Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Pie School

When I learned I would be coming back to western New York because I was now graduated, jobless, and rejected by 70+ schools across the nation, I called my mother and told her we had some very serious work ahead of us.

Mainly this: we would be making pies. A lot of pies.

I can do a lot of things in the kitchen but pie-making is not a skill I possess. I've tried, certainly, but each time something goes awry. Well, not something. One thing. The crust.

My mother, like her mother before her, is a championship pie maker. There's nothing she can't do with a pie. I once saw a single glistening tear form in the corner of Ex-Keith's eye as he tasted her caramel apple with homemade whipped cream dolloped on top.

But my pies don't ever measure up. The crusts taste funny or the crusts break apart or the crusts are dry. The filling, well, that's good, but if it doesn't have a good, buttery, flaky container what's the point?

And it irritates me. It irritates me that I can't do something well or right. It irritates me that I'm not carrying on the fine pie-making tradition that our family's ladies have stretched across generations. Since last year I finally mastered the art of nut roll-making, I might as well get pies right too. And what with this extended break at home it just seemed like the perfect time.

Pie Boot Camp started earlier than I expected it. My mother called and left a message for me while I was teaching on Tuesday. I'm thinking about making an apple pie, she said. I'm in the mood. Want to help?

Yes, yes, yes, I did. It was, after all, my own idea for Pie Boot Camp. In fact, I'd started conditioning a few nights prior when I sat on the couch watching the National Pie Championships on the Food Network--the network that is and always has been my porn.

I'd heard the ladies on there discuss secrets for good crust, and I was itching to get my hands in my own. And so this morning I did.

I measured. I mixed. I pastry-cutted. I monitored moisture content. I bowed down to the age-old Betty Crocker recipe that my mother has--oh yes, yes, yes--memorized.

She cut apples while I said a prayer and placed one half of the crust dough between two sheets of wax paper (I hate admitting I use wax paper, my mother said. It's like cheating). I rolled. At least I can wield a rolling pin like a pro (thanks to buttermilk biscuits and 8,000 cookie recipes), and I produced two beautifully round discs of dough. One for the bottom, one for the top. And in between we sandwiched the crisp New York apples with a mix of sugars and cinnamon.

My mother kept saying, "Looks good. Looks moist. Looks perfect."

And somehow, some way, that crust turned out stupidly beautiful. In fact, when we later cut into the pie, I found it was my favorite part of the pie, only because the miracle was elevated. I--me, the worst crust maker ever!--just produced a non tragic crust!

Pie Boot Camp, Phase One: Success.

Pie Boot Camp, Phase Two: Looming. I'm thinking about lattice. After all, don't men just love a fine lattice pie?


Anskov said...

Jess, did you know that I fell into baking in exactly the same manner as you? I was out of college and unemployed. So, (and I am really embarrassing myself with with this next statement) I bought Martha Stewart's Pies and Tarts cookbook and tried making one or two pies a week.

My first pie crust was a huge failure - it fell apart and was gross and I vowed never to do it again. Then my sis encouraged me to try again - what really helped was when I learned to chill all the ingredients (including flour) before cutting the butter or fat into the dry ingredients. Now I use a food processor to get it to a cornmeal consistency before adding water.

That got me interested enough in baking to get a job at Cafe Latte and eventually learn how to bake. Keep up the good work!

Just This Girl said...

Speaking of that Martha Stewart book... I have it. Your copy. I must've just grabbed it in my feverish packing and shoved it in the box with the rest of my cookbooks.

When you arrive back stateside I will mail it back to you so you can continue your baking sprees.

I miss you!!!!

Come make me pie.