October 29, 2009


For the last couple of months, I’ve been on a pie-making kick. I’ve been experimenting to see if I can perfect the apple pie: I’ve tried putting the water in the freezer to make it colder, I’ve tried using the pastry cutting tool that my mother swears by, and I’ve asked my mother a million questions about how she makes pie, trying to get every detail right.

I always ask the gang who eats the pies, “Is this one better than the last? Do you think the crust is more tender?” It’s not exactly the right conditions for a controlled experiment, and every pie disappears while it’s still warm, so it’s been hard to tell if my pie-making skills are improving or not.

Yesterday was the real test. My mother left me a phone message that she’d made an apple pie. Long-time readers might remember that my mother makes the best apple pie in the world. Seriously. Everyone says so.

I went to an evening event on campus – a poetry reading with my students – but I stopped at my parents’ house on my way home. My mother put on the tea kettle, and she and my father joined me at the kitchen table. Then she cut me a piece of apple pie. I took sips of the hot tea as we talked and ate apple pie.

And damn. Her pie is still better than mine.


Digger said...

When I was a student and was making pie, I didn't have a rolling pin. I used a beer bottle. I got the best results using a cold beer bottle! Nothing to do with generating an empty bottle to use, either ;)

L said...

Curious question, as a vegan, you must make your pie with vegetable shortening, no? Does your mom make it the same way so you can eat it or does she use butter?

I've been thinking about this ever since you mentioned about all your pie baking and eating.

And when we finally get to meet, I want pie, OK? I won't mind if it's yours, not your mom's, but it would be interesting to be able to taste both together for comparison ;-).

Hmmm... and maybe could we have your pie crust recipe?

Unknown said...

Ah, well.

Overeducated Twit said...

NO one can ever top mama's cooking. No one.

jo(e) said...

Lilian: If we have a fall meet-up, I'll make an apple pie!

Yes, my mother and I both use vegetable shortening. The recipe for the crust is pretty simple: 2 cups flour, half a teaspoon salt, 3/4 cup shortening, and 1/4 cup cold water.

Libby said...

my mother learned to make pie from her mother-in-law, who at that time made the best pie in the world. Both used lard for shortening. I use vegetable shortening or butter, and I don't think either one works quite as well, but the "ew" factor with lard is just too great. (Mom has given it up, too--and still makes great pies!)

jo(e) said...

I wonder if anyone still uses lard. The thought of it is pretty disgusting.

Artist Friend uses vegetable oil, and his crust comes out great.

Magpie said...

I use lard. I get leaf lard at the Greenmarket, or from the good butcher, and my husband renders it. I wouldn't use that stuff from the supermarket, no way, no how.

2 cups flour
1 stick butter
3-4 T. lard
ice water

I've taken to using frozen butter, and making the dough in the Cuisinart. It works well.

My crusts are excellent, but I find that the apple pie filling can be tricky, so much so that I like making tarte tatin better.

Magpie said...

You're vegan? I thought you were vegetarian, but you had mentioned lard, so...

Just disregard my previous comment, and I'm sorry if it made you squeamish!

Artist Friend said...

Yes, I use oil, but that means you have to roll the dough between two pieces of wax paper, because it's a lot softer than the other kind. This makes for a delicate, finicky dough though, responsive to the temperature, humidity, season, phases of the moon, etc. When it all chooses to come together, there is not a better crust. But coming to terms with its idiosyncrasies is an art--you need to be receptive to the dough's moods and feelings and make sensitive adjustments to the recipe in collaboration with it. I'm also experimenting with different oils. Corn is good, peanut is better, light olive, surprisingly, is really interesting. Soy--ho-hum. Canola--yuck. Bread flour is better, and I tried pastry flour once which was a total disaster.
I tend to think of cooking in terms of control, competition and struggle--the combatant elements of a dish contest for dominance, and it's my role as chef to enforce parity. Baking pie crust has taught me to think in terms of ingredients creating dessert harmony together in mutual support and community, progressing in peace toward the common blessing of Perfect Pie.

jo(e) said...

Magpie: Oh, I grew up eating meat and dairy products so it really doesn't make me squeamish.

I think the key to making good apple pie filling is to use just-ripened apples that are still pretty tart and hard. That's why I only make apple pie in the fall: that's when you can get good local apples.

jo(e) said...

ArtistFriend: Okay, I'm smiling at your philosophical ramblings. I've got my own theory, though, about you and pie crust ....

Lomagirl said...

Still waiting for that pie recipe. Maybe you posted it in comments a few weeks ago? Please, pretty please? My apple pies are lacking something.

Wayfarer Scientista said...

For me it's my dad. His pies will always be better even though we re-go over it every time we have a kitchen together.

jo(e) said...

Lomagirl: I posted the pie crust recipe in these comments, but here's the whole recipe:

2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup shortening
1/4 cup cold water

Cut in the shortening, add the water, mix quickly. Divide in two, roll out so you have two crusts. Don't handle the dough too much.

Cut up some apples, preferably a hard variety, definitely nothing soft.

Mix 2/3 cup sugar with 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and mix with apples. Sprinkle some flour (maybe about 1 and 1/2 tablespoons) on the bottom of the pie and in the middle as you put the apple slices in the pie. You can add a little water if the apples are very hard. Put 1 1/2 tablespoons of margerine in dabs at the top just before you add the top crust.

Cut slits in the top crust for steam.

Bake for 15 minutes at 450 degrees and then 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

Rev Dr Mom said...

Butter is better than lard!

I heard someone say she used vodka in her pie crust and it made the best, flakiest pie crust she'd ever had.

Rev Dr Mom said...

and here is an article about the vodka pie crust

Anonymous said...

She's yo momma... of course she makes better apple pie. She can't do everything better than you... but there are always "those things" that mommas do better... that we never figure out.

Lomagirl said...

Thank you Jo(e)!! I'm cutting and pasting and printing right now.

Lomagirl said...

And I should have said- if you are ever in the area of Big D, I'll make you a lemon meringue pie. (tho maybe with a storebought crust as I've gotten lazy in America).

L said...

YAY!!! Recipes, and philosophical discussions of pie crust. I also have a good recipe for crust with oil, but it's SO HARD to make it truly crunchy!

Rana said...

D says that the mixing technique is the key. He takes butter (but shortening ought to work too) and cuts it into chunks, and then he sort of rubs and crumbles it into the dough with his fingers. Basically, the fat gets surrounded by flour in small pieces; when rolled together this is what makes the flaky layers. He doesn't worry too much about keeping it cold, though if the butter gets "too warm" he stops.