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As Easy as Pie

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Teaching my great-niece the ways of pie crust.

Preserving a Legacy of Family, Faith, and Food Series – November 1 – December 31

Article Written by Valerie Comer

“As Easy as Pie.”

If you’ve ever baked a pie, you probably think the old saying is an oxymoron. It should read: as easy as eating pie. ‘Cause, yum! Who doesn’t love a good slice of pumpkin pie with whipped cream? Or perhaps apple pie with cheddar and ice cream? Maybe you prefer lemon pie, with gold-tinged meringue heaped high. Ah, I can feel the tang and sweet of lemon pie warring on my tongue, just thinking about it.

The Mennonite culture my mom was raised in prized a good cook and baker. The pinnacle of baking is that tender, flaky, melt-in-your-mouth piecrust, which my mom perfected to the point where she intimidated all five of her daughters into thinking we could never match Mom’s pies, so why bother trying?  That worked out well for the one sister who lived near our parents, as Mom loved to bake and distributed pies of various flavors regularly. The rest of us mostly did without.

Making pies with my daughter and granddaughter.

Jim and I had been married several years when I was asked to bring pumpkin pies, a feat I’d never yet attempted, to his family’s Thanksgiving dinner. Still, if Mom could do it, surely I could, too. I got out my trusty Betty Crocker recipe book and proceeded to make crusts. Beautiful, thin, cardboard, tasteless junk crusts. No offense to Betty Crocker. I can’t think of any other recipe from her book that ever bombed for me that badly.

I cried. Hey, I was hormonal.

My husband said, “How hard can it be?” and made crusts. While not my mother’s pastry, they were a great deal better than my attempt. I tried to be thankful for his intervention, but mostly I wanted the accolades for myself. I wanted crusts like my mother’s. The next chance I got, I asked for her recipe, which I should have done in the first place instead of thinking all recipes were created equal.

Mary helping her mom measure chopped rhubarb.

I imagined my mom smiling over the phone as she gave me the directions. She told me this crust recipe had never failed her, and you know what? I’ve been baking pies now for over 25 years, and it’s never yet failed me, either.

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No Fail Piecrust (makes 7 crusts)

In 1-cup measuring cup, place:
2 large eggs
2 Tablespoons white vinegar
Water up to the 1-cup line
Whisk thoroughly, set aside for a moment.

In mixing bowl, place:
5 cups white flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 pound (2 cups) shortening or butter
Crumb. When pieces are smaller than pea-size, add the egg/vinegar/water mixture.
Combine gently but thoroughly.
Divide into 7 balls.
(Wrap and freeze the balls if not going to be used within a week, or refrigerate for a few days.)

To roll out:
I place a piece of waxed paper, about twice as long as it is wide, on my table, with one end just over the edge of the table. This I anchor with my hip. Sprinkle flour on the waxed paper, and pat out one pastry ball to a few inches in diameter. Flip it over, add a dusting of flour top and bottom, then roll out with a rolling pin until it is reasonably round and the edges overlap the sides of the waxed paper by just a bit. Add a sprinkle of flour if the dough sticks to the rolling pin. Set your pie plate upside down on the pastry. Slide your hand under the waxed paper and flip the whole combination onto your other hand. Peel off the waxed paper, which may be used for multiple crusts.

Fill and bake according to the specific recipe.

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You might be intimidated when you see this makes seven “balls.” Don’t be. Each one makes a top or bottom crust. So if you’re doing pumpkin or lemon or chocolate pudding pies, you will get seven of them. Or you can make 3 with a top crust, such as apple, rhubarb, or cherry, and one “open” pie.

The younger generation lined up for dessert.

Best of all, there’s no law that says you need to make all the pies at once. Once you have the balls made, you can stick several in a Ziploc in your freezer for next time you crave pie. In the fall, I often use up several making apple turnovers: cutting circles of about 4 inches from the dough, adding dollops of homemade apple pie filling, folding them over, crimping the edges, poking a few holes with a fork, and baking them. These freeze well and Jim loves to find them in his lunchbox.

My sisters and I held a family reunion for over 50 people in June, 2012. With my mom no longer with us, I got elected to make the pies for dessert two evenings. The first day, I had help from my daughter and two-year-old granddaughter, Mary. What fun to have little hands helping pat out crusts and measuring ingredients for rhubarb filling! The second day, my 12-year-old great-niece joined me in the kitchen, to her parents’ delight. They’re looking for more pies at their house over the coming years!

Passing on skills like these tie generations together. I hope I’ve convinced a few people–perhaps including you!–that making a good crust doesn’t need to be intimidating.

Mary opening up the Ziploc full of balls of crust.

I smile looking at these photos, remembering times when I was a child swathed in a large apron, standing on a chair and “helping” with cooking or baking at my mother’s or grandmother’s side. I’m thankful Mary will have such fond memories, too.

Maybe one day she’ll teach her children and grandchildren that pie really is easy to make!

[tooltip text=”TOOLTIP TEXT”]‘s life on a small farm in Western Canada provides the seeds for stories of contemporary inspirational romance. Like her ancestors before her, Valerie and her husband of over 30 years grow much of their own food, preserving vast amounts of it by canning, freezing, and dehydrating, and passionately teach this lifestyle to the next generation on the family farm. Supplying healthy food–local food, organic food, seasonal food–so that her delightful young granddaughters can grow strong bodies and minds is worth every effort. Valerie’s fiction debuted with a novella in Rainbow’s End anthology from Barbour, May 2012.[/tooltip]

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