A good pie crust is a culinary milestone
National Pie Day is March 14, so that was the day I intended to make a pie. Fresh pie! Homemade delight! Could anything be better?
Except, maybe I needed to, um, do some laundry first. Yes! Clean dish cloths! And then perhaps I should mop. Gosh, should I ride my bike somewhere, maybe to the store or something? Probably!
I managed to dither and hedge for an entire week.
It’s the pie crust, you see. It’s so humble, yet such a culinary monument. And because pre-made pie crust is on my arbitrary and incomprehensible mental list of “This Is Cheating,” I needed to make it from scratch.
This is where things head south.
I descend from a long line of Capable Women, women who sew their own clothes and can their own peaches and don’t need a recipe to make biscuits. And their stuff always turns out. My mom’s pie crust is a flaky work of art every time. I know, because I eat as much of it as I can cram in my mouth. My efforts, however, are a little more hit-or-miss.
So there’s that, plus the historical and cultural significance of a pie crust. It represents a transitional moment when eating became not just about getting enough to survive, but enjoying it as well. What delights could be inside the pie crust!
Being able to make a good pie crust, then, becomes one of life’s culinary milestones. First, you learn to crack an egg. Then, to stir it into the brownies. In quick succession, the first spaghetti dinner, the first loaf of bread, the first omelet follow.
Each step says, “I can do this. I can feed myself, I can feed my family, I am part of the continuing story of humanity.”
The first pie crust is about understanding the balances of baking, about following the recipe but knowing when things just feel right. And, if we’re being honest, it’s a little bit about showing off. Pie crusts are supposed to be light as air, apparently, and just float right off the plate.
So, you see my hesitation. I’d made exactly one pie crust before this, about 12 years ago when my book group read “On the Road” (and it seemed appropriate to honor all the apple pie Sal, Dean and the gang ate in the book). As I remember, that pie turned out pretty OK, but only because I called my mom every five minutes.
This time, I decided I Could Do It. I consulted various recipes on the Internet, which painted a bleak picture: Do not over-mix or it will be tough! Chill the dough at least half an hour or it won’t roll out! Don’t look directly at it and only speak of it in whispers or it will smother you in your sleep and the world will end!
I cringed into my kitchen and wished I was one of those hearty, Capable Women who are just practical and not intimidated and would never dream that an acceptable substitute for corn starch is large tapioca pearls beaten into dust with a rolling pin. (Tip: That doesn’t work.)
Using the French Pastry Pie Crust recipe from allrecipes.com, I mixed and cringed and chilled and cringed. It was silly, I know, and what’s the big deal, really? But when pie crust doesn’t turn out, you might as well shove sliced fruit between two asphalt shingles, then throw the whole thing away.
Pie crust also requires great patience, which I usually have, but which abandoned me when the stupid wax paper kept wrinkling as I rolled out the top crust and I couldn’t tell if the dough was lousy and just forget it, I don’t care if it’s an inch thick, I want to drop-kick this stupid pie.
The crust, I’m happy to report, turned out just fine. The filling (Apple Pie by Grandma Ople from allrecipes.com) did not. It didn’t set up, I kind of wanted to cry and give the pie a C- grade, but then I remembered: the crust!
Yes, Capable Woman here made a good pie crust.