These wonderful friends of mine, Barb and Wayne, are pie people. Barb is a master pie maker, teaches pie classes, has written a pie cookbook and can bake a perfect pie in a wood stove. She believes that pies bring people together. I think she’s right! Their adult daughters dress in retro housewife dresses and make fabulous pies. Their friends make pies. Wayne loves pies, eats lots of pies and helps stage their giant pie contest each year. He also has his musician friends (Paul and I are in this category) play old-time and bluegrass music for the pie crowd while the ballots are being tabulated. This takes a while since there are multiple categories, about 100 entries and lots of judges (every guest tastes and judges).
I had never been a pie maker. Cobbler, cake, cookies, icebox pies and rustic tarts yes, but not real baked pies with scratch crusts. When I got the urge to do something with seasonal fruit or at holidays, I purchased a convenient pie crust from the dairy section that come ready to unroll. I remember watching my grandmother make pies and even cute little hand pies for us kids too. I like the hand pies best because there is a higher ratio of flaky crust to filling. Sometimes too much fruit filling can overwhelm me! We called the little pies tarts. Other people must have too because along came these store bought hand pies with a strange chemical taste in the background, called Pop Tarts! As I child I was fascinated by them but never related them to grandma’s tarts. Of course Pop Tarts and ready made crust are never even mentioned by the serious pie people, so let’s pretend I never brought it up.
With some nudging from Barb, I entered the contest. It’s a wacky, friendly kind of contest with super bakers and novices competing. Two years ago, I took a whack at pie crust the morning of the party. I think it got too warm. It had to be pressed into a tart pan and I can’t remember what I filled it with. It was good, but not a pie. In hindsight, I should never have used that recipe from Cooks Illustrated. It had all these extra ingredients, like vodka, and pages of directions that took the fun out of it and made me feel distressed. Last year, I enjoyed making a regular old butter pie crust with a lemon sponge filling that was good but not great and not quite beautiful either.
This year, for some reason, I’m really into it. I’ve decided to master, pie crusts, pizza dough and several other types of baked goods that I have avoided in the past. I think I had pastry and yeast dough phobias. I’m good at eating them, but afraid to make them! The truth is that once you make these things 8 or 10 times, the walls come down and it starts to feel natural. I’m getting to that point with pie crust. Baking is part of my heritage and it’s time I put my pie on the table!
At the pies contest/party there are always way more sweet than savory pies. My husband goes nuts over the savory ones so he asked that I make one this year. Savory pies are especially good when you’ve already tasted 50 sweet pies and can’t face any more sugar! I tested a few last month and settled on one. I can’t reveal what it is yet, but it’s delish! I also started thinking about my grandma’s little hand pie tarts and how much I liked those. Then came a post from one of my favorite blogs, Smitten Kitchen, on hand pies and I had to give them a try. I’m using the Smitten Kitchen recipe as a base and improvising from there. Aren’t I brave and creative to have two entries? I served the savory pie last week and my husband and parents couldn’t stop eating. The doughs and fillings are ready so that I can do a dry run on both entries tomorrow. We’ll have the results of my test drive for supper.
I just wish I’d had Barb’s pie cookbook on my shelf a long time ago. Then I’d be a real pie queen by now instead of just a novice pie princess! Her book is The Lost Art of Pie Making Made Easy by Barbara Swell. The recipes really work and the tips are great! You’ll find it at Amazon in case you want to jump on the pie bandwagon.
The contest is Saturday afternoon and I’ll have dough for both kinds of crusts in fridge before my head hits the pillow Friday night. On Saturday morning I will remove those smooth discs of buttery dough from the refrigerator and I will roll, fill and bake with aplomb. Stay tuned for all the details and the recipes next week. Wish me luck!