Pie Day, Part 1

5 Feb

Dear Mom, Talking to dead people is not one of my strengths, but gosh, I love you.

So today marks the 5-year anniversary of my mom’s death.

I thought about crafting that sentence with more phrasing and panache, but if you’ve met me in the past 5 years, I probably stuck my hand out to shake yours and said something like, “Hi I’m Zoe, what’s your name?  Also, my mom died.” We all process grief differently.

She was sick for three years and at some point, it became clear that treatment options were few and far between.  While we all quietly noted this but did not talk about it, my mom mentioned to someone (who is still a mystery to me) that when she passed on, she hoped we would sit down and share a slice of pie together.

We did that

When I think of my mom and pie, I think of the “morning-after” Thanksgiving and Christmas tradition; bundled up in nightgowns and robes and athletic-socked feet, she would get out the leftover pie tins and set them out on the counter and say, “Pie for breakfast!”  We would all enjoy a cold slice together, huddled around the kitchen heater vent, soaking up the butter, the love, and the warm air.

In honor of my mom, her life, her death and pie, I am sharing the pie crust recipe that she taught me.  She claimed it was from her Grandmother, but taught me to make it using Co-Op brand soybean margarine.  I can’t help but assume that Grandma Lenz used an entirely different fat that doesn’t come in stick form.   I use butter, and lots of it.

Ready to whirl?

There are many, many theories as to what makes a good pie crust. Flavor? It should have some, for one. Texture?  Should it be tender or flaky? Can it be both? NPR once told me that vodka could be used instead of water to combine the flour and butter and inhibit the development of gluten (enemy of both flake and tenderness).

My personal theories for a good crust are as follows:  Don’t use Crisco, it is a top-notch flavor killer.  Keep everything cold.  If a food processor is your mixer of choice, then use frozen butter and don’t let your blade whirl for too long.  Cold water.  Use your hands to mix.  Work fast.  Wear good luck charms, say a couple prayers and curse a lot.  Keep the butter in large chunks to encourage larger flakes, just like dandruff!


Roll 'er out


Pie Crust

1 ½ sticks of butter
2 cups of flour
4-8 T of cold water
A pinch of salt
A larger pinch of sugar

Using a food processor or pastry cutter cut the butter into the flour. Stop when it looks like the two have a reasonable chance of becoming one by adding a bit of water.  Sprinkle in the salt and sugar and then drizzle in half of your water and begin mixing—this is where I use my hands.

Mixing with hands is so much faster!

This is also the time to bring out your rabbit foot keychain.  The amount of water you’ll need is totally dependent on how humid or dry the ambient air is.  It can also depend on the temperature of your kitchen, there’s just no way to predict!  Some days the pie fairies are with you, and some days they’re off sipping umbrella-ed drinks on the beach.  Jerks.    Drizzle in more water if your dough won’t combine.

When your ingredients do finally come together, shape the dough into two equal-sized discs.  Place the discs on a lightly floured surface, and gently roll out, working from the middle, reshaping as necessary, and talking to the dough in a soft, caressing whisper.

Fold in the rolled out dough into quarters to gently transfer into your pie dish.

Good luck!

(PS: If you are not super confident in your crust skills and want more instructional hand-holding, check out Pie Crust 101 by the lovely Deb at Smitten Kitchen).


4 Responses to “Pie Day, Part 1”

  1. Kevin February 5, 2011 at 3:34 pm #

    You are right in that we all process grief differently. This is true even within families. I, for the life of me can’t keep quiet when I’m processing something awful and massive. My youngest sister, by contrast, clams up and only begins to talk when she has no other choice.

    As I’ve mentioned before, I think this event is a touching tribute to your mother. In it, you are keeping her memory alive. Historically, this was a means by which women in my family did much the same thing. Recipes were made together, stories were told, and another generation was schooled in the particulars.

    I will give your pie crust recipe a try. Thank you for providing helpful hints, which I find to be crucial. It’s always been interesting to me to seek a balance between hints which I observe through the feedback of other cooks, and that which I discover through trial and error. Much of baking is trial and error, and sometimes happy accidents occur.

  2. Robin February 5, 2011 at 4:06 pm #

    Thank you, Thank you for explaining pie crusts this way. I think I get it now why mine never work. Love the image of the jerks with the umbrella drinks. And the opening sentence brought tears to my eyes. You keep on making pies!! And I’ll give this crust a try. Have Door County cherries in the freezer that want a home, and a pot-luck that needs going to tomorrow. The alignment is perfect. The pie crust won’t be, but I’ll bet it will be an improvement over past tough cookies. Thanks, Zoe!

  3. Bec February 15, 2011 at 5:20 am #

    I wish I had recorded the sound of Nina’s slow, giddy crescendo of laughter when she clicked on the “fat” link. “They’re happy because they eat Lard.” I ask you.

    • Zoe February 15, 2011 at 1:21 pm #

      I wish you had recorded that too! Love. Love. Love.

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