Saturday, April 28, 2012

I Will Bake You A Pie

The only good pie is a homemade pie.

There. I said it.

Now, if you have ever served me store-bought pie or will do so in the future, please don't be offended. I value your hospitality and generosity much more than I do homemade pie. I'll love you just the same.

But for me, it's always worth the extra time and effort to make pie from scratch. And honestly, once you get the hang of it, putting together a homemade pie is fun and rewarding. I really enjoy it.

The basic recipe for pie crust could not be any simpler. Two cups of flour, two-thirds cup of Crisco, a little bit of cold water to hold it all together.

{A long time ago, I bought a copy of the New York Times Cookbook  and to date, the recipe for this basic pie crust is the only recipe I have used from it. And since I memorized that short list of ingredients long ago, I haven't touched the book in years. Still, I can't bring myself to get rid of it. I'm emotionally attached.}

Rolling out the dough can be a challenge for a novice but practice truly does make perfect. With a little experience, you get a strong instinct for how a properly balanced dough should feel, and rolling it out on a well-floured board becomes a joy.

Among pie-bakers, there are a number of different tips on how to get your beautifully rolled-out crust into your pie plate. When I was getting started, I experimented a bit but this has been my tried-and-true for many years:

Fold the pie crust in half, then in half again, making a sweet wedge that can be easily picked up and quickly transported to your awaiting pie plate. Center the point, unfold it, and voila! Perfect.

The only bad thing I will say about making pies's messy. Alas.

While I was putting together the crust, I was also making the filling. There are soooo many different kinds of pies to make:

Chocolate Pie
Pecan Pie
Coconut Cream Pie
Mississippi Mud Pie
Banana Cream Pie
Lemon Meringue Pie
Mincemeat Pie
Key Lime Pie

and of course, Fruit Pie.

In my family, fruit pies are where it's at. 

Our favorites are apple, blackberry, blueberry, cherry, peach, and raspberry.

This was a blackberry pie. Since April is not blackberry season in Washington, I bought two bags of frozen blackberries, threw them in a saucepan and heated them through. Then I fished out all the berries, added sugar to the boiling juice, and thickened it up with a bit of cornstarch. Easy. Simple. Fun.

Next, it was a straightforward matter to pour the berries and the thickened sauce into the pie crust, and dot it with a bit of butter. Just to make it extra yummy. 

While I am making pies, I always think about my mother-in-law, June.

June is a pie baker extraordinaire. For many decades, at her table, Saturday night was pie night. After dinner, she always had a flawlessly executed pie on hand to serve with coffee and vanilla ice cream. My father-in-law, God rest his soul, always favored fruit pies too, and she paraded an endless array of seasonal fillings across his plate. Bless her gentle and generous heart, she would often fret about whether this crust wasn't a bit tough, or that filling was a bit too runny, but the truth is that her pies were always nearly perfect. I am honored to uphold her legacy, and I do my best to make her proud.

Plop! On goes the top crust. In this family, a fruit pie is synonymous with a two-crust pie, so I always add a top layer. Once it's in place, the edges of both layers are trimmed, folded, and tucked to make a smooth edge that will hold the delicious juices in.

Now comes fluting. My own mother was not so passionate about making pies but on unavoidable pie-eating holidays, such as Thanksgiving, she would suck it up and bake one. As a little girl, I remember that I was fascinated by the fluting process, which involves pinching the smooth edge of dough between index finger and thumb, with both hands at the same time, right next to each other on the dough. One hand pinches the edge up, the other hand pinches the edge down, and this happy ruffled effect is born. 

Isn't it so cute? A well-fluted pie crust warms my heart. 

But the fun is not over yet! Every two-crust pie requires a few slits in the top. I've been told that these vents are important because they allow steam to escape during the baking process, though I've never understood why that is necessary. Do un-vented pies explode?

A more easily-grasped purpose for venting is that when the juices start to bubble out through the vents, it's a sure sign that the pie is done baking. Now that makes perfect sense to me.

However, the best reason to make vents is that you can use them to personalize your pie. Oh sure, you can just make a few random slashes across the top of the crust and they will get the job done. 

But why not carve the initial or draw a picture of the fruit that's inside the pie?

Or commemorate the special event for which the pie was baked? 

Many of my pies are birthday pies, so I have been known to draw a picture of a lit candle or carve out the digits of the recipient's new age. In this case, I decided to honor the birthday boy's obsession with the ongoing Stanley Cup playoffs with a hockey stick and puck.

No offense, Sara Lee, but you just can't measure up.

So the offer I made on my Facebook status almost four years ago still stands. Anytime, anywhere, any flavor you like...just ask, and I will bake you a pie.

In return, I ask one simple favor. Please let me help you eat it.

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I like to write stories about pies. If you like to read stories about pies, try these:


  1. amen. homemade is where it's at. you can bake me a pie anytime, diane! or at least do a weekly pie feature so i can keep up on the pie-eating adventures of the streichers & affiliates. ; )

    1. thanks, bg. i can't claim to bake a pie a week, but i'll do my best to post any and all blog-worthy cooking adventures in this domain. :)


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