is Esme's judicious judgment then in an undertone to Audra, "for a wife has a position…" She meets the younger woman's eyes again, giving her a kindly smile from which Audra might deduce that her history is known and not really held against her — despite Esme's reputation for cast-iron respectability. And then, when Audra speculates upon such a natural increase in her future concerns, she nods again: "And if you should find when the time comes you need an extra pair of hands, you know I've a lot of girls working for me one way or another — I could always find you someone honest and reliable enough for your heavy work."

"Honest girls are a treasure- no worries about the pies falling off the back of the cart, no shortage of pennies in the count. Hiring is Terris' prerogative, of course, but we may need to add more girls should business stay good. I've a mind to see about getting a stall at the theater court- good beef and bacon pie or rasin-buns." She takes an appreciative whiff of the baking meat pie. "I fear I may end up as plump as a pig if I'm not careful."

Esme first honours Audra's sleek figure with a glance and a slight, vividly green shake of her head — then adds, "There's some who'd say that's of little account for a woman with a ring on her finger. And some who'd say, never trust a skinny cook." Though she herself hardly has an ounce of flesh to spare, and the pies she brings in boast perfect pastry cross-hatching and, be they sweet or savoury, always smell good enough to devour in a single sitting.

Audra pats her hand over the waistline of her dress. "In due time, I'm sure I'll fatten up one way or another," she says with a wink. "In the meanwhile, he cooks. I just make a better hawker. Seems somehow a pretty wife does better than a baker's boy." She offers a chuckle at that and glances away to the pie. "I am learning the art of cookery though. I may beg lesson of you sometime, if you don't mind. I think he'd be tickled if I produced something so tasty."

Both Esme's eyebrows rise up toward the thin line of undistinguished dark grey hair visible at the edge of her headscarf. "Then I'm to have the extra pair of hands?" she inquires, amused. "After we shut up I usually cook what won't do for the shop the next day, and if it's too much I make a pie or so to sit overnight." As a good steak and kidney, for instance, always ought. "You'd be welcome to step across one evening, I'm sure, Mistress Audra."

The baker's wife smiles her cherry-red smile as she nods. "Whatever won't sell by two days or so gets taken to the poor children and the unfortunates down in the less blessed part of town. We can't eat it all ourselves and Seven above know it's a sin to let go to waste. Better than throwing it to the dogs and pigs."

"Meat, beyond its time—" And Esme shrugs her thin shoulders. "No good even to a beggar," she pronounces, "though between my son's appetite and one or two little charities of mine," she's modestly unspecific, "it doesn't go to waste. Much better stored in people's stomachs; I know Terris has always agreed with me upon that." Another of her firm little nods. Esme may not have grown up in the Shambles, as some did, but after raising her son here and losing her husband here and dealing well and fairly with her neighbours for so long she has become one of the narrow, teeming street's eldest and most respected inhabitants, and in her own quiet way she helps to set its tone.

It may be that this is the longest conversation she and Audra have yet had, in the course of popping in and out of one another's establishments, which are so often full of customers from outside whose business, one's neighbours understand, must be attended to smartly. For the heat, perhaps, or her own curiosity, she prolongs it by a low-voiced, sympathetic inquiry. "You're getting on well otherwise, then? … Quite a change, I should think."

Audra admits with a worried tone, "Things are changing, oh true. Some good. Some bad. Some left to be seen." She pauses and glances back towards the front room reflectively. "I have somethin' to live and fight for now. That's new and frightening."

"You'll fight harder," pronounces Esme plainly, "than a woman who doesn't know what it's like to have nothing." Then she smooths her apron and fills her lungs once more, deeply, appreciatively, with the aroma of steak and kidney hanging heavier in the air. "Well, I'll not keep you any longer from your work. If I don't come myself for the pie I'll send one of my boys."

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