Hilary Clinton’s recent endorsement of Barak Obama, John McCain’s vice presidential choice, and the upcoming presidential election appear important but politics pales in comparison to talk of lattices, flaky crusts, and fruit fillings. Pies, originally called “pyes”, appeared in England as early as the 12th century, gaining global popularity with the regional variations of meat pies, pot pies, and a thousand types of fruit and custard fillings. Obama and McCain would kill for the national popularity of apple pie.
Four years ago, I paced my small house in Santa Cruz, California. While I enjoyed wearing grooves into the floorboards, an injury sidelined me from rock climbing, my favorite hobby. With a lot of time, little to do, and a worn copy of The Joy of Cooking, I decided to master the art of pie baking, choosing the task for its difficulty, the delicious results of practice, abut mostly boyish motivations; I wanted to impress girls.
The first few pies turned out dry, a common problem. Fat and flour make the main ingredients in pie crust and when not enough water, fat, or too much flour are added, the mix becomes dry and difficult to handle. After filling the pies with fresh organic cherries no one noticed the poorly made crust. Great success. Later, I learned that the fat needs to be cut into the dough so it makes pea sized rounds. Then with a little water the dough will form quite nicely and roll easily.
The crux of pie filling comes not from making it but from collecting the ingredients. Meat and fruit do not come cheaply. The best solution lays in living near an orchard or on a farm. Cherry, pear, apple, and peach trees grow in Peshastin, and the accessibility of free fruit helps cut the cost. Making pie comes easy when the fruit is free.
The best way to trick people into you work hard to make the pie is spending some time finishing the dessert. The top of the dough needs to be rolled out and then a ruler or piece of paper works well as a guide to make straight and even cuts. Creating a lattice by lacing these pieces into a criss-cross enhances the presentation greatly but requires patience and a bit of analness. The Joy of Cooking recommends making the lattice directly on the pie but this is difficulty if the pie is heaping with fruit. Alternatively, the lattice can be made on a separate plate and then flipped over onto the pie. Missing the pie means starting over. Lame.
Pies take roughly an hour to cook and another half hour to cool. They are best served hot and with a bit of ice cream or in the case of apple pie, sharp cheddar cheese. As my grandmother said, “Apple pie without the cheese is like a kiss without the squeeze.” Reheated pie works well for breakfast but after a couple days the pie gets old. Have a few people over so the pie will be finished quickly. A piece of warm apple pie makes discussing politics tolerable.