Confessions of an Errant Pie Baker

I really like pie. In fact, it is my favorite dessert. Give me a peach, berry, or lemon pie any day rather than cake. Therefore, it seemed like a natural volunteer opportunity when our church started making pies for the Asbury Café at the state fair to raise money for hunger projects.

The first year I signed my name by one of the openings for an apple pie. I had moved into a house with an apple tree in the backyard and was looking forward to making desserts with my own apples.

“We really like folks to sign up for 2 pies,” the committee representative said when she noticed I had only put my name on one line. “The pie tins come packed together in twos.”

“Well, OK,” I responded meekly. How hard could two pies be? After all, Pillsbury’s refrigerated pie crust comes two crusts to a package.

Feeling like an urban farmer, I hummed as I picked enough apples off my tree to fill two pie crusts. Peeling those tiny apples seemed to take forever. I began to wish I had one of those devices that make peeling apples easy. Next is the easy part, I thought. After I had stuffed the sink full of peelings down the garbage disposal, I began to cut the apples in preparation for slicing.

Something black lurked at the center. “Ugh!” I exclaimed out lout. I was not prepared to find a worm nestled around the core, its pathway winding through the apple. Perhaps this is an anomaly, I thought. However, no such luck – worms had taken up residence in most of the apples.

After tediously cutting away the wormy parts, I rinsed them thoroughly, hoping the de-wormed apples would meet health department standards. What a rude awakening to find the remaining bowl of sliced apples was significantly less than what I needed. Back to the apple tree to pick, peel, core and slice many more apples.

All of the volunteers received a set of aluminum pie tins, a reminder of the date the pies were due, and accompanying information.

“You are Wonderful,” the flyer began, and then continued, “The Asbury Café at the New Mexico State Fair has a reputation for serving scrumptious pies.” Also included were the ‘Pie Guidelines.’ “Better Homes and Gardens double crust pastry recipe is a standard, but you are welcome to use any family favorite,” the pamphlet stated.

“Oh, dear,” I exclaimed. My Pillsbury refrigerated pie crusts were already coming to room temperature, and there was no time to start from scratch – if I even knew how.

There is no favorite family pie crust recipe. My mother evidently continued to harbor traumatic memories of her pie fiasco as a new bride. She only made two kinds of pies, purely out of obligation – lemon meringue for my Dad’s birthday and pumpkin for Thanksgiving. Smart woman – they were both one-crust pies. This led to limited coaching in pie preparation. And, as she demonstrated the appropriate technique for rolling out a crust, she would say, “You know, my first pie crust was so awful, I threw it against the kitchen wall.”

I made my pies with the refrigerated pie crust. The perfectly circular crust created a beautiful pie.

I must be glutton for punishment. The next year I again signed up for apple pies. I used Granny Smith apples from the supermarket – and refrigerated pie crust. Working full time and single-parenting two challenging adolescents limited my ability to venture into making crust from scratch. They were lucky to get my pies!

Year 3, I signed up for a repeat performance. However, my life had become more hectic, and I lost track of when I was supposed to produce the pies. I arrived home from work to the reminder call letting me know that I could deliver my pies to the church either at 7 PM that evening, or by 7:30 AM the following morning. I barely had time to eat my dinner and get to choir practice. What would I do? They were counting on my pies!

I hatched a plan. After choir practice, I stopped at the supermarket and purchased two Marie Callender’s frozen apple pies. I brought them home and popped them out of the tins. They fit perfectly in the aluminum pie plates I received. After placing them in their new baking containers, I re-scrunched the edges of the pie to look more natural. It was late when the pies came out of the oven – looking picture perfect, but not too perfect. I set the alarm early so I could deliver the pies before I went to work.

After my knee replacements, I took a hiatus from pie baking.

This was the year to try again. One of the joys of retirement has been having the time to cook. So, I signed up for two pies this year – blueberry – no peeling and coring. Breanne also decided to bake a pie, and I agreed to help her. She was going to do a cherry pie. Unfortunately, she came down with a respiratory infection, so I ended up baking three pies.

This year it would not be refrigerated pie crust! However, since I had not made crust from scratch since pre-made refrigerated pie crust was developed, I opted for using Betty Crocker’s pie crust mix. All I had to do was add the cold water. I would do all of the mixing and rolling of the dough – if I could find my rolling pin. I had not used it since I abandoned the ritual of cutout sugar cookies for the holidays.

I gently mixed the dough until it formed a ball. I recalled my 8th grade home economic teacher’s admonition to handle the pie crust as little as possible. I plopped the ball of dough on the board and proceeded to roll with light strokes. The edges were all crooked and cracked. I cut off some pieces and tried to make it round. Then, pie crust number one was in its tin.

The second one was a little better, and by time I got to number 5, I had gotten the technique down. My dog, Jasper, did his part cleaning up dough scraps from the floor. As I slid the last pie in the oven, I surveyed the kitchen. There was flour everywhere. It resembled my kitchen the year I hosted a Christmas cookie decorating party for four kindergarten-aged children!

As I prepared the pies for transport to the church, I surveyed my handiwork. These definitely looked home-baked! As I handed them over, I pronounced triumphantly, “I didn’t use prepared crust this year!”

“Oh, you can use refrigerated crust,” she replied. “We are just delighted to have your pies.”

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