Sunday, November 9, 2008

What Is the Value of Pie?

I'm not afraid to bake a pie. I've heard rumors there are women who are afraid to try because they're intimidated by the intricate process of crust making, or they've failed to make a perfect crust in the past. Being afraid is far different from being satisfied with the fake, store-bought pies from the bakery. Fear I can understand; I'm scared of souffles and any kind of dough that has to be kneaded (doesn't everyone want to be kneaded?). But take heart if you're among the piecrust-fearful; it's worth it to keep trying.

I wouldn't eat pie when I was a kid. The mixture of flavors and textures wasn't appealing, so I just ate the plain apples or the cherries on their own. Chocolate pie was the exception, because I can't resist chocolate in most any form and because Mom made it from scratch, producing a dessert with a perfectly flaky crust, richly flavorful chocolate pudding filling, and real vanilla-flavored whipped cream on top. Nobody could resist Mom's chocolate pie.

I don't remember the first time I actually made an apple pie, but I think it was the day my mother-in-law asked me to bring a pumpkin pie to a family gathering - Thanksgiving, probably. I disliked pumpkin pie even more than apple pie, and I couldn't stand the thought of contributing something I so detested.

After I convinced her that apple pie was a better choice, I decided to bake instead of buy, for two reasons: thrift and tradition. In my family, one never, simply never, bought a pie of any kind. The closest bakery was at least 12 miles away, and besides, pie making was an art practiced and perfected among my maternal ancestors. If I couldn't make my own pie, I wasn't my mother's daughter or my Grammie's granddaughter. No pressure from them of course; this was all my own delusion. Back then I was still adventuresome in the kitchen and didn't realize so many things can go wrong with a pie: dough that tore apart when rolled, a tough crust, tasteless filling, burnt edges, chewy fruit instead of tender.

I called my mother for her recipe. She lived too far away to come and help me, although kind as she is, she probably would have made the 300-mile drive. She let me in on a secret: her renowned piecrust had two special ingredients - vinegar and egg. This combo made the dough practically fool-proof, which was perfect for a young and foolish wannabe baker like me. I rolled up my sleeves, put on one of those fru-fru aprons, and baked my first apple pie.

If you're expecting a disaster story, forget it; although I hated the floury, sticky mess that was left to clean up, my pie was good enough to please not only my former m-i-l but also her whole family. They were easy to please, not having a lot of experience with homemade pie. Their bakery was only three blocks away, and they weren't much into baking. And so I became the family's designated pie baker, which was fine with me because my only other choice was "designated potato salad maker," and I detested potato salad. I've still never made one and I'm pushing 50.

But I did eventually taste my own pie, because I figured "just once" wouldn't kill me, and I fell in like. When you spend at least an hour creating a dessert, it's practically sinful to let other people eat all of it. Apple pie still isn't my favorite dessert (that title is permanently reserved for something with chocolate in it), but I always enjoy at least one piece, warm from the oven with vanilla ice cream melting down the sides. What I value even more is the look on Scott's face and his "Ahhh..." after the first bite. You'll never get that satiated look or that satisfied sound by serving a store-bought pie.

Over the almost 30 years since unveiling my first pie, I've worked to perfect my own recipe. Experimenting with a combo of apple varieties, a dash of other spices along with cinnamon, chilled dough, and a few other tricks are making it a little better each time. It's one of my favorite things to do on a fall afternoon, especially when I've picked too many apples to fit in the fridge. They have to go somewhere, and there's no better place than in a homemade piecrust. The bounty of this year's crop of Jonathans, Romes, and Golden Delicious is sitting on our side porch in plastic bags, waiting to be peeled, wedged, cored, and sliced.

A fresh, homemade apple pie is such a treasure to certain friends that they'll take them in exchange for doing things like looking after our cat and gathering our mail while we're out of town. They'd do these things anyway, but the pies are a sight more welcome than a thank-you note. We have a friend who shoveled our long, steep driveway after a heavy snow; we offered to pay him for his three hours of bone-chilling work that left him looking like Jack Frost. All he wanted was an apple pie.

I do have a pie-related goal, or perhaps it's a pie-fear to overcome: making a pumpkin pie once in my life that will make Scott go "Ahh..." I won't eat it - that's too big a goal. Well, maybe I'll try it. Just once won't kill me.


lad said...

So … I asked my husband what is the value of Pie (He still loves my strawberry/rubarb pie).
He states there is no value………
Then seeing my surprise he said Pie are squared.
Well! I’ve never made a square Pie before and he’s never called me square, at least to my face.
OK, so Pie has no value and its square….seeing my confusion he explains there isn’t an exact value…Pie is a constant, always the same but hard to pin down.
Really I said, trying to picture my round homemade pies as square objects running around the kitchen refusing to be served.
Due to my puzzled silence, rare in our home, he continues Pie equals approx 3.14 and is a cosmic mystery…..
Now I’m shaking my head and thinking if he wants my pie he’ll eat it round with ice cream, and without complaining.

Santana said...

Jenny that is so RIGHT!!! I made a apple pie last year and it didn't turn out right. I'm to scared to try it again!! I think I might attempt it again for Jordan's sake cause I really love him and I know he loves apple pie. I should practice on the crust a little bit.

Jenny said...

I enjoyed reading your blog. I recently tried making a pie... I've never been much of a pie-maker; my family always liked cookies, brownies, and cakes better (they are easier to bake for sure). Anyway, Ethan kept asking me to make a "punkin pie" out of his "punkin". I don't think he even knew what a pumpkin pie tasted like & I doubted he would like it. Tim dislikes them too and asked me why I was going through all the trouble to make a homemade pie that no one but me would eat. For the experience I suppose. Ethan helped me scoop out all the pumpkin seeds, helped to mash the cooked pumpkin, and even used an electric mixer for the first time. He helped a little, but lost interest very quickly. I didn't want to make mom's piecrust recipe b/c it looked complicated & looked like it made a LOT of piecrust; I only needed one. I won't make that mistake again. The recipe I used was terrible! I guess I can't blame it all on the recipe... I'm not experienced with pie crusts and never seem to get them to turn out well. The pie filling was good, but you wouldn't like it. I didn't know you didn't like pumpkin pie either. Finally, Tim was right too about Ethan not liking it... Ethan was crying about not liking the pie before he even tried it. Despite the tears, Tim made him take a bite. I ate a couple of pieces (crust cut off) and threw the rest away. Possibly a waste of effort, but hopefully a learning process for me & Ethan. Now I have lots of pureed pumpkin that I'm using in chocolate chip pumpkin bread and pumpkin pancakes.