The freshly baked pumpkin pie luring visitors into the sunny kitchen of Bev Atkinson's northeast Minneapolis home is no ordinary pumpkin pie to Piyali Dalal.
"She uses fresh pumpkin, not canned," Piyali says, her eyes widening. "It's a whole different taste."
Pumpkin pie is one of many culinary comforts drawing together 67-year-old Bev and 33-year-old Piyali week after week, often with Piyali's son and Bev's grandson in tow. Pie, sour cream muffins sprinkled with cinnamon nutmeg sugar, "Scarborough Fair" bread slathered with butter — their repertoire has grown as their friendship has deepened, a sweet surprise to both.
Bev moved to the Twin Cities from southern Florida via Tennessee in 1968 to attend graduate school at the University of Minnesota. She met husband, Steve, in Old English class. Working as an academic adviser in the U's Office of Undergraduate Studies in 1997, Bev was asked to mentor an overwhelmed freshman from tiny Wayne, Neb., as part of the school's outreach to students of color.
"The U was 10 times bigger than my hometown," Piyali says. "Everything was epic."
Bev reassured Piyali, connected her to faculty members and helped her find textbooks and other resources. Her greatest resource was a helpful fellow student named Justin, who is now Piyali's husband. The friends quickly broadened their activities to art shows and theater, and mentor happily became mentee.
Piyali taught Bev about Indian textiles and shared books she was reading in class. The two have visited homeless shelters and collaborated on a clothing drive for women who are homeless. Bev also recruited Piyali into PEO, a women's philanthropic organization.
"I asked her mother if I could informally adopt her and she said sure, informally," Bev says with a laugh.
Piyali graduated with a BA in English and International Relations and has a master's degree in public policy from the U's Humphrey School of Public Affairs. She is a full-time mother to Anjali, 6½, and Amadeo, 4, and is revising her most recent screenplay.
Now retired, Bev recently returned from a trip to Italy with Steve, and is looking forward to welcoming her third grandchild. But Bev and Piyali, who live just seven blocks apart, always find time for each other.
"You think it's OK, or should I speed it up?" Piyali asks as she mixes batter.
"I think it's OK," Bev says, turning to pull warm bread from the oven.
"We talk a lot about writing and women's relationships," Piyali says. "When I'm struggling, she tells me she knows that I'm struggling and I need to do something about it. It's been really powerful for me."
Bev says she's the lucky one.
"I finally joined the [food] co-op, did I tell you that?" she asks Piyali. "I learn from her all the time," she says of her former student. "Without even trying, it happens."