That's the opening line of the poem "Pie" by Susan Bright, from her collection Tirades and Evidence of Grace, which I found more than twenty years ago when it was reprinted in the UTNE Reader. A yellowed copy still marks the Pies section of my recipe binder. (No spoilers here, but it also becomes an unexpected performance piece in BUTTER OFF DEAD, the third Food Lovers' Village Mystery, out July 7 and available for pre-order now!)
“If you want to learn how to bake a good cake,” my father told young me, “talk to your Aunt Peggy. But for pie, watch your mother.”
I’ve confessed before, I did not grow up in a foodie family. I will not confess our sins here, but they were many. The bright spot? My mother loved to bake, perhaps a remnant of her German farm ancestry or her fond memories of afternoons with her grandmother in the 1930s. Whatever the reason, she picked up a fondness for pie that I nurture still.
And who doesn't love pie?
Every year in my childhood, my mother made two cherry pies for the Winter Carnival held at the Catholic high school. One year, a certain five year old ate all the crust around the edge of a cherry pie. Said child did not get to go to the Carnival that year. She is still pouting.
And I still love cherry pie. (I helped my mother move recently and was pleased to see she’d replaced the old wooden rolling pin with the red handles that always fell out, though she kept it. I snared them both.)
An aside: I loved to bake with my mother for the ritual of it. Which included wearing aprons. When my father’s mother died and we went to St. Paul for the service and family gathering, one of my aunts took me into my grandmother’s bedroom and told me she’d left me a gift: a box of cherry Lifesavers and a plastic apron. If it hadn’t rotted years ago, I’d show you a picture; I know it sported cherries. (There were others in the drawer as well; I suspect each of my girl cousins got one!) No wonder Luci the Splash Artist in my Food Lovers Village Mysteries cherishes vintage aprons.
When I told my mother I’d made her cherry pie for this post, she told me a story I did not recall. The Christmas I was four, we went back to Minnesota, where my parents were from, to visit, and stayed with my favorite aunt and uncle—my father’s sister Lois and her husband Pete, coincidentally the parents of mystery writer Laura Childs. Aunt Lois made a pie. She came out into the living room holding a can of pie filling—which did not have a picture of the fruit—and asked my mother, “Can that child read?” I hadn’t seen the pie, just the can. But reading matters. How else would I have known we were about to celebrate with cherry pie?
Now, I am not one of those cooks who never uses prepared products—canned pie filling, for example—but I see no reason not to make your own pie crust. It’s honestly not that difficult. (A neighbor who envied my mother’s pastry prowess complained that her dough ended up looking like Idaho. Nice for a state; a problem for a pie.) Make sure your dough is damp enough to hold together—here in semi-arid Montana, where flour can dry out a bit, that sometimes means adding extra liquid. The oil or butter makes a dough easy to work with—it responds to the heat of your hands. I like to roll the crust between sheets of waxed paper or parchment paper; you’re not actually rolling the dough, and it’s easy to flip it into the pie plate.
This recipe is also flexible. The Monday after Cherry Pie Sunday, we made a quiche. Why two pies in two days? Why not? I added fresh ground pepper and used half canola oil, half olive oil. And by golly, super fab.
“Easy as pie.”
Classic Cherry Pie with Alice’s Double Crust
This is not your classic butter-and-ice-water crust, though to my mind, it’s a lot easier. But this week, we’re not talking “best I ever ate” or “best according to the experts;” we’re talking food, memory, love. And this is it.
In a medium bowl, mix:
2 cups white flour
1-1/2 teaspoon salt
Pour into a glass measuring cup (hey–they always used glass back then, and it does have a visibility advantage):
½ cup oil
1/4 cold milk
Pour liquid ingredients all at once into the flour. Stir until mixed. Press into a smooth ball. Flatten and roll out between two sheets of waxed paper.
(For a single crust pie, use 1-1/2 cups white flour, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/3 cup oil, and 3 tablespoons cold milk.)
Traditional cherry pies are made with a lattice top, but it’s far from necessary.
Now, if I were making this my way, and the fruit stands on the east shore of Flathead Lake were open, I would use either fresh cherries or local fruit canned for pies. But it’s April as I write, and we’re talking the Mom Thing. So I’m doing as she would do and using canned fruit.
Cool as long as you can, then eat. Vanilla ice cream is a bonus. But remember: the first piece is ALWAYS a mess!
Much as I love cherry, and apple, my absolute favorite pie is rhubarb custard, a classic from the Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook. What’s your favorite?
Coming in July 2015: BUTTER OFF DEAD, third in the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries! (Available for pre-order now, in all formats.)
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