four-for-$5 mango pie

last week, i checked my campus email for the first time in months. i haven’t been taking classes this semester but am graduating in may…it’s official, it seems! a month-old email was waiting in my inbox that said so much. may 9th: gold star day. admittedly, though, i’ve been looking for a reason to celebrate! this works for me!

spot the robin.

the geese have returned. saw this the season’s first robin last week and one of my best friends had daffodils poking out of the earth that was recently snow-covered. a few days ago, crocus burst from the ground in my neighborhood. all of these things are signs of spring. indy (as do many college towns, i’m guessing) has one particular sign that heralds the end of the cold season: porch-sitting students drinking beers and wearing  way-too-early-for-that-short-shorts and last season’s worn-out  flip-flops. they hang off the porches late into the night. warmed with alcohol, they don’t seem to notice that the weather really probably calls for sweaters. this weekend, it was clear: spring is in the air!

to welcome the new season to town, i invited some friends to come and enjoy my porch at an impromptu-ish B.Y.O. Meat & Booze party. i supplied mashed potatoes, brussels sprouts, corn (for the pickier eaters among my guests), and my first attempt at a mango pie. we had quite a turnout on such short notice–nine in total, ten counting liam (a delightful young crumb-snatcher!)

some green mangoes, some pink.

i have been trying to figure out what kind of pie to try making next. The Bear and i walked through the grocery stores trying to come up with something. i was bagging up a bunch of pretty pears when i eyed the four-for-$5 deal on mangoes and noted that this has been the special for awhile now. are mangoes in season? is that a good price? aside from knowing i enjoy mangoes, i don’t know too much about them. could i make a mango pie? yes, it turns out: i can.

i went home and searched the internet for mango pie recipes. i found a ton. some were for creme pies (i admit, i am not a fan of ’em.) others were for shallow tarts. i wanted something with mango heft.  after my research, i found this recipe–but have made quite a few adjustments based on the other recipes i found. i think i ended up with a pretty good hybrid!

Mango Pie


For Crust:

  • 2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 stick butter, chilled
  • 1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening, chilled
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup ice-cold water
  • 1/4 cup almonds, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoons unbleached flour, toasted


Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare pie crust by mixing together flour, sugar, salt and lemon zest. Cut butter and shortening into small chunks and add to the dry ingredients. Mix with a pastry blender or 2 forks until the mixture holds together in small crumbs. Sprinkle ice water over mixture and cut until the mixture holds together in balls. Gather it up, pressing it together and then divide into 2 even parts. Wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Roll out half dough and fit into 9-inch deep-dish pie pan. Weight and bake bottom crust until golden brown. Sprinkle with chopped almonds and flour and bake for another 5 minutes. Cool slightly.

For Filling:

  • 5 cups (4 or 5 large) mangoes peeled and cut into 1/2-inch to 3/4-inch slices
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon almond extract
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon powder
  • 2 tablespoons flour (or more depending on how wet mixture is)
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 2 teaspoons lemon or lime juice
  • 1 egg beaten with 2 tablespoons water
  • Whipped cream or ice cream, for garnish

Mix together mango slices, sugar, extract, spices, flour, zest and lemon or lime juice and pour into baked crust. Mixture should be moist but not wet. Roll out the other half of dough and fit over the pie. Crimp edges. Brush with egg and water wash. Cut vents in top and bake pie 45 to 50 minutes until crust is golden and filling is tender when fork is inserted.

Serve warm with fresh whipped cream or a scoop of ice cream.

my notes on the crust:

  • i purchased unsalted almonds and crystallized ginger from the organic section of my grocery store. a pretty large container of the ginger cost about four dollars. i’m sure there are other ways i’ll be using it but i’m not sure if this was a good price or not. before putting the almonds in the food processor, i toasted about a cup and a half of them on a cookie sheet for about five minutes in a warm oven. i added some crystallized ginger with the cooled nuts in the food processor and pulsed the two together until i had finely chopped nuts.
  • in my research,  i found a lot of recipes that called for crystallized ginger and very few called for lemon or lemon zest. i decided to get a little creative and replaced the lemon zest in the crust with about two teaspoons of powdered ginger.
  • other than replacing the lemon zest, i pretty much followed the instructions on mixing the crust, chilling the crust for about four hours (this was an on-the-whim thing and i didn’t prepare the crust a night ahead as usual but four hours did the trick!) this is not my regular pie crust recipe but i’ve been curious about experimenting with other

    bottom crust lined with toasted almonds

    recipes so this was a first try. i did partially bake the bottom crust with my dry bean pie weights nestled in foil holding down the crust. i pressed about a half-cup of the almond/ginger mix in to the bottom (rather than the instructed ‘sprinkle’) and baked a little bit longer. because this recipe called for a top crust, i was concerned about over-baking so i didn’t give the crust quite the amount of time called for. i did use the egg white method that haedrich suggests (as listed in my previous crust blog.) i allowed the crust to partially cool before putting in the filling mixture.

  • as for the unbleached flour called for after the almonds? omitted completely.
  • the crust itself was really delicate and didn’t get as flaky as i usually hope but i liked it nonetheless. do plan on rolling the crust out really thin with these measurements. if you’re still getting the hang of rolling out your crust, i suggest making the recipe + one half to leave yourself a little wiggle room. if you don’t want to experiment with making a fancy top-crust (as described below) you can instead roll out the extra dough, slap it on an un-greased cookie sheet and eat it with some fresh fruit or, like my dad likes to, some jelly, jam, or preserves for breakfast. yum much?

my notes on the filling (and top-crust):

  • i used a potato peeler to peel the mangoes.

    peeled mangoes

    to begin, when i went to the grocery store to pick up my ingredients, i was going with the idea of picking out four or six pretty mangoes and winging it on some spices. most of the recipes i saw weren’t very specific about what kind of mangoes they required–as is also the case with this particular recipe. other than saying

    using a chopping knife, i sliced the fruit from the main pit inside. there has to be a better way to do this, i suspect. a subject for further research!

    sliced mangoes

    to use ‘large’ ones, it doesn’t offer much help on the matter. sorted through forums and recipe comments and found that greener mangoes are more tart and firm, pinkish or reddish mangoes are more ripe, more soft, and, i surmise, would probably make for a really soggy soupy pie. i opted for about four large firm (not hard) mostly green mangoes and two of the pinker mangoes (to add a little sweetness to balance the tart and a just a little liquid so it wouldn’t be too dry. i’m speculating here with no formal training, mind you…but i think haedrich’s advice about mixing apples probably carries to lots of fruit: get a variety so you’re not reliant on just one flavor. mix it up. (that’s the gist of it, anyway.)

  • once again, i traded lemon zest for some more powdered ginger. also added a little bit of nutmeg for good measure–the nutmeg/cinnamon/ginger combination is one of my favorites. had i some, i may have added a bit of cardamom. (note to self: get some at the amish store on the next trip!)
  • i mixed the remaining almond/ginger mixture in with the fruit.
  • allow the fruit mix to sit a little (while that bottom crust cools a bit.)
    allowing the fruit to sit with the sugar lets some of the juice to come out before baking--allowing me to control how 'wet' the pie gets (or so i believe!)

    spiced mangoes

    the sugar will, as with most fruit, pull out a lot of liquid (kind of like with strawberry shortcake, you know?) with a large spoon, gently mix the fruit up now and then to be sure the spices are well-integrated.

  • when the bottom crust has mostly cooled, roll out the top crust and quarter to have ready to put on top of that fruit (personal preference to just get the pie covered and in the oven!)
  • use your hands to pile the sliced fruit in the pie crust, letting much of the liquid drain. i used about six mangoes but probably could have put in even more. strain the remaining nut/ginger mixture out of the liquid and throw away the remaining liquid.
  • i did use the full amount of flour in the mix to help thicken the liquid in

    the hint of yellow is sliced crystallized ginger & raw sugar

    the pie. i dotted the mangoes with butter.

  • because this was sort of my ‘welcome, spring!’ pie, after i put the top crust on and cut four small vents into it, i rolled out the  trimmings and put my new sun cookie-cutter to use…i stamped out a few sunshines and, using the same egg/water mixture i’d just painted on the top crust, i attached the sunshines to the top crust. i painted more egg/water over the whole completed pie and sprinkled it heavily with coarse raw sugar and some thinly sliced crystallized ginger. all told, the sugar and ginger gave the top crust a pretty shimmer and a neat gingery contrast with the sweeter fruit inside the pie.
  • baked for the full fifty minutes. should vary depending on how wet your mangoes were, i suspect. go til golden brown or juices are thickened.


    i baked the pie for the full fifty minutes. i expect the baking time will vary depending on how much liquid you put in with your mangoes and how long you let them sit with the sugar. the top crust should be a golden brown, any liquids that might have bubbled through the vents should be thickened. i did put a foil-lined cookie sheet under the pie to prevent any juices that might have boiled out from dripping on the oven floor (it was unnecessary in this case but a good rule of thumb and the foil saves on an extra dish!)

in serving, we didn’t have ice cream. since my friends abe and sarah had to get little liam home at an early hour to get him settled and in bed, i served the pie warmer than planned but with no complaint to report! ice cream would have been a really  nice touch to contrast with the temperature…something very vanilla beany makes sense, probably. i’m a bad judge at this…a pie purist who rarely has ice cream with her pie, admittedly.

pie for breakfast=good thing

i squirreled away one piece of pie to have for breakfast on sunday morning. as predicted by the porching college students, the weekend was absolutely gorgeous. sunday morning meant my first porch breakfast–a cup of coffee, last night’s pie, and a book. by breakfast time, the pie was much more settled in flavor and the texture was really something nice–something like firm peaches but with a more tropical note. so if you can make this one a day ahead, do it…though i’m starting to believe that no pie can really be made ahead in this house. we love pie too much to wait!

i give the recipe a “will make again” rating but with all of the changes i’ve made so far. if the price maintains and i give it another go,  i may try soaking the mangoes in  coconut rum (or something else if the experts at the liquor store can recommend something)–just to see whatthat would taste like. in general, i’m not a huge fan of fruit pies  (it is just pie and fruit, after all!) but i like trying newt things and hey, mangoes were four for five dollars, after all. this recipe was new, interesting, and quite pretty!

happy spring, ya’all!


crust colloquy

First Look at Crust

if you’re looking to make a pie, the first place you’re gonna start is with the crust. not exactly rocket science, right? note that i’ll be discussing the mixing the dough, rolling it out, and nestling it comfortably into your pie pan. we won’t, however, be discussing pre-baking the shell in this post. all in good time…

Crust Courage!

pretty much the best logic teacher of all time.

on the first day of my symbolic logic class, one of my favorite professors, dr. mary macleod, stood at the front of the class and gave what was possibly the finest opening lecture to a course i’ve ever heard. i’ve spent a great portion of my life being afraid of math (i fancy myself a wordsmith and you can keep your numbers, thank you very much.) i was nervous about the class from the moment i registered for a seat. when i got there, i took my place in an old wooden desk in the very back of the room, hoping to go unnoticed. there she stood, holding the textbook up like a preacher might hold a bible during a sermon and gave a little invocation: “this is math. math like you’ve never done, possibly. and what this course is going to require of you is academic courage.”  i think that was one of the most moving things i’ve ever heard. i successfully managed a B for the course and i know it had much to do with those two words. every time i got frustrated, i remembered: academic courage.

i must’ve nurtured that bit of courage because i’m sure it spilled over into other aspects of my life. when i’m trying something i’ve never done (or perhaps something i just haven’t done well in the past)  i remind myself of my reasonable success with symbolic logic. if i can manage a truth table or derivation, i can do anything. i think thats the most important point of this blog, then:  anyone can make a great pie. anyone.

in addition to crust courage, you’re gonna need one other thing that only you can bring to the kitchen counter: a sense of humor! the chances that you’ll end up with a light flaky wonder on the first try? i have no idea. (what did i tell you about math?)  i’d say its unlikely that you’re going to end up with something perfect but each attempt is a learning experience and you’ve got to approach it as such. what’ll your dough teach you this time? laugh heartily at the crusts that come out like concrete and revel in the ones that work out well.

Tools of the Trade

in his book, Pie, ken haedrich suggests that “for the beginner, making pastry by  hand is the best way to learn…[you’ll] get a feel for how much to cut in the fat, the amount of water to add, and how much force to use when handling the dough.” (3)  i couldn’t agree more with this sentiment.  sure, there are methods for using your pretty kitchenaid mixer or a food processor to do the hands-on work but, as haedrich points out, you’re likely to “get ahead of yourself…with a machine.” (3) so, as a first rule: save the pretty steam-punky gadgets for your fancy fillings and fluffy meringues but keep your crust hands-on.

a pastry blender. get one.

you are going to need some tools, though.  for mixing the fat with the dry ingredients, both betty crocker and better homes and gardens tell you that you can use  two knives held together and i suppose you could but listen: get a pastry blender. they generally don’t cost very much and if you’re planning on making pies more often than once or twice a year, it’s a real time (and sanity) saver. i’d even go so far as to suggest that you’ll have a better time making your crust if you’ve got one but i don’t want to sound like a used car salesman, here.  you don’t need to spend a lot on your pastry cutter–a simple google search turned up plenty of results for under ten dollars but most are cheaper than that. (i think i probably paid about five dollars for mine, picked up at wholly’s kitchen gadget store in pittsburgh’s strip district.) mine is made of stainless steel which i’ve found is a little more aggressive than some of the more wiry blenders i’ve seen in that it cuts the cold fats cleanly–which, as i’ll discuss in a bit, is key.

while you’re getting  yourself a pastry cutter, you should also be sure that you’ve got a fairly large mixing bowl. i’ve experimented with lots of different materials (melmac, glass, ceramic etc.) and have found that, for my purposes, a reasonably affordable stainless steel mixing bowl is what i prefer.  i’ve upgraded to an unnecessarily ridiculous monster of a bowl but only because these days, when i make pie, i can’t make just one. i’m usually thinking ahead on crusts and try to mix enough to do eight single crust pies at once. any mixing bowl will do, though. just make sure its big enough to hold your flour, fats, and water and still give you plenty of room to mix and work the dough.

you’ll also want to keep  some sandwich bags, wax paper, or something similar nearby. i prefer wax paper for several reasons. first, we live in environmentally conscious times. wax paper is biodegradable stuff! second, a roll of wax paper is gonna last you awhile and is way cheaper than plastic bags. third, because you’re wrapping the wax paper around your pie dough rather than trying to stuff the dough ball into a sandwich bag, you’re handling it less. you want to handle your dough as little as possible. finally: the aesthetic experience of wax paper is just what i prefer–old-fashioned wax paper is tremendously sexy!

finally, in addition to these items, you’re going to require a pie pan.  ken haedrich devotes nearly four well-worth-reading pages to discussion of ideal pie plates and it seems we both prize a good pan. i suspect it goes without saying here that an aluminum pan (like what a store-bought pie might come in) is not going to be sufficient. haedrich explains, “thin aluminum tends to reflect a lot of heat without absorbing much of it–think of those aluminum shields we put in our car windshields.” (9) the pie crust needs to absorb heat to cook.  i personally prefer glass or ceramic for most of my pie baking. i also use cast-iron pans for certain kinds of pies but, like ceramic pans, these require some practice because you have to get the pan itself to a certain temperature–a discussion we’ll leave for another post. to start, rustle up a plain glass pie pan. you can probably score one at a goodwill or the grocery story for less than ten dollars. a pyrex 9″ glass pie pan goes for five dollars at my local grocery store–a price i don’t mind paying when i’m giving pie as a gift. it looks better, cooks better, and can be reused for years if you’re even minimally mindful about how you treat it.

Basic Shortening Pie Pastry (haedrich 30)

presuming you’ve got your courage mustered and your tools at the ready, lets take a look at the recipe. haedrich mentions that this is pretty much the classic pie crust recipe–one that most of us probably grew up with. mastering this crust will give you a good feel for the basics of pie crust creation so i think it’s a good place to start. this recipe doesn’t call for butter but i’ll share recipes that do in the future. for the beginner, let’s just leave it at shortening for now. furthermore, i’ll give the recipe for double-crusts rather than single–this way, you’ll either have enough crust for a double crust recipe, enough for two single crust pies, or some crust to store for your next pie adventure.

for a double-crust:

  • 2.75 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup cold vegetable shortening, cut into pieces
  • 6 to 8 tablespoons cold water

splurge: crisco sticks keep your hands clean and are totally worth whatever minimal price difference you might encounter.

for shortening, i prefer to use crisco sticks. i spent years messing around with scooping out gobs of shortening from a big can that my mom kept in her pantry because that was what was available. these days, we have plenty of convenience-minded products and, to me, the sticks of shortening may have been one of the greatest ideas since marking sticks of butter with measurements. first, you don’t have to get covered in greasy shortening while trying to measure it. second, you’re assured that your shortening is fresh. i’m not sure if i’m just making this part up but something about that big old can of crisco in the pantry that had been there (and probably open) for who knows how many months just doesn’t seem right for creating a pie crust dream. third, you can keep those crisco sticks in the refrigerator door so they’re always cold–which is exactly what you want. when it comes to your shortening (or any fats, for that matter) the rule of thumb is this: the colder, the better. the same goes for the water. a little while before i start my pie crust mixing, i usually take out the amount of shortening i’ll need, unwrap it, and cut it into chunks before putting it back in the fridge. that way, you’ve got a more manageable mix-in size that will require less mixing (and therefore, less risk of over-working) than you might otherwise. take all the precautions you can to avoid handling your dough any more than you really have to.

in terms of flour, all-purpose is fine. i used to use the cheapest flour i could find. store brands work just fine for this recipe. in the future, we’ll look at other kinds of flours (like whole wheat, for instance.)

Mix It Up!

you’ve got your tools and recipe. you’ve refrigerated your shortening and its plenty cold, right? right. so let’s do this thing!

first, measure out your flour into your large bowl.  to this, add the sugar and salt. using a fork, spoon, or the pastry blender, mix the sugar and salt in with the flour. to your mixture of dry ingredients, add your shortening.

this is enough for about eight crusts worth of dough but see the texture?

using your pastry blender, cut the shortening in with the flour mixture.  try to avoid touching the shortening with your hands if you can (though its inevitable, really) because your own body heat will start to warm the shortening. blend the shortening with the flour mixture until fairly well-integrated–you’ll have a coarse mealy (maybe sandy?)  sort of mixture with various sized (mostly pea-sized chunks) of shortening here and there. i’ll try to post lots of pictures of what this should look like because its more of a visual/textural queue.

now you’re ready to add half the water. haedrich points out that there is “no need to measure it. you can just pour.” (30) some folks (like my mother) use spoons or something else to mix in the water but i find that the pastry blender means i’m touching the dough less and it does a fine job so i keep using that–and, despite what my mother might say, i recommend you do so, too, to start. you’ll figure out what works for you over time. do what works! pull up the dry ingredients with the pastry blender and cut in with your shortening/flour mixture, mixing well. the dough will be shaggy-looking at this point. continue to add remaining water a tablespoon or two at a time until the dough begins to clean the side of the bowl. the dough will be damp-ish but not wet. do not add more water than  you need!

now, set aside your pastry blender and get your hands in there if you need to. i usually take the dough and clean up the remaining flour that might be at the bottom, kneading the whole mass of the stuff two or three times (no more, so as not to overwork) just to make sure that all that flour is integrated.

some for now, some for later.

because we’re working with a double-crust recipe, divide the dough into two equal-ish portions. if you’re making a pie with a top crust, it isn’t a bad idea to make your bottom crust just a little bit bigger than the top crust. once you’ve settled that bottom crust into the pan, you’ll be able to trim any excess and add it to your other ball when you roll it out. that way, you’ll have ample dough to cover those delicious fillings!

shape the dough into a ball and flatten into a more rolling-pin-friendly shape, wrap in wax paper, and pop in the fridge. refrigerate these dough-balls for at least two hours but do so overnight if you’ve got the time and patience. the longer the dough can chill, the more easy a time you’ll have of rolling it out later.

note: this dough can be frozen for up to a month. just pop your dough-disc into a sandwich bag and stick it in the freezer. i usually take them out of the freezer to thaw in the fridge the night before if i know i’m going to be baking. be sure to date the bag so you know how long your dough has been in there!

Rolling Out Dough & Transfer to Pan

flour the top of the ball and the rolling-pin to avoid sticking.

your dough has been sufficiently chilled now. before grabbing it from the fridge, let’s get your rolling surface ready. i like to have about a half a cup of flour handy while i roll out pie crust dough. my  mother has a nice mat for rolling out crusts that tupperware makes but i find that it’s just one more thing to clean and really unnecessary. a clean and sanitized countertop is sufficient (and what i prefer.) sprinkle your surface with flour–its okay to use quite a bit. get your dough and center it on  your countertop. give the dough one good roll and then flour your rolling-pin (the shortening will give the flour something to stick to on your rolling-pin.)  the shortening will begin warming as soon as you touch it so try to touch it as little as possible.

lightly sprinkle some flour on the top of your dough as well to help keep the rolling-pin from sticking.

there are different kinds of rolling pins and depending on what you’re using, you’ll have your own method of rolling out the crust. while i’ve got one that has handles, i never use them. i prefer to have control of the rolling myself. roll the dough out to your desired thickness–the dough should be able to be peeled from the counter and folded into quarters easily…too thin and it will tear, too thick and it will never cook through. i usually try to go for just a little thinner than a quarter inch.

once gently folded, you can easily lift and place your crust in your pan. unfold and ta-da!

once your dough is rolled out, gently peel from the counter top and fold gently in half, then again into quarters. you’ll be able to move the dough to your pan and unfold it easily with just a little bit of practice. settle the dough into the pan, pressing very gently around the bottom edge. using kitchen scissors, trim excess dough. i usually keep about an inch or two of hangover to be tucked into the pan and, ultimately, pressed into a pretty trim.

voila! pie crust in a pie plate. now fill it with something tasty and find some folks to eat it–possibly the easiest part of all!

making pie crust is simple...and satisfying!

there are lots of other aspects that we’ll discuss in future posts, including trims, pretty top crusts, and what to do with leftover crust, but that should be enough to get you started on a pie crust that’ll be sure to please!

check back soon for a new pie recipe and lots of yummy pictures!


pie lady

egg nog pie: a slice of this and you’ll be wassailing. i promise.

pie brings people together.

coffee, pie, & good company? thumbs up!

this year for the holidays, i gave my friends gifts of  egg nog pie and quiche. both are terrific (if i do say so myself!) when i tell people i’m making egg nog pie, they usually do a sort of double-take. “yes,” i tell them, “egg nog pie. there is such a thing and it is incredible. tell me: do you like egg nog?”

not only is it truly dulcet and delicious, the egg nog pie is one of the easiest pies i’ve ever made. there are very few steps to what turns out to be a luxuriously rich custard filling.

i had extra balls of dough left over and frozen from last week’s crazy pie making and decided to roll them out and make two impromptu-ish pies tonight for my impromptu-ish company. my friends thought they were tasty, too, evidently!

since i’ve got the recipe for egg nog pie out and handy, i’ll share this one tonight (but will probably revisit it again in a later post.)

Egg Nog Pie (from Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book, 1953)

  • 3 beaten egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 cups light cream
  • dash salt
  • dash nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 stiff-beaten egg whites
  • 1 pie pastry
  1. Beat egg yolks, sugar, and cream.
  2. Add salt, nutmeg, and vanilla.
  3. Fold in egg whites.
  4. Pour into 9″ pastry-lined pie pan.
  5. Bake in hot oven (400 F) for 25 to 30 minutes.

note: sherry or rum flavoring to taste may be substituted for vanilla.


i just found this recipe last year and had to revisit it again this holiday season. missing a recipe like this for years is a pie-regret!

i take the recipe up on the suggestion and use rum flavoring–which i think makes the pie particularly tasty. i also sprinkle nutmeg lightly over the top before baking. the mixture will be really soupy, so be careful when putting the pie in the oven. also, the top gets a pretty brown matte finish and you’ll know the custard is done when the center jiggles slightly. cool your pie completely before cutting. since its winter, i set them on the porch in the winter cold and hope no passers-by take them.  this pie isn’t one that i particularly care for warm and the flavors are much more rich if you make it the night before you plan on eating it. finally, when preparing the pastry, i mix in cinnamon and nutmeg to taste. (i’ll have a post on basic pastry soon!)

happy new year!


pie lady

why pie?

for what its worth, i never intended for pies to be my ‘thing’. hell, i’m not even sure that pies are my thing now.

i grew up in syracuse, new york. my mother worked for an airline taking reservations and my father, back then, worked for a brewery (but eventually became a truck driver.) theirs was a match made in heaven: pops is a pie-eater from way back; mom makes a pretty mean crust. like so many parents of kids my age, mine were quirky hippy-types. they grew most of the vegetables i remember eating–canning them and keeping them in a fruit cellar in the basement. my father once tapped the maple trees in our yard to collect sap to make his own maple syrup. do you know how many gallons of sap it takes to make one gallon of maple syrup? (you should really look that up, i think.)

pops always walks around like a superhero-on-the-ready.

my father kept honeybees in hives he built himself at the back corner of our yard. the honeybees stung him when he mowed the lawn and congregated on our wet banana (the knock off of the slip-n-slide) when the summers got hot and dry–the bees were thirsty so we were banned from hurling ourselves down a thin strip of wet plastic staked into the front lawn . he invented potentially lethal entertainment to rival any neighbor’s lackluster swing-set (for example a seesaw that spun around 360 degrees on ball bearings) , and collected cereal box-tops for t-shirts and beach towels emblazoned with  Dig ‘Em Frog and Tony the Tiger. he loved his frosted flakes with extra sugar poured from a green glass sugar shaker, could grill a hell of a steak, was into organic gardening before it was cool, and was the ultimate in pie critics. no pie was ever just right. until recently, i’d only ever heard him encourage anyone who’d indulge him to “try again. next time, i think maybe less salt.” until recently.

my mother: an old-fashioned lady.

my mother hoarded cooking magazines. in summertime, she left empty berry-stained green cardboard quart containers on the kitchen counter before she left for work, expecting  them to be filled with strawberries or raspberries from the gardens. she appreciated spring’s first small bouquets of violets and kept them in tiny crystal bud jars until they withered. i watched her make cookies, cakes, muffins, quick breads, and pie. and she could cook, too! she taught us to love every single vegetable from asparagus to brussels sprouts to beets but probably only because she knew how to cook ’em. she made tuna noodle casserole when my father was away on the road and it is one of my comfort foods even now. my mother made me love dishes, kitchen gadgets, tupperware, and aprons. she taught me that keeping a bay leaf in my flour kept away grain moths, to know a good cookbook when i see one, and the good sense of etiquette to never to return a dish to a neighbor without filling it with something delicious first. she taught me that a pastry cutter is an invaluable thing to have around the kitchen. she still takes pride in the fact that “until you kids went to school, you had almost no white sugar.”

see? hippies.

all of that just begins to describe the role my parents have played in the answer to the question, “why pie?”  i have been blessed to have so many incredible bakers, cooks, chefs, and brave foodies in my life. college roommates to lovers to neighbors to wonderful grandmothers and aunts to old and new friends and even a few strangers. i’ve shared my kitchen with some incredible people;  my kitchen has been stage to some terrific times. i’ve learned that cooking is just a different kind of ballet;  i love to dance the dance.

i was a decent baker by the time i was about twelve, probably. we’d just moved to pittsburgh and the kitchen in the new house was a dream with an island of open well-lit counter space in the middle of it. in the new kitchen, i imagined myself  as having a cooking show while i tried new recipes from my  mother’s orange betty crocker binder cookbook.  i experimented with lemon meringue pie (my father’s favorite) repeatedly, never getting it quite right. i once made a thing called a daffodil cake to my mother’s amazement. i still don’t understand why it was such a big deal: i followed the recipe.

fast forward to me-at-twenty three. i moved in with a man with whom i was madly in love. we learned so much about what it is to share a kitchen and we got pretty good at it.  after some time, i got a real job and, because we were fairly poor, my father bought me some new clothes to wear to work. i agreed to repay him in pies: ten lemon meringue pies. i still owe him a few, i suspect.

a few years later, and my years-long affair with that fella ended, sadly. my friends scattered over the country but not before we’d all grown closely knit both in and out of the kitchen. our dinners were epic displays of amateur prowess. we got better and better, consistently out doing ourselves.

that new job from years before, like the romance, ended in a job closure–something too many americans have experienced over these last few years. i decided to go back to school and recently completed the work for degrees in philosophy and religious studies. i’ve been blessed to be surrounded by people who either love to cook or love to eat (and usually both.)

every now and then, though, i’d bake pies. in fall, when the apples were smelling particularly amazing, i’d grab a bag full and make a pie on a sunday  night to share with my best girlfriend, jessica strangebird (who collaborates on the foodblog For the Love of Sunday), or a professor or my neighbor. in summer, i’d practice my specialty, lemon meringue. philosophy club meetings meant a chance to bake something to share; i brought apple ‘pi’ to our screening of pi: faith in numbers.

so much promise & possibility in an empty pie plate.

i’m not sure what happened, exactly. maybe it was that pie plate i received as a gift last winter at the ceramics sale from a woman who, at the time, was like a sister to me. it was one of the most thoughtful gifts i’ve ever received. and thats the thing, i think. when i look around my kitchen, i realize that so many of my favorite gadgets and appliances have been gifts: my Kitchenaid mixer, pyrex glassware, Melmac mixing bowls, Cuisinart rice cooker, and my Kitchenaid food processor. my favorite cookbooks have also been gifts: Pie by Ken Haedrich (a gift from Culinary Institute of America graduate, Toby Pace) and a 1953 edition of Better Homes and Gardens’ New Cook Book (a gift from Lul, my grandmother.) when i’m in my kitchen, i’m happiest because i’m reminded of all of these people. when i’m baking pies, i’m particularly happy because, somehow, i’m good at it. i’m not sure how it happened. maybe i shared too many pies over the last few years but now, i’ve sold a few. i’ve given them as gifts. everyone seems pretty excited about pie these days…and i couldn’t be happier to please.

chicken pot pie / cast iron pan

this year, i’ve experimented with some challenging recipes and some old favorites. this summer, i received gifts of blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, and rhubarb to put in pastry. i’ve tried some neat methods, including broiling a praline topping over a pumpkin pie. i’ve learned a thing or two about pre-baking crusts and the beauty of a well-kept cast iron pan. i’ve experimented not only with sweet pies but also with savory pies including chicken pot pie and a quiche that even The Bear will eat.

why pie? because pies are a constant challenge year-round and an art that i believe can only be taught to an extent. we watch our mothers, we pick up their technique. in the end, learning to make a good pie is a personal journey of experimentation that requires diligence and an arsenal of good humor. crust enthusiasts battle it out with filling aficionados; my mother still trades her crust for my father’s filling. when it comes to pie, everyone is a critic.

so while i’m not completely sure that pies are going to be my ‘thing’, i have to admit that pies are a thing. making pies makes me happy. what makes me happier? watching other people eat pies.

i’m not sure where i’m heading  but i keep catching myself entertaining the brainstorming daydreams of a owning a little pie shop someday. for now, though, i’m going to keep experimenting and selling small batches of tasty treats to folks in the community, relying mostly on word of mouth. the purpose of this blog will be to discuss methods in making a perfect pie, to share great successes (and epic failures) in experimentation, and to keep a journal of the journey should this path someday lead me to small business ownership.

and that, dear reader, is ‘why pie?’