Monday, September 20, 2010

Easy as Pie

by Kelley Lindberg

I spent all day yesterday in the kitchen. It’s harvest time, so that means my counters are overflowing with tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, and raspberries from my own garden, and peaches from a neighbor’s. So I spent the day making salsa, making spaghetti sauce to freeze for low-effort dinners this winter, and grating zucchini to freeze for making zucchini bread and throwing into soups and casseroles.

Then I tackled a couple of Peach Melba pies. I made my pie crust from scratch, and once again puzzled over the expression “easy as pie.”

Who made that up? A sadistic cook wishing to lure people into expensive cooking classes?

Okay, so I admit that there are only 4 ingredients in a pie crust, and one of them is water. It doesn’t look that hard on paper. (Much of life can be summed up that way, can’t it?) But since I only make pies from scratch about once a year, I always manage to forget that the execution takes a lot more effort and finesse than you’d think.

It’s not complicated – cut 3/4 cup of shortening into 2 cups of flour and 1 tsp of salt, make a well in the center of the crumbly mixture, add 4 T of ice water, and mix.

See? Deceptively easy. But this is my grandmother’s recipe, and there’s always a catch. “Don’t over-handle it” she says. I know that if you handle the crust too much, it will stop being flaky and start being chewy. So I try to minimize my handling, whatever that means. Then I roll it out on a floured piece of wax paper. Again, not so easy. The dough has an annoying tendency to stick to my non-stick rolling pin. Then it wants to either stick to the wax paper or not stick to the wax paper, depending on what I want it to do at that particular moment. And it’s just the right texture to tear instead of stretch as I lay it into the pan.


Oh well. Eventually I got it into the pan and trimmed the edges. Then came the peaches. I peeled and cut up about 3 cups of peaches for each pie, which seemed to take forever, then added a cup of raspberries to each batch. Added in some sugar, a touch of salt, and a touch of flour to thicken it. Then I made more pie crust for the top layers – it didn’t get easier with practice, but finally I had the two pies intact and in the oven.

I used a cookbook to tell me how long to cook the pies. But since we’re at high altitude, it always takes longer to bake things, so it becomes a guessing game, rather than a science. I guessed wrong. Not bad, but enough so that the bottom crust wasn’t quite done when I cut into it after dinner.

Oh well. The good news is that it actually tasted pretty good. And spending the day in the kitchen gives me a kind of strange, domestic sense of accomplishment, putting me in tune with generations of female ancestors who spent every day there, instead of just a few days in the fall.

I spend most of my time making baked goods from scratch these days because it’s the easiest way to avoid food allergens. But I do appreciate when I can use commercial short-cuts, like Pillsbury’s pie crusts. But I have to admit, it just doesn’t taste quite as good as Grandmother’s pie crust. Even if it was more work.

My grandmother knew what she was doing.

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