Well, it’s summer time, and as usual I have fallen into a pattern of working, sleeping, eating, and finding random new things to do. Examples of random things: collaging (current project is half-finished on my desk), interning at a local radio station (which mostly consists of me going “Yes, yes… wait, can you explain that again?”), learning Dutch (okay- not really… I started it on Duolingo but got stuck on the “het”s and “een”s), oh, and pie-making.
Making pies is something that seems really easy. Simple. Make a batch of pie dough, roll it out, press into pie plate, make some yummy filling, pour it in, and viola!
OK, I may have skipped a few steps.
The truth of the matter is that pie is one of the few things that is uniquely American, and so in this country it is prized as one of the finest desserts known to man. There’s that one movie that is called “American Pie” but doesn’t actually seem to be about pie at all (talk about confusing), there’s a whole council dedicated to pie (www.piecouncil.org), and every year there’s a National Pie Championship.
Pie is also important in my own family. Every year my grandfather’s side of the family hosts an Annual Picnic where the whole family gets together. Nowadays, the Picnic has morphed from its origins, where people would go to a park for a day trip and have a huge picnic together. The modern Annual Picnic is a two-day extravaganza, filled with talking, talking, more talking, croquet-playing (there’s a championship every year), oh, and eating. Lots of eating. Everyone brings food, and one of the most popular items is (you guessed it!) pie. Beautiful homemade pie.
This year, I decided to try my hand at making pie for the Annual Picnic. I was a little nervous; after all, I was up against some of the best pie-makers in family history. However, I was determined. Armed with a pastry cutter, all purpose flour, a pie pan, and my favorite pie cookbook (“Mrs. Rowe’s Little Book of Southern Pies“), I began my journey to greatness. Or so I thought.
I chose to make a blackberry pie, but not just any blackberry pie; Mrs. Rowe’s blackberry pie, from my favorite pie cookbook ever. It was a pie without a top crust, and though I’d never made it before, I decided to try it because this cookbook hadn’t failed me yet.
Problem #1: I couldn’t find the all-purpose flour anywhere. Unwilling to go to the grocery store, I decided to use whole wheat flour instead. Those of you who are experienced bakers will know that this would have worked in some recipes, but not pie dough. Needless to say, my pie crust was a little, er, hearty (translation: thick and brown).
Problem #2: Now that I had actually created pie dough, I carefully floured the countertop and the rolling pin. The dough was cold (I had used refrigerated vegetable shortening, knowing how important it was to keep everything cold) and rolled easily- at first. Soon, to my horror, the crust began to stick to the countertop like glue. WHY??? CRUEL WORLD! I started panicking a little, but then I remembered- when in doubt, add more flour. So I did, and it worked- for about five seconds. Eventually, I figured it out. My carefully chosen countertop was situated directly above the dishwasher, which meant that the countertop was ever-so-slightly warmer than the surrounding countertop, melting my carefully chilled shortening with every passing second. Oops.
With no time to lose, I quickly relocated my beaten and slightly melted dough. To my satisfaction, the dough began to roll more smoothly when it was not being roasted by my dishwasher (what a surprise!). However, my beaten-down crust was going to be far from the “flaky” consistency that I had dreamed of.
Unable to lose sight of my pie-making dreams, I soldiered on, feeling vaguely like George Washington must have felt when he lead his troops across the Delaware: tired, hands cold from the shortening, and almost ready to give up- almost.
It is that “almost” that leads us to greatness. Gathering my courage, I straightened my apron and looked back at the recipe. It was time to make the filling.
And, to my surprise, despite a temporary panic attack over a corn starch shortage, the filling turned out perfectly. So perfectly that I was tempted to keep it all for myself, and spoon it over vanilla ice cream for months. I resisted the temptation, and spooned it into my very brown crust. 30 minutes later, I was staring at a delicious, if slightly homely, homemade pie. Whew!
We drove to the Annual Picnic, and I set my pie down on the pie table, already heavily-laden with picture perfect pies. Though there was no shortage of comments about my pie’s unusual color (“Whole wheat crust? How… interesting!”), the blackberry pie was devoured quickly, and I even got to have a slice. And guess what? It was pretty good!
I’m far from the National Pie Championships, but I’ve decided to start a new project: The Pie Challenge. There are a total of 56 pie recipes in Mrs. Rowe’s Little Book of Southern Pies. My mission? To make all 56 pies in one year. I will try to chronicle my adventures in pie-making on this little blog, for my own amusement (and maybe even yours). Pie #1 down, 55 more to go!
P.S. Got any pie-making tips? I want to hear them!