Easy As Pie
|Mincemeat pie, 2014, with piecrust made by me and my sister.|
The first time I set out to make a pie on my own – I think I was in Minnesota at the time and going to bring one to an “orphan’s Thanksgiving” potluck of friends who, like me, were missing out on the big family gathering – I called my Mom for her “never-fail” pie crust recipe and advice. It didn’t occur to either of us that I could just buy a piecrust or even a pie, by the way. But she did tell me a great story about the first time she tried to bake a pie.
Now, you have to realize, that Mom, in my mind, was an expert pie maker. Thanksgiving and Christmas always meant at least two mincemeat pies and two pumpkin. In the summer, we had rhubarb custard pie (rapture), peach pie (ecstasy), cherry pie (enchantment). Cherry pie was also a yummy tradition for Washington’s birthday; in February, of course, that meant using canned cherry pie filling or, back when we were lucky enough to still have our own cherry tree, home canned or frozen cherries. Apple pie, you bet, because apples were always available. And she really did make it look “as easy as pie.”
But then, on the phone, she told me the story about the first pie she tried to make. A newlywed who had worked as a bookkeeper and hadn’t done much cooking, she decided to try baking a pie to surprise Dad. It was a miserable failure, and before he got home from work, she snuck it into the garbage can so he wouldn’t even see it. (Dad was a good cook himself and came from a cooking family; Grandma used to work in restaurants. Truck stop kind of restaurants, where pie was and is kind of a big deal.)
So this woman who was now an expert pie maker confessed that her first try was a flop, and told me not to worry if I didn’t get that crust right the first time, even though it’s called “never-fail.” Just roll it out and try again. Or at worst, start over – it’s just Crisco and flour and a little salt. Yeah, I struggled at first, but now I’m not intimidated.
This was in the late ‘70s, I think, or maybe early ‘80s. In 2014 I taught my younger sister how to make piecrust and told her Mom’s story.
And here’s the recipe for two piecrusts, which is good for one fruit pie or two like pumpkin that don’t want a top crust:
n ¾ C. Crisco, chilled (Mom keeps Crisco in the fridge; I don’t keep it on hand, so of course for a few years I was using the room temperature Crisco I had purchased just to make pie crust, and that’s not a good idea. Chill it at least overnight.)
n 2 cups all-purpose flour
n 1 tsp. salt. Do not forget to add this. You’ll still have pie crust but it will taste very bland. I know people who also add other things to the piecrust dough, like a little cinnamon if they are making pumpkin pie. I haven’t, but I see the point.
Use a pastry blender to mix those together in a large bowl, until you don’t have any globs of fat or little piles of flour. The standard description is to have particles the size of small peas. The concept is to have all the fat coated with flour and vice versa.
Put 3 Tablespoons of those particles into a small bowl, add 5 Tablespoons of very cold water and stir with a fork to make a paste. Add that back into the large bowl and mix only until you can press the dough together into two balls roughly equal in size (actually, for a fruit pie, one can be a little bigger because the bottom crust needs to be a little bigger when it is rolled out).
Use a pastry board that is well-dusted with flour and a rolling pin that is also well-dusted. Don’t press down too hard when you are rolling it out, and be sure to keep flour on the board and the pin.
Most pies need to bake at 450 or 425 for the first 15 minutes; some need to be turned down to 350 after that; depends on the filling, so follow the recipe for the kind of pie you are making.
Pie shown is mincemeat pie, using "store-bought" mincemeat. The church ladies used to make it from scratch as a fundraiser. I do have the recipe they use, but it makes 100 quarts. So I use what I can buy, add an apple and a little booze (Cointreau, Grand Marnier, brandy, Chambord -- it's all good). Bake it at 450 for 15 minutes, then at 350 for another 15.