The Firehouse Foodie: Humble Pie

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By Frank E. Vaerewijck

Christmas and a new year are just days away.  Many will mark the occasion by being more grateful, or nice, or giving. Some will make a commitment to turn over a new leaf, or at least a different leaf, and miraculously change into a different person, and yet again inevitably fail. The efforts will last a day or two as they always do, but old habits are hard to break, and what’s comfortable works. Fear not, all is not lost. Change can happen.  Just go at it the way you eat an elephant, one bite at a time.

Be Humble

A wary old gentleman walked into a bustling firehouse. A young, energetic firefighter approached, and in a very boisterous tone said to him, “How we doing today, Old Timer? What can I do for you?” The older gentleman replied, “Well, I’d just like to look around. Take it all in, if you will.”

The young firefighter, full of zeal, sprang to action and started giving a detailed tour, explaining this and that. What was going on here and there, as if his words carried the weight of the world. Well into his presentation, the old man sat down on a nearby bench and said, “Young man. Would you care to sit a spell and take a rest?” The young energetic firefighter quietly sat next to him. “You know, long before you were even thought of, I walked through those doors, right there. I was young and energetic, much like yourself, and I was going to tackle the world,” he said laughing a little. “My bones were strong, my muscles bigger, and to tell you the truth, I was a bit taller, but the years have taken a toll.”

He went on to recall many that had passed on, and some that were still kicking. He told war stories of fires that were hard to believe, and before even he knew it, his audience had grown, and grown, and grown, to the point that everyone assigned to the house was right there on the front pad, just mesmerized by this old man’s every word.

Then just as quietly as he started, he turned to the young energetic firefighter and said, “Son, what I learned the most in my storied career, was to listen. When I walked in here, you asked me what I needed, and then you went to talking. I’m not sure you took a breath the whole time.” A chuckle emanated from the audience at hand.

He continued, “Be respectful. Use your manners, and always treat everyone as if they were related to you. You are building relationships, and what matters most at the end of the day are the people in our lives, and kindness. Kindness matters. Fear is an illusion It is False Evidence Appearing Real, so don’t let fear stop you from doing anything. Failure is good. Failure is the real evidence that we’ve had the courage to try.  But the biggest, most important thing that I learned during my 30 plus years on the job was to be humble. Do good because it feels good, right here in the heart, not here in the brain where pride lives. Don’t take credit, but give credit. And forget “I”, Son. You are in the fire service; it’s “WE”!”

Slowly he stood and addressed the young firefighter one last time. “You won’t change your behaviors at the drop of a dime. In time, though, if you’re conscious of your actions, you can change the same way you eat an elephant, one bite at a time. After eating some humble pie, you’ll be one hell of a fireman!” Everyone stood in silence as the old man meandered down the street out of sight, but his words lingered as if he had never left.

We can learn a lot from the ones who came before us. There are lessons that help us in all facets of our lives. Just be willing to listen, and most of all, eat the humble pie. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and have a Happy, Safe New Year. “That’s Bringing the Firehouse Home!”

Humble Pie

In the story, Humble Pie was used as an accolade to humility. Did you know there really is such a thing as Humble Pie?  The phrase has been traced back to medieval times, where the term meant that one was eating a dish made of the scrap meat from a successful hunt or slaughter.  The master of the house might get a fine roast; the servants would feast on what was left. Derived from a Middle French word “nomble,” which referred to the scrap meat, people made “a nomble pie,” which apparently was easily mistaken for “an ‘umble pie.” They were noted as being thankful to have such a feast, and in due time umble pie became Humble Pie. Thankfulness and all.


3 Standard Pie Crusts


  • 3 lbs (1.5 kg) ground beef, 20% or greater fat content
  • 5 green apples, peeled, cored and sliced thin
  • 1/2 c (125 ml) fresh spinach, rinsed
  • Head of romaine lettuce, shredded
  • 6 c (225 ml) plain breadcrumbs
  • 1 1/2 lb (250 g) raisins or dried currants
  • 1/2 cup (125 ml) apricot preserves
  • 1 tbsp (15 ml) parsley
  • 1 tsp (5 ml) thyme
  • 1 tsp (5 ml) mace, ground
  • 1 tsp (5 ml) nutmeg, grated
  • 2 tsp (10 ml) cinnamon, ground
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 2 tbsp (30 ml) cream sherry
  • 4 tsp (20 ml) orange blossom water


  • 1 cup (225 ml) cream sherry
  • 1 cup (225 ml) white table wine
  • 1 tbsp (15 ml) balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) sugar
  • 2 Eggs


  • Preheat the oven to 425° F (220° C).
  • Blend together all pie ingredients with your hands.
  • Line a large casserole dish with the two standard pie crust, covering all parts of the dish, and then placing the meat mixture into it.  Roll out the remaining standard pie crust to use as a lid and cut decorative vent holes into it.
  • Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350° F (175° C) and bake for another hour and a half.

While the pie bakes, prepare the caudle:

  • Whisk together all ingredients but the eggs in a saucepan.
  • Bring mixture to a boil and remove from heat.  In a glass bowl or measuring cup, beat the two eggs until frothy.
  • Whisking constantly, slowly adding about half of the hot wine to the egg mixture, until well-blended, and then slowly pour the egg mixture back into the remaining hot wine, continuing to whisk constantly.

When you remove the pie from the oven, either pour the caudle through the vent holes and tilt it to spread it or remove the top crust entirely and pour the caudle over it.  Serve hot, and enjoy eating your Humble Pie!



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