My love for pie-warmed food extends back to my childhood.
Each year as the Central Otago winter began to set in and our tomato and cheese sandwiches began to freeze rather than sog their way to school. Headmaster would advise the parents, through the generously smelling purple inked newsletter, that the Pie Warmer would be turned on again for lunches.
Excitement would inevitably ensure. This was our mothers chance to shine. Released from the shackles of the Belgium sandwich and free to express themselves through the medium of tin-foil wrapped packages no taller than 15cm.
The kitchens of Dunstan Road specialised in cheese rolls and spaghetti toasted sandwiches. The galleys of Royal Terrace turned their attention to mince and onion pies, while the adventurous families of Russell Street prepared sausage rolls and pasties for their kinder.
Nobody ever made quiche.
The Headmaster knew the wheels that turned the pie warming machine could not be oiled by searing heat and a half-filled tea cup of water alone. An operation of this size needed an oracle to ensure success; the operation needed a Pie Monitor.
At the Terrace School no station held greater power, sway or carriage than Pie Monitor.
Each student during their Form One year – Form Two were exempt as preparations for High School were too serious to be interrupted - would take turns at being Pie Monitor.
At 10am sharp the assigned would excuse themselves from class and sprint to the hall kitchenette to fulfill their duty. First the pie warmer would be turned on (to heat up as quickly as possible), the water replaced in the tea cup, the Pie Tray grabbed from beneath the counter and each classroom quickly visited to collect the lunches.
The Pie Monitor would run a tight ship to ensure every lunch was cooked to perfection. A good Pie Monitor would be expert in both timing and placement. Pies would have to be slotted into the hottest part of the warmer, while sandwiches could be laid, or stacked when volume necessitated, on the higher and cooler shelves.
Teachers used the service too, and for the greater good, prime spots would have to be reserved for these mighty beings.
Being Pie Monitor was a delicate and high stakes occupation, not for the weak, vain or unfocused.
For time was the Pie Monitor’s master.
The 12.05 lunch bell would delay its chime for no mortal. There would be nowhere to hide once the first child elbowed his way past his classmate to be first to collect his hard earned feast. If a pie was slightly cold in the middle, or a sandwich slightly soggy on the edges, word quickly spread.
Whispers would be heard in the sandpits of the primer school. Comments would be made on the benches by the wheelchair ramp at the library. Accusations would be flung from the four square grids and Jungle Jims of the netball courts and playgrounds.
“The Pie Monitor is no good.”
But if the Pie Monitor could overcome his obstacles. If he could stack every oversized American hotdog, if she could rotate the sandwiches so each got a fair blast on the bottom shelf. If she could present the pies piping hot, the sausage rolls evenly cooked, the baked bean toasties crispy and warm, then the rewards would be unparalleled.
For there was no greater compliment in the complex and intricate social maelstrom of the late Nineteen-Eighties Terrace School, than to have an excited youngster yell “Goodie” when you affirm that indeed it is your turn to be Pie Monitor today.
By Sterling Pace
Convenience Food Critic