Perfect Pie

A sour cherry pie I made this summer.

I’m compelled to post about pie several times a year, but especially and most regularly, this time of year. Cakes and quick breads are great, as are cobblers and cookies but pies evoke more superlatives for me than all else. Maybe it’s my family’s Thanksgiving tradition that involves more pies than seem reasonable but after all, it’s really about being able to have pie for breakfast (and lunch and dinner!) the day after Thanksgiving. It’s about crimping that dough and praying that it won’t droop in the hot oven in all its buttery goodness. And it’s about apples and pumpkins, nuts and even leafy greens with eggs and spices that fill those buttery shells, that makes me happy.

Apple Pie waiting to be covered and crimped (my favorite part).

I’m dying to try this pie and this crust (even though I’ve always stuck with all-purpose flour for pie crust) and finally trying butternut squash instead of pumpkin in a “pumpkin” pie  . . .as I’m getting ready for the annual Pie Class at Cook With What You Have. I’d love for you to come, share your pie stories, roll pie dough and slice fruit and enjoy a meal of pie, both sweet and savory (and a salad or two) on a cozy Saturday! Saturday, November 19th that is–the weekend before Thanksgiving–so you’ll have license to ignore other household tasks or work to come make pie because you’ll improve everyone else’s day the following Thursday with your home-made beauty!


Blackberry Pie and Pie-crust Cookies

I’m teaching a pie class (sweet and savory) this Sunday, November 14. I am a bit evangelical about pie. I love to bake most anything but there is something about pie that appeals to the minimalist in me. Just flour, butter and water for that crust and apples, a little sugar and thickener for the filling and the sum of those few things is just so much more than you’d expect. But there are a few tricks to pie and we’re going to tackle that all-butter pie crust and crimping those edges (that inevitably do sag in places when baked thanks to all that delicious butter!) and getting the filling cooked just right.  We’re going to fill those crusts with apples, pumpkin, and Swiss Chard and eat our results.

And for all that hard work we’re going to be rewarded with eggnog–my grandfather’s recipe with bourbon, rum and nutmeg–and of course eggs, cream and milk–completely unrelated to the stuff in cartons at the store.

Swiss Chard Tart

My family (extended) has a thing about pies. At Thanksgiving, ever since I can remember, we’ve had a pie-eating contest. Slightly vulgar, I admit, but oh so fun and delicious unless you over do it and then you need a serious recovery period. Here’s a photo from last year’s pie (and tarts and cake) line-up sans my mother’s pumpkin chiffon and chocolate pies which were probably still in the fridge. Not a very good photo but I guess I wasn’t thinking about blog-worthy photos in the moment.  I should add that the contest is not highly competitive and is informally held over many hours and tiny slivers (especially of rich things like pecan pie) count. There’s a lot more talk than actual keeping track. And since my aunt Jane (or her daughter Martha) almost always win it’s not much of a nail-biter.

From l to r, Chocolate Tart, Pumpkin Bourbon Tart; Chocolate Guinness Cake, Brandied Dried Fruit Tart, Blackberry Pie, Apple Pie, Pecan Pie, Mince Pie

The sum total was 11 pies and tarts last year and we probably had 18 people for Thanksgiving. That is an obscene ratio! However, we all get to have pie for breakfast and lunch the following day and everyone gets to go home with a quarter of this and a few slices of that. And contrary to some opinions, misshapen, slightly soggy and less than perfect looking slices of pie are just as tasty or more so, than those pristine ones on day one!

As you can see, Thanksgiving is not strictly limited to pie. My sister-in-law and one of my cousins and I always bring some other tart or cake we just have to try. Some of us read the same cooking magazines/blog and occasionally end up bringing the same new idea–a dense chocolate hazelnut tart one year and a pumpkin cheese cake another. My mother and my aunt Jane have their standards and there would be mutiny if any of those were missing. For Jane that’s lofty apple pies and dense, gooey pecan; for my mother it’s those pumpkin chiffon pies and chocolate pies with lots of whipped cream. Actually all the pies are served with lots of whipped cream–probably thanks to the heavy German influence of the bunch. I tend to contribute a traditional pumpkin pie, a mince pie (my favorite recipe is from the Grand Central Baking book), and apple pie or something like a pear frangipane tart.

Speaking of not-so-beautiful: Rhubarb Pie never sets up well but is so good. It's much better to have a delicious pie than a beautiful pie, though the combination is unbeatable!

So whether you can make it to class on Sunday or not, give pie a try if you’ve been hesitant and let me know how it goes. And if you have questions or want tips or have tips to share from your pie-baking adventures, leave a comment here.

Happy baking!