I’ve been thinking a lot about pie lately. I don’t bake very much since I gave up all gluten a couple years ago. (Okay, if I am honest, I gave up nearly all gluten, but sometimes things do pass my lips that contain the evil substance for which I am usually sorry a few days later.) I used to love baking. I miss making cakes and cookies from scratch. Buying them just isn’t the same as patiently following the recipe, creaming sugar and butter, folding in this and that, mixing just right all the ingredients. And then the smells that come from the oven….oh my. And when the timer rang out, it was announcing great things to sample. Cakes, cookies, those were my thing. But pie, that was always more involved a project than I liked to take on.
I remember making it once when I was living in a small apartment. The challenge was that pies tend to be a steamy bake and the smoke detector was wired into the ceiling in the kitchen. I had to set up a complex system of fans in order to keep the steamy heat from setting off the alarm. Even then I ended up on a chair ripping the alarm off the ceiling to avoid the unwanted attention.
My mother made cakes for all of our birthdays and for special occasions. She always had one or two in the freezer in case of a picnic or company. Banana cake with chocolate fudge frosting always freezes well, in case you were wondering. An apple cake was one she could just whip up quickly that looked like a lot of work went into it. We had a great recipe for what we called crazy chocolate cake. All the ingredients went into the bowl at once. The final ingredient was a cup of boiling coffee. Once that was in, you beat it all together and poured it into pans to bake. It was a very moist, dense chocolate cake.
My mother also made great pies. Pie was a more seasonal dessert. Blackberries we gathered in the summer around our house. Elderberries towards the end of summer we might find along the highways. Her Apple Crumb Pie with a wonderful buttery, cinnamon crumb topping was everybody’s favorite. I liked it too, but I preferred Cherry. It had two crusts and that was my favorite part, the crusts. I had it instead of birthday cake. I think I first asked for it because I thought it was a way to avoid the whole candles and singing part of the birthday. Nothing is worse than seven people singing that song with absolutely no enthusiasm. It failed to eliminate the song from my birthday dinner, but the candles were gone. And there was pie, cherry pie.
My mother used her mother’s pie crust recipe. It may sound unusual but it contained vinegar, just a tiny amount, and shortening or lard as it was then known. It wasn’t actual lard, from that can in the fridge that contained the drippings from bacon that she saved. It was shortening, Crisco, same as it used in some baking today. It was the best pie crust ever. She always mixed it up and then refrigerated it overnight so that it was easier to roll out the next day. She would even make them ahead and freeze them. It can make the crust even flakier.
When she was ready to roll it out, everything was removed from our kitchen table. It was a small kitchen and the table was used for everything, not only meals, but homework, reading the newspaper, playing board games, craft projects, meetings, visiting and more. It had to be cleared and cleaned thoroughly. The area was then staged with the canisters of both flour and sugar, a towel or two, pie tins. And Mom’s rolling pin – the star of this project.
Mom’s rolling pin was a white porcelain one with pink and red roses on it. It had an old cork on one end and a ring loop on the other for hanging it to store. It was heavy and strong but delicate and fragile at the same time. I lived in fear of dropping it on the floor and breaking it. Flour and sugar were sprinkled on the table in a large circular area and rubbed onto the rolling pin to keep the dough from sticking once rolling began. A ball of dough, predetermined to be one crust, was placed in the middle of the flour-sugar prepared tabletop.
And the rolling begins. Gently, back and forth, back and forth, the ball lowers. About halfway down, my mother would turn it ninety degrees and begin to roll again, gently, back and forth, until it was the right thickness – about a quarter of an inch – and the right diameter to fit the waiting pie tin. On the final roll, she would let one end of the flattened dough catch on the rolling pin and roll up over it to allow her to lift it easily from the table and gently position it in the pie tin.
The dough then had to be nudged into the bottom and then the sides of the tin until it was well fit. Once the base was all snuggled in, the top edge would need to be smoothed out and a knife was run around the edge of the tin to cut of any dough that might be hanging over the edge. This dough was important to us kids. It would not be rolled into another pie crust.
Once the base was in, if it was an apple pie, the raw apples, already peeled and cut would be placed inside, sprinkled liberally with a sugar and cinnamon mixture to ensure a nice flavoring. If there was any concern that the apples might be too juicy, we would add a tablespoon of flour to this. Then the crumb topping of butter, flour, cinnamon and sugar would be piled on, coaxed to the edges without spilling over and into the oven it would go. For Cherry, after the filling was in, the top crust had to be rolled out, positioned and pinched between fingers around the edges to seal the top and bottom crusts together. Small cuts would be made in the top crust for steam to escape during baking and into the oven it would go.
After the pies were in the oven, the scraps of dough that were left would be gathered together into a small ball and rolled out. Softened butter would be smoothed over the dough usually with the fingers of a small helpers. Then cinnamon and sugar would be sprinkled onto the butter and the length of dough would be rolled up tightly. A knife would make even half inch cuts into this and create little pinwheels to be baked when the pies were done.
Nothing went to waste. The kitchen was warm and almost glowing as the pies would bake. The table would have to be cleared, canisters put away, utensils into the hot soapy water in the sink to wash. Then the table was swept off and wiped down clean again. Wire racks took the place where the previous work had been done so that when the timer rang out, the pies would be removed and set to cool.
Unlike cookies cooling on the wire racks, cakes and pies were agonizing to us as children because you couldn’t sneak over and steal one to sample. You had to wait until the cakes were cooled and iced or until the pies were cooled and set. Sometimes you had to wait until it was time to serve them, much later. Agonizing.
It was a process with many steps that taught patience and focus. When I think about it, I realize that the number of skills required to bake a simple pie is actually phenomenal. Reading, following direction, understanding the science involved, using the tools, adjusting for temperature, humidity, season and to do all that while five children were in need of attention or a snack or a fight over what was being watched on television was going on is equally amazing. My mother was a genius, hidden in an apron constantly washing dishes.
#multitasking #raisingafamily #baking #pie #feedingafamily
3 c. flour (we only ever knew all-purpose existed)
1 ¼ c. shortening (Crisco) or 1 c. lard (yes that is what it says)
1 tsp salt
1 egg, well beaten
5 Tbsp water
1 Tbsp vinegar (white was all we knew at the time too)
Cut the shortening into the flour (My mom did this with 2 butter knives) and salt.
Combine egg, water and vinegar. Pour into flour mixture. Blend with a spoon until moistened. Work with fingers and then roll out with rolling pin. Will stay 2 to 3 weeks in fridge if needed. Chill overnight for easier rolling. Freeze if you don’t need them right away after rolling out.
Yield: Enough for 2 covered crusts.
She rarely blind baked anything but the recipe indicates it can be done – at 400° F for 10 to 15 minutes and prick bottom with a fork. With filling you will want to follow the instructions for your fillings as it will be different if filling is already cooked or is raw fruit, meringue or other.
Crazy Chocolate Cake
Put the following ingredients into a mixing bowl in the order given. Do not stir until the boiling coffee is added and then beat 3 minutes with electric mixer (5 minutes by hand):
2 c. sugar
1 c. sour cream or buttermilk
¾ c. cocoa
1 c. butter or desired shortening
2 tsp soda
2 tsp vanilla
1/8 tsp salt
3 c. flour
1 c. boiling coffee
Makes 3 – 9 inch layers or 4 – 8 in layers or 1 large 10 x 15 inch sheet (and likely a whole lot of cupcakes!) Bake at 375° F for 25 to 45 minutes depending upon pan you choose. Toothpick for doneness.
(I make no guarantees as to the outcomes of these recipes. Never eat something you aren’t supposed to eat. The pictures attached to this blog are not photos of my mother’s actual pies.)