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Originally posted in November 2019. Updated in July of 2020. Last updated November 2020.
An Ode To Mom and Homemade Pie. I come from a family of unabashed pie lovers. A homemade pie was always preferred to cake for birthdays and such, and we never missed a strawberry-rhubarb, cherry, blueberry, or peach season, without a good fruit pie on the table after dinner. When the snap of fall came calling, apple pie took center stage in our home. Mom’s apple pie was truly other-worldly, but so was she. With winter came even more pie in the form of silky custards and heavenly cream varieties. They were excellent stand-ins and a nice change of pace when good ripe fruit wasn't readily available.
Do you remember the name of that movie where Andie MacDowell sings a lovely little ballad about pie? “...my, my, me oh my, I love pie!” I think an angel had a starring role in that story too!
Mom’s success started with a great crust. Some folks swear by lard or vegetable shortening while others prefer butter as the chosen fat for their dough. Mom used both. Shortening for flakiness and butter for flavor. Her second secret? Add the flour to the fat in two batches. Add about half of the flour to the fat and pulse in the food processor for about 15 seconds. This step coats the fat pieces in flour. Then add the remaining flour and give a couple of quick pulses. This will create the coveted flaky layers that is the hallmark of all good pastry.
She never wrote her recipe down and unfortunately, she is no longer a phone call away. But she taught me that making homemade pie doesn’t have to be intimidating. And, that anyone can make pie crust from scratch. It really isn't that hard or mysterious. The ingredients are few and the technique is simple. Where do you think the expression, “easy as pie” comes from?
The Crust. Making a good pie crust starts with a capable recipe and a few pastry tools. You can blend the dough with a few quick pulses in a food processor or use a hand-held pastry blender to cut shortening/butter into the flour until it forms small pea-sized pieces before you add the liquid. I’ve seen recipes where vodka is used in place of some of the water. It reduces the formation of gluten in the flour, giving the pastry a more tender texture. While I’ve never gotten around to trying this out, it may be worth a Google search. I think the origin of the recipe was from Cook's Illustrated.
Please, don't forget the pie crust shield, it'll keep your crust from browning too much and burning. Find one along with a few other pastry essentials in our Pastry & Dough Tools Collection
Next up you’ll need a rolling pin, a pastry board or pastry mat to roll out your pie dough. This wooden pin from J.K. Adams, (The Lovely Rolling Pin) is my new favorite. One look and you'll see why. I also prefer a pastry mat over a board as it takes up much less room in my crowded cupboards. Roll up your mat, slip a rubber band around it and it takes up no more room than that "lovely" rolling pin.
Pie Dishes. The pie dish you use is important. There are ceramic, stoneware, and glass pie dishes along with metal pie tins, with or without nonstick. I find metal heats up too quickly which can cook the crust faster than the filling, especially custard-based pies. The goal is to achieve a browned crust, with no soggy bottom and a perfectly baked filling. Sometimes recipes call for blind baking, or baking without the filling to achieve a nicely browned and flaky crust.
Mom had half a dozen or so old-time glass pie dishes that she swore by. Her favorites had handles on either side. I still use and recommend the classic Pyrex Glass Pie Dish, because Mothers know best, I was raised right, and it's under ten bucks. And as you see, this old-fashioned classic makes a perfect dish for quiche. Don't like quiche? You've never had mine. We'll cover that and more about that incredible edible egg in a future post, Meet the Egg Whisperer, so keep a look out!
Looking for something a bit fancier? The Emile Henry 9" Pie Dish is made from high-fired Burgundian ceramic and features a fluted rim and a color-saturated finish. It's handsome, bakes well and looks stunning at the table, and it's under $50. Another great ceramic choice (shown below) is the Mason Cash In The Forest 10" Pie Dish and it's around $20, If you've prefer a metal pie plate we have a dandy 10" Anodized Aluminum Pie Plate from Fat Daddio's for only $8.95.
Don't forget the pie crust shield because inevitably the top edges of your crust are going to cook and brown faster than the rest of your pie.
Mom's Spring & Summer Classics — Strawberry Rhubarb Pie and Blueberry Pie. A Spring never came and went without a few sweet-tart Strawberry Rhubarb pies greeting us on the counter when we came in for dinner. She preferred a lattice top for these fruit filled gems. She said, "it showed off the strawberry-red filling better." They were works of edible art. I know I'm a little late for this year's crop of fresh local strawberries, but hey Michigan and the rest of the upper Midwest are still picking!
In the 1980s my dad had an idea. Next spring my dad and two brothers took one of the vegetable fields and planted blueberries instead. Each year they'd prepare another field and plant more blueberry cuttings. They kept this up until every field, all 300 acres was filled with perfect rows of lush blueberry bushes. Now we had a bona fide blueberry farm.
And of course, mom mastered the art of making a solid blueberry pie. Sometimes we'd have to wait till picking season was over to get a slice though. Blueberry season is short but intense. It starts here in the Mid-Atlantic, depending on the weather around the 4th of July, and is finished in about 4-6 weeks. Mom would freeze a few gallon bags with the best plump, ripe berries so we could enjoy the fruits of our labor after things calmed down. When freezing blueberries make sure the berries are bone-dry before putting them in freezer bags or containers. I know if mom could of gotten her hands on these reusable and resealable silicone stand up bags for freezing, storing and everything else she would have been a big fan.
When Labor Day has come and gone Fall-Inspired Pies take center stage.
Two (mom-approved) Fall Classics. Pumpkin pie and pecan pie are the quintessential Thanksgiving pies. They are delicious and lucky for you, QUICK and EASY to make. While you can find all sorts of recipes with all sorts of fancy added ingredients, like bourbon or chocolate, you don't have to complicate things if you don't want to.
Easy Pumpkin Pie. Use the recipe straight off a can of Libby's 100% Pure Pumpkin (NOT Pie Mix!). I omit the clove and add a 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg instead. Other than that, this recipe is a winner every time.
Easy Pecan Pie. My favorite pecan pie recipe uses a classic American brand for this classic American pie. With only 6 ingredients and a prep time of 5 minutes for the filling, Karo Syrup's recipe found on the back of their label is a win-win.
A couple of things to note I use light corn syrup, not the dark. I know, I know, but if you don't want to put corn syrup in your body, make a different pie! Pecan Pie is a sugar bomb, best tempered with lightly or non-sweetened whipped cream, to be enjoyed once or twice a year!
Chopped pecan pieces work best for this filling. You can use a few whole pecans for decoration, but the smaller bits of nuts make for a much better ratio of gooey sweetness to crunchy nuttiness. You want a piece right now, don't you?
I hope we've given you ample inspiration to make your own pies and pie crusts BUT, if you really can't, there is a cheat. It's not homemade but it makes for a much better pie than you can buy from most stores. You'll find it in the refrigerator section of the supermarket. Just look for the popping fresh dough-boy! Yes, Pillsbury's Pie Crusts are a good stand-in when a homemade crust isn't in the cards. You get two already rolled out, then rolled up, pie crusts in each box. They are widely available and beat the frozen pre-made crusts by a mile.
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Yes, that pie crust recipe I mentioned was from Cook's Illustrated, I just Googled it and here you go, Fool-Proof Double Crust Pie Dough Recipe. While the recipe may be behind a paywall, Cook's Illustrated is certainly worth a digital subscription. Right now they are offering 2 months access for just one buck!
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