Time stands still during a good pie-making session. My childhood memories of being taught the ins and outs of baking all kinds of delicious pies by my mom, who’d learned from hers, are each a delicious reprieve from the monotonous march of the clock.
We’d switch back and forth between delicious tasks, from concocting sweet berry blends for a filler that needed little of sugar’s aid, to winding the apple peeler to create juicy morsels awaiting cinnamon; from drowning in the perfect combination of smells that are the ingredients of pumpkin pie to rolling out the dough and making my own crust designs to bake into the strips atop some of the fruity varieties. Hours spent pie-making always consisted of golden, elongated minutes.
The kitchen was our laboratory and my family, the designated pie-bringers to fall gatherings, had pie-making down to a science. Here’s a few crust and filler lessons I picked up along the way.
Of course, there are many kinds of fun pre-made pie crusts containing all sorts of ingredients from the ultra-healthy to cheater crusts that are also, well, cheater crusts. No shame in the pre-made game! Make sure the crust ingredients in a cheater crust work with the cooking time and oven temperatures you’re using.
So go that route when you’re short on time, but also don’t let “experts” on the internet tell you it’s super complicated to make your own. You know those blog posts that take eons of scrolling to get to the actual recipe?! Yes, there are crusts that need fancy folding-in techniques, and you can certainly do crusts wrong, but there are easy options. This one is the simple way I was taught by mom, passed down from her mom:
1/3 cup cold water
1 scant cup vegetable oil
2 ¾ cups flour
a pinch of salt
Once everything is fully combined to the point at which no ingredients are sticking to the bowl, you’re ready to roll. Make sure to sprinkle extra flour underneath your dough as you roll it out. This makes two crusts, good for two custard or other open-face pies or one fruit pie with a top crust.
Your oven times and temperatures will vary based on the filling you choose, and that information is just a click away these days so it’s easy to wing it if you’re using a fruit combination or other filling for which you don’t have a specific recipe. Most fruit pies bake at a temperature between 350 and 450 degrees. Typically, pie recipes call for higher temperatures for about 15 minutes then turning down the oven to about 350. My favorite fillers are pumpkin (canned pumpkin pie mix is great and easy to use, and will often have oven times and temperatures on the side; starting from scratch is a delicate flavor process so make sure you have a good recipe); any kind of forest berry (marionberries, blueberries, ollallieberries, oh my!); and strawberry rhubarb. Try combinations of fruit: apples, peaches, pears, and cherries all go well in pies; or custard-based options, like key lime, lemon meringue, or chocolate or coffee-based custards; or if you’re feeling nutty, try walnuts or pecans.
So enjoy the slow roll, the fruit prep, the crust strip cutting. Live in each second of each moment of creating the simple delicacy of a pie in the fall, and you’ll have your very own temporary time machine. Make sure to spend those expanded moments with people, and flavors, you love.