Every few chapters or so Beth M. Howard alluded to her pie crust recipe, mentioning how it was a simple ratio, not even a recipe. How, it's not even complicated at all, that you follow a few guidelines, and voila, you have pie crust. She wrote about flour and fat and water and salt I kept waiting for a semi-exact recipe to appear, since it was a book about pie memoir.
And since she learned it from a retired pastry chef from the merchant marines... omg, what a story. What a recipe! It's a great as all the recipes I never learned from my grandfather who was a cook in the Navy. Wonder if he can recall any of those? Interestingly he did all the scratch cooking at his house while my grandmother cooked from cans and boxes, except for her pineapple upside down cake. I don't think he ever naked. Mostly he cooked savory. But I digress...
Sometimes I surprise myself by my reading habits. Used to be I was impatient and flipped back and forth in a book. As a teen I skimmed a book's last page or too, just to be bitchy, but that was was fiction. In reading Making Piece: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Pie I expected recipes and thought they'd appear randomly inserted between chapters. Must be having a mid-life moment because I failed to turn to the back of the book to check for recipes. They were there!
A good deal of the book isn't so much about pie, though it is a central and recurring theme of the book. It's about Beth Howard and how she killed her husband. Oh, I'm being dramatic. She thought she killed him. He was a hard-working German man whom she never saw. She desired a more intimate relationship, but that wasn't possible because he loved his work more, perhaps? She asked him for a divorce and he keeled over: Read the book. Imagine an irreverent Year of Magical Thinking meets American Gothic, Road Rules, and my favorite-- pie. Howard lives in the American Gothic house, don't you know? Ultimately pie is what keeps Howard together. It keeps her sane. It gives her something to focus on. It is her passion. And she follows where her passion leads her.
Making Piece serves as a manifesto for grievers everywhere: Immerse yourselves in pie-baking and you will know peace (and piece, may I slice a piece of peace for you?). It's an interesting concept, pie baking as a balm for grief. Howard followed her bliss, made pie documentaries, judged pie baking contests at the Iowa State Fair, traveled across the country in an RV, and landed in Iowa, a few miles from her childhood home, near the Dibble House, in which she resides and operates a pie stand, Pitchfork Pie Stand, summer weekends.
Following her, and her dogs, on this transformative adventure zig-zagging through several states--Texas, Oregon, California, Arizona, and Iowa is never boring. What I loved the most is her idea that "the world needs more pie." Pie making, eating, sharing as a means of world peace. Lovely sentiment. I agree. Can't we all just get along, bake pies, eat pies, and live in harmony? Read Making Piece, it's a lovely book with pie deep down at the heart of it all.
Normally I'd be at the American Library Association's (ALA) annual conference in June, which is in Anaheim this year. And guess who sits on a panel? Beth Howard. Would be lovely to meet her, but I won't be going to ALA this year because we had unexpected things come up (like Ian's hospitalization) and no money to go. Drat. Another time. Maybe I can wrangle a [work] trip to Iowa later this summer and pony up to the Pitchfork Pie Stand for a personal pie of my own.
I mentioned a few posts back that I'd grown ovaries and decided to make pie crust from scratch rather than rely on my old standby the Pillsbury pie crust from the dairy section of the grocery store (although sometimes I use another brand whose name I've forgotten, it's wholesome and organic and is stocked at Earthfare, my favorite place to shop, and no, they don't pay me to endorse them). And Howard's crust was the main contender for such a pie crust.
Working it up was easy enough. Getting it to tacky stage was....meh. What do I know from scratch pie dough? But who cares? Because what does it matter, really? At the Southern Food Writing Conference I attended a few weeks back in Knoxville, Nathalie Dupree talked about wasting the makings for biscuits, just a few cents, really, and what does that matter in the long run, when it comes to building the best darned biscuit you can? So, my mindset changed thanks to Dupree, and experimenting with pie crust to get it right isn't such a big whoop. Or is that whup?
Nevertheless, after dividing my dough into two balls and rolling them out, one did better than the other, so the better of the two I used for the base dough and the worse of the two I let Elsa cut with cookie cutters to make a "fancy" top instead of a full top. My favorite pie is peach, blackberry, and blueberry. Can't recall if I've shared the recipe here before. And I'm never exact with it--with exact ingredient amounts, anyway.
The worst part about making the pie crust was that my head was pounding as I mixed the shortening and butter and flour and "fluffed" in the ice water. But, we were invited to a Memorial Day barbecue and I didn't want to arrive empty handed. I wanted to bring pie. The guy who invited us, a dear old friend whom Ian and I have known since sixth grade, was an Air Force veteran, and it turned out that his father was, too. So I was doubly pleased to have made pie for these two men and their family. We also had strawberry shortcake and banana pudding. So quite the triumvirate of desserts that day!
pint of blueberries, washed & picked over
smaller container of blackberries (1/2 pint) I didn't pay attention, washed & picked over
1/2 cup of flour
1/3 cup of sugar
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon candied ginger
1T freshly squeezed lemon juice
Preheat oven to 450 F.
Combine the fruit in a large bowl. Add flour, stir together. Add sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, stir well. Add candied ginger and stir well. Pour contents of bowl into pie shell and distribute evenly in shell. Sprinkle lemon juice over filling. Slice pat of butter into small pieces and distribute evenly around pie.
Then at this point you'd top with another crust or do a criss-cross crust, etc. Or if you had a very wide in circumference bottom crust, you could fold it over the filling in more of a rustic pie-type style.
Bake for 35 minutes with crust covered with aluminum foil so that it doesn't turn too dark. Then remove foil and bake for another 10 minutes (45 minutes total), or until crust is the shade that you prefer.
Luckily my forgetting to throw in the dash of salt didn't have any real effect on the crust's taste. There was less than a piece that we brought home. But, I must do better at perfecting my crust-making skills by the next pie I make.
Because I am a major pie fan, and I love memoir, and this book featured two of my most favorite elements, I contacted the publisher and they sent me a review copy of Making Piece. Just letting you know, so I'm in accordance with the new FTC regulations, but otherwise, I received no other form of compensation.