There’s Pillsbury ready-made piecrust and that’s pretty OK. Bakeries sell pie crust already in the pie pan. Or you can roll it yourself. Very convenient in a pinch.
But there’s nothing like homemade pie crust done right.
In 2003 my Swedish in laws visited for Thanksgiving. They didn’t really understand the holiday but they were into it. It had meat. It had potatoes. It had gravy. What’s not to like?
My mother-in-law and I got along seamlessly for two reasons: She spoke very little English and I spoke very little Swedish. Other than both us loved her son, the relationship didn’t have much else going.
A nice Swedish home has a piece of cloth in the middle of the table called a Duk. Or En Duk in Swedish. The duk is where the diner places his or her bread. This renders the bread plate unnecessary, which saves dishes, but it leaves crumbs everywhere, which I hate.
My mother-in-law and I conducted silent warfare over En Duk for the 14 years I lived with her son. She gave me duk after duk and when it came time for her to visit, I either could not find any of the duks (bad Swedish wife), or I did not serve bread (really bad and really unSwedish). It was a sore spot on her end. I held my own grudge over a series of unfortunate vacuum cleaner incidents. Perhaps frustrated by my low commitment to housekeeping, my mother-in-law began vacuuming. It made her so happy that she kept vacuuming, eventually landing outside using the vacuum to remove giant oak leaves from the window wells. Mayhem ensued and the vacuum motor burned up. The replacement vacuum lasted less than 24 hours due to a rather unfortunate incident whereupon a throw rug was sucked in, stuck, and burned the motor before she could unplug it. Nothing sucks like Electrolux!
The duk and the vacuum incidents paled in comparison to my mother-in-law walking in to find me unwrapping a frozen crust with the Pillsbury Dough Boy.
This would not do.
My husband was dispatched to translate. Ingredients were located. They went to the store. How my husband convinced his mother that Crisco could and would be used in place of lard remain a Swedish-American Miracle.
Within an hour she showed me how to make a crust by hand. The food processor was just inches away and I had seen Martha Stewart do it that way, but there was no way I was going to suggest it. We spoke very little and in our usual Swengish, but most of the lesson I watched and learned. She made me do it over and over until the crust was smooth, perfect, and had the right distribution of fat and flour. A peace came over the valley and all rejoiced.
That crust rocked.
I perfected it, learned to crimp about 5 different ways, followed Martha’s design ideas with leaves and cutouts, sugared the crust, and eventually it became an art form.
And I pass it on.
Maddie and Lily started baking pies soon as they could stand on a chair without falling over. Each year we break out the ingredients, clean the counter once with soup and three times with water, and we worked together to get the pies done. My rolling pin is from my first commercial baking job and is 4x too big and loaded with ball bearings but it’s such a part of our family history that it’s the only tool of choice.
As they’ve grown more independent, I’ve learned to step back and release control over the crust. Years of yelling “You’re over handling it!” and grabbing the rolling pin have given way to me sitting back and watching. And providing advice if, and only if, asked. Lily is a champion pie crust maker and her edging rivals Martha’s. Swirls, pinches, designs with sharp knives and other tools. She’s an artist and she just keeps getting better.
Maddie is pure scientist, so she does all the math on filling preparation. Historically we have made 3-4 pies, but we make deep dish and the recipe is for a regular pie, making a 1.5 factor part of the calculations. There are 5 spices and they all look the same if you don’t cook much, and Maddie always gets it right. And she’s confident about the calculations.
Individually we have ingredients and people. Collectively we have a family working together. Just like a great pie requires gentle attention, time, great ingredients and loving intention – so does our family. It looks like just a pie on the counter, but once I year it is an affirmation that I am DOING IT RIGHT.
The best looking pie gets the designation of THE SHOW PIE. The show pie has the least flaws, the most even crust and the best color. The girls used to pick from the pies I made, but now the field is open for the next generation of bakers. Lily and I have gone neck and neck a few years on crimping but her patience typically pays off and her detail is flawless. In 2013 she only lost to me because my filling pour was 100% clean and it was really a heartbreaker to see her work so hard on that pie only to have a little splash at the end. 2014 was another great pie year and Lily seamlessly took The Show Pie title.
Today’s the big day. The rolling pin is down, the ingredients are here, and my heart is grateful to my friends and my family. Thank you, Mother Father God, for bringing me into a world where I can watch my daughters become the best version of me and of themselves. Where a pie is more than a pie…it’s family.
Stay tuned for the third and final of the Pumpkin Pie series. Mom’s down and Jeff Gamer steps in as pinch pie maker.