Practice makes Perfectly OK Pie

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.

Motherhood_and_apple_pie.jpg: Scott Bauerderivative work: Gesalbte / Public domain
Image: Scott Bauer – Public domain

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

22 Comments

  1. That can be. That sauce is soooooo good. I don’t buy those immediately used vanilla sauces anymore even many people use those.
    If you ask me apless, I like Granny Smith. I don’t know that Yellow Delicious, I only remember Golden Delicious and Gala for me is Royal Gala. I assume it’s the same…I don’t remember the names so well but you can see it when you look at that apple. I wouldn’t buy atleast light green apless or “christmas red” apless as we say but that’s just my opinion.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re right, the proper names are Golden Delicious and Royal Gala. The only green apples I know are Granny Smith, so I’m not familiar with the light green ones. Christmas Red must be Red Delicious which I agree, are not good for baking. Next time I will try making with Granny Smiths too!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I love apple pie…but I always make those using already done paste. It’s so delicious (the one I use). Then I just put the apless on. If the apless are good then the pie is good! With that pie I always make an “old times vanilla sauce” (produckt they sell in Finland atleast) which is the best! It’s powder you just mix with milk. Nice post!

    Like

    1. Your vanilla sauce sounds like what the English call ‘custard’ and the French call ‘Crème anglaise’ 🙂 It’s delicious and makes any dessert taste better.
      Pre-made pie crust definitely make it easier. What kind of apples make the best pie? Chef said Cortland apples are the best but I’ve had good results with Gala and Yellow Delicious too. I don’t know if you’ll have the same names in Finland but it’ll be interesting to hear what you call them 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Strawberry and Rhubarb. Yum. Two things that I’ve ‘discovered’ only recently when a farmers market started selling local rhubarb. Instead of pie, I make a compote of berries and rhubarb and eat it with fresh baked biscuits and cream. It’s almost a pie but without the fussiness of making crust 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Sandy, I just love the way you write. Such an enjoyable read!!
    I’ve never tried to bake apple pie (and I don’t like it much) but I love savoury pies. They aren’t part of my culinary heritage either, so I discovered them bit by bit (or bite by bite) as a grown-up. Yum!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Snow, thank you so much for saying that. As a dabbling creative writer, nothing makes me happier than hearing from a delighted reader 😉
      It seems to me that pies are a very American (& by extension, Canadian) thing. From what I can tell, pies originated in Europe but are primarily savory concoctions. The French have a fancy apple pie but it’s so pretty it’s called Tarte aux Pommes 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Pastry, like painting is an art! It is not the easiest thing. I am restricted to making lefse – unleavened Norwegian flat bread – otherwise i use preprepared pastry sheets. No stress there. I have not even got a good sweet shortcrust pastry recipe. The one recipe I do have that is fail safe is a wholemeal quiche pastry. That never fails me. Have you tried making pastry in the food processor?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve made it by hand, food processor & KitchenAid mixer. The part that always messes me up is adding enough water to pull it together and the rolling out part. If I practiced more I could probably do better but the thing that holds me back is knowing the high fat content. As I’m making the crust I’m weighing off the %chance of success against the %chance of heart attack ( ͡~ ͜ʖ ͡°)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ooo. Heart attacks are nasty. Your point about the water content is moot. I find if I make the usual wholemeal quiche pastry recipe in the processor, I need much less water than mixing by hand. Interesting. Do you know why that might be?

        Liked by 1 person

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