A friend recently asked me if I plan my trips around pie. Well, not exactly. It just turns out to be a good judge of a place. A wonderful pie is not an easy thing to make. And more often than not, it’s the sign of a real cook in the kitchen. One can toss some ground beef on a grill and make a serviceable burger that can kick any fast-food place in the butt.
But a pie is hard to fake. I’ve got fifty years’ experience making pie beginning with a gift of a Betty Crocker’s First Cookbook gift by a favorite aunt as a young girl. The last page had “My First Recipe” printed at the top and room to write in your recipe of choice. Mine had “Aunt Carol’s Pie Crust” neatly printed in my elementary hand.
Those mid-60s standards used Crisco shortening as the glue for a flaky crust and I learned over a few years of practice to not overwork the dough and make it thick enough to stand up to juicy fillings. In those days we would often open a can of fruit filling, so the focus really was on the crust. Nowadays I still use Crisco for my crust but have also learned how to make a cold butter crust – again not over working or overheating the crust before baking is essential to get that peel away flake.
And my crusts don’t hold anything from a can anymore. Usually it’s straight fruit with little or no sugar to allow the natural sweetness and flavor to shine forward. There’s always a splash of lemon juice to brighten and heighten that flavor. And a sprinkle of
sugar over the top before baking is enough. Most of the time I choose a more rustic pie folded over onto itself than fussing around with some elaborate top crust design. It’s an authentic farmhouse way to present more fruit and less fuss – not to mention being much easier and quicker to whip up and have in the hot oven while dinner is consumed.
And then one goes back to the source. The favorite aunt has long left us but her 90 year older sister is still with us and surprised us on a recent visit with two fresh-from-the-oven pies of the last of her homegrown summer blueberries and a big pile of local apples straight from the farm stand down the road.
At ninety, she kicks my ass. And I couldn’t be more pleased.