The Pie Was a Final Draft: On Bourbon Pecan Pie & Rediscovering Love

By Michaella Thornton

Bourbon pecan pie is one of my love languages. A language I express maybe once a year at Thanksgiving, but last November I was recovering from walking pneumonia and traveling by train with my 6-year-old daughter to visit my mother, her grandmother. I was in no space to pack pecans, bourbon, dark corn syrup, and my favorite pie plate.

So, for the first time in a long time, I made nothing for Thanksgiving dinner and instead rested and hacked and coughed and drank copious amounts of tea with honey and lemon.

There were, of course, other delicacies and treats at my mother’s table, but I still missed my favorite pie.

Flash forward to this month, and I finally felt ambitious enough to make my beloved pie (just add 2 tablespoons of your favorite bourbon to this recipe) with a buttermilk crust.

Maybe other parents or caregivers hold on to their culinary brilliance and risk-taking when they have small children or other charges, but I have not, unfortunately. The gorgeous, from-scratch chicken pot pies I’d make when the weather turned cold or the spinach-and-ricotta calzones or butternut squash risotto became dishes I cooked less and less, if at all, due to time and the increasingly selective palate of my child.

I didn’t give up baking and cooking, of course, but I have pared down the intricate meals and desserts of my single and child-free years. Now, I cook out of necessity, expedience, duty, and, yes, love, but my cooking doesn’t really stem from desire or creativity these days.

These days I cook because I need to feed my little girl on a pretty strict timetable because after dinner I still need to draw her a bath, help her into her pajamas, blow dry her hair, read to her, and listen to all of the stories she suddenly needs to tell me right before she finally falls asleep. It’s a lot, it’s magical, and I’m really fucking tired. All three things exist.

If Midwestern “tacos” (think seasoned ground turkey, black beans, shredded cheese, and avocado in a crunchy shell) or a kid charcuterie board (cue a muffin tin filled with fresh fruit, raw broccoli and ranch, nuts, chips and salsa, apple slices with peanut butter, etc.) or buttered al dente rotini with a side of fruit or her beloved pretzel-hummus combo are not haute cuisine, I’m fine with that, too.

I’m fine with simply getting dinner on the table because I’m the only one grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, washing dishes, and taking out the trash. Like most people, partnered or not, a parent or not, some of the day-to-day tasks of being an adult are monotonous and tiring and kinda boring.

And writing is a lot like this never-ending story of making dinner for a child who may or may not eat what I fix. Is she a metaphor for our audiences? Yes, yes she is.

Am I going to push past exhaustion and write out of love and curiosity and experimentation again? Am I going to keep putting a word after another word in a quest for power? Or am I going to keep writing in the hope to create something holier than the holy—a new world, a new essay that seeks to explore what it means to be human, what it means to love this broken place and these broken people?

When I’m not going through the stations of my daughter’s bedtime routine, I often think of Antonio Machado’s poem, “Last Night as I Was Sleeping,” specifically his second stanza:

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.

And if Machado can imagine golden bees making sweet honey out of old failures, I, too, wish to imagine a weary Midwestern, middle-aged mom making art and bourbon pecan pie out of scraps. All of us who write have a duty to keep at it—not for fleeting and unlikely fame or fortune but for a chance to rediscover the joy and rebellion of actively being creative, to sit with our writing practice as a form of play and prayer.

Read more of Kella’s work here.

Michaella Thornton
Michaella Thornton

Michaella Thornton learned how to bake at the hips of her mother and her grandmother Anna Lee. A lifetime ago, she baked professionally before realizing baker’s hours require early mornings. Kella’s prose has been featured in Brevity, Essay Daily, Fractured Lit, Hobart After Dark, Reckon Review, New South, Southeast Review, among others, and her writing has been nominated for a James Beard award and Best of the Net. Many moons ago, Kella received her MFA in creative nonfiction from the University of Arizona. She lives in St. Louis, Missouri with her daughter.

2 responses to “The Pie Was a Final Draft: On Bourbon Pecan Pie & Rediscovering Love”

  1. Lovely essay–the pie sounds fabulous. I know how Kella feels–it’s easy to let most joy-bringing tasks like cooking become routinized because there are so many other demands on our energy. Perseverance is a far greater virtue than virtuoso cooking. Woody Allen is right–80% of success in life is just showing up. But I am going to attempt that pie!