On Point today had a discussion all about that summery dessert: Pie. Pie is such an iconic American dessert, and yet, I have little love for pie. I like a squash pie in the fall, or pumpkin, but that’s about it. I make apple pies every Thanksgiving (to wild praise, I might add), but I have no interest in eating them myself. So I’ve never really made many of them. Sometimes I feel like my lack of pie knowledge is a hole in my baking repertoire is a mistake and I desire to rectify that wrong, but I don’t have enough people in my summer life to take care of the experiments.
Anyhow, Fill-In Host for Tom Ashbrook today talked all about various types of pies and asked for listeners personal stories. Topics varied from regional favorites to the basics of the actual baking process. A man from Tennessee commented they use chicken fat in their pie crust, which reminded me of my own pie story, and what I learned from my grandmother.
Since I have less experience with pies than I do with cakes and cookies, I was feeling nervous one Thanksgiving about the pies I was being asked to make. My mother, equally unfamiliar with pies, suggested I call my grandmother, not her mom, but my father’s mothers: Gram. It was dark out, it was November, it could have been five in the evening, for all I remember. In my memory it was night time, and I was nervous about calling too late. But I phoned her anyway.
My Gram is known for her desserts. Since she was a teenager people have praised her cookies and pies, she’s been asked to make numerous wedding cakes, including my parents’, and she’s known for her minced meat and spice cake. She is the master. My uncle is her close second. I think I may, arrogantly, say I am the master of the next generation. But it’s taken a long time. Including that November night phone call.
I explained to Gram what I was doing and asked her for any advice, how did she make her pie crust? My Gram, practical and funny lady, she is, says to me:
“Are you sitting down?”
“I use lard.”
Having grown up with the lie that shortening is good for you, I was a little squeamish at the idea of lard. (Now I’m fully on board with the idea that animal fat is actually very good for you and vegetable oil is not.) But I gave it a try, and, like it or not, I had to admit I preferred the Lard based pastry to the butter or shortening based crusts.
I admitted to Gram, while we were chatting, that I was nervous. Even though I had made pies before, I was still nervous about this pie for some reason, and, specifically, the pie crust. And she acknowledged my feelings, but she said to me,
“Keep doing it. It takes practice. We all had to learn.”
In that moment, I was not only connected to my grandmother, but to all women in the course of history, learning to bake and cook, not to make a living, but to feed their families. It took time for those women to learn how to make something very good, and it was going to take some time for me to finally get it right.
The lesson is: don’t give up. Trial and error. Eventually it will be right.