Note: Two posts today because this is a companion piece to “Spys [sic] for pies.”
My mother made marvelous pies. Apple and peach, in season, were her favorites; but there was also an errant banana or coconut cream, or lemon meringue, to please my father. Although I had a solid cookie and cake repertoire by the time I was 13, the pies were her domain, and pie-making was demo-only. Whatever I learned, it was by watching, not doing on my own.
I made my first pie attempt shortly after settling into my own kitchen, after a friend gave me a pile of Jonathans from her husband’s family farm. I hauled out my brand new Joy of Cooking and set to it, remembering my mother’s caution—”Don’t over handle the dough—the heat from your hands will make it tough.” I had miserable results anyway. The crust was so tough that I could lift the entire pie out of the plate. Honestly.
I shared my chagrin with Virginia, my food and farm-savvy mentor, who assured me that I could indeed make a respectable pie using an old German recipe she had. I don’t remember the context, but she also said, “A pie that can’t grease itself isn’t worth a farmer’s ass.” In case you didn’t know that you don’t grease a pie plate, you do now.
I’ve used Virginia’s recipe for many, many years. It never fails. It contains Crisco, for which I, like the Pioneer Woman (it’s her recipe, too) refuse to apologize. I’m including this link to Ree Drummond’s directions because they’re very easy to follow if you’re new at, or anxious about, making piecrust. I also like the King Arthur Flour piecrust recipe made with butter and buttermilk powder, principally for meat pies or quiche, as it’s less short and, ergo, sturdier. Both recipes freeze well, so you can make a one-crust pie and freeze the rest for another occasion, which is very handy, and you can use about one third white whole-wheat flour in either if you like.
One of my great regrets is that I have no pictures of Virginia, who became “Grammy” after my kids came along, and that too many years passed without spending time with her. She suffered great losses in her life, but she had what seemed to me an unshakeable faith that kept her going, without discernible self-pity, and made her a kind and calming friend to others.
And, oh yes, she also introduced me to Welsh cookies (we’ll save that for another day) and Old Forge Pizza. She must have a special place in heaven for that.