I am not a pie person. Growing up it wasn’t part of my culinary heritage. Of course, I’d read about pies. I would flip through the Betty Crocker cookbook and marvel at golden crusted fruit pies, luscious looking custard pies and magnificently high chiffon pies. Betty Crocker was an American icon and she featured the most famous of pies, the all American Apple Pie.
From my island girl point of view, to be truly American meant eating apples and loving apple pie. ‘As American as apple pie’ was a popular idiom in books, movies and TV shows. But back then, living on a definitely non-American island, apples were rare and exotic. For most years, austerity and import bans cut-off all but essential foods. Even when there were apples, they were for slicing and sharing, eaten out of hand and savored one bite at a time. No one ever made apple pie.
Fast forward to my first year in university. It was winter in the snow belt region of Ontario, Canada. I lived in a basement apartment five kilometers off campus. Every morning I’d wrap myself in layers, tug on oversized snow boots and tramp through waist-high snow banks on my way to school. I remember that semester as being plagued with home sickness. I consoled myself by eating all the things I couldn’t have at home. One day, I purchased a box Mrs. Smith’s frozen apple pie. I read the instructions, baked it and let it cool. Then I ate it. One slice at a time, one after the other until all the pie was gone. It was delicious.
Recently in cooking school, one of my Baking Arts classes was devoted to apple pie. Over the years I’d tried unsuccessfully to make pie. Finally I thought, I will learn the secret to making perfect apple pie. Unfortunately, it was not so. Although my teacher, bench mate and everyone else in the classroom made perfect pie, I made a disaster.
My dough was crumbly and difficult to work with. When I rolled it out, the shaggy edges broke apart. Whenever I lifted the rolled out dough, massive tearing would result. My final crust was a patch work of pieces pressed together with water and thumbprints. I hoped for the best during baking. Surely, it would all meld together, right? Hmm. No.
At inspection time, Chef shook his head and tut-tutted at my pie.
“You should have called me,” he said. “Your dough was too dry and you needed more water at the beginning. Even later you could have saved it. Just break it up and sprinkle with water before rolling out.”
Mortified at my poor pie performance in class, I went home and tried again. Practice makes perfect, I said to myself. My second pie crust was better but the filling needed work. So I made another. More confident now, I made fancy cut-outs for decorations. I experimented with egg washes vs water washes. I tried different thickeners for the filling: flour, cornstarch, gelatin. Over the course of three days, I made three pies.
The last pie was good but not perfect. However I had to stop. Three pies in one week was more pastry than my hips could handle.
Today, despite practice, I still haven’t mastered the art of making perfect pie. I do however, make a Perfectly OK apple pie and that I’m afraid, is as good as it’s going to get.
Today’s post is brought to you by Amanda’s Friendly Friday Challenge: Practice.
Toronto, Canada. October 2020