The humble pie

4 Aug

When I was growing up, pie seemed like a daily ritual, like washing your face or brushing your teeth.  I didn’t give it much thought as it was always there, lunch or supper (we didn’t call it dinner).  The pies at our house were apple, because that’s what my Nana made, because that’s what my Grampa liked.  She probably made three or four a week, always without a recipe.  In fact, she didn’t own a cookbook and didn’t keep notes.  And it didn’t occur to me to take any either.  I’d sometimes watch her, but only if I had nothing else to do.  I took those pies for granted and I didn’t pay attention.  As she got older, and my Grampa passed away, her apple pie only made special occasion appearances, like Thanksgiving or Christmas. And then one day she was gone and there were no more pies.  This was in 1994, and while I knew that I’d miss her, I didn’t give her pies a second thought.  It was the nineties, I had just finished chef school and was making and eating the “tart.” They were French, often complicated, precise, even architectural in its presentation, and requiring specific equipment; the tart ring, of course, made in France and purchased at Dehillerin by yourself or a friend of a friend who you knew was going to Paris and would they mind dragging a dozen tart rings around France?  Pies were too nostalgic and I was too young and full of what I thought was potential to want to look back.

Ten years and thousands of tarts later, I’m a bit burnt out, and decide to get a real job, and my precious tart rings become abstract decoration in my kitchen hanging in a tangled mess of a shelf in the corner.  Besides, at this point we’ re baking and eating the galette, or the Italian version, crostata or even the free form tart.  I make them (see my first blog post ever) and serve them when I asked to at caterings, but only because we’re not yet ready for pies.  Or are we?

The world is a scary place right now and people seem to be nervous , pessimistic and seemingly nostalgic for a better day, a day that included pies.  Pies  on the cover of food magazines and shops are opening up devoted solely to them.  Are pies the new cupcake?  I hope not because pies deserve better.  Cupcakes are cute, sassy, and often pink, so in your face everywhere and individual, pies are not.  They’re golden, brown and meant to be shared.    Pies don’t require an explanation or any esoteric equipment from France; just a quick touch with the dough, ripe, fresh fruit, sugar and a bit of butter, simple ingredients that can create a lifetime of memories.  I saw my grandfather eat many pieces of pie.  I never, ever saw him eat a cupcake.  Pies are here to stay, they were always here.  It was the rest of us who lost our way.


So, I’ve been baking pies this summer.  Who doesn’t love a good pie?  My grandfather used to say “that you can’t trust anyone who won’t sit down and have a piece of pie with you.”  Amen to that.  Here’s the recipe for the blueberry crumble pie that I made this afternoon.


Pie Dough (makes 2 single crust pies, or 1 double crust)

2 cups all purpose unbleached flour

3/4 tsp. salt (I always use sea salt)

3/4 cup cold lard (much better for you than hydrogenated shortening, my grandmother was right about this) also produces a flakier pastry.

1/4 cup cold unsalted butter, for flavour

2 tbsp. ice water

1 whole egg

1 tbsp. vinegar, I use apple cider( because the only thing i use “white vinegar for is cleaning my windows)

In a large bowl,( always use a bowl bigger than you think you need, it keep from spilling flour everywhere when you get your hands in there).  Combine the flour and salt, give it a mix with a fork.

With a paring knife, on a cutting board, cut the lard and the butter into little pieces, quickly and lightly toss the pieces of fat into the flour to coat.  Then, with your finger tips, smoosh the fat into the flour until it looks like oatmeal.

In a small bowl combine the water, egg and vinegar, mix with a fork to combine, add the flour mixture and using your fork, mix until the dough comes together.  This should take 2 or 3 minutes only.  Divide your dough into two pieces and wrap individually.  Chill for about 20 minutes before rolling.  Chilling allows the gluten to relax.  Gluten resembles elastic bands and forms when liquid is added to the flour.  The vinegar (acid) in this recipe retards gluten formation somewhat, but it’s still a good idea to chill the dough so that the fat is cool and doesn’t melt prematurely producing a heavy/not flakey pie crust

This recipe is a single crust pie, but I rolled out both pie shells while the table was flour covered.  I wrapped the second shell and froze it for an impromptu pie at a later date.

Lightly flour both your rolling pin and your counter, roll out dough and line your pie plate, crimp the edges or go old school and press down with a fork.  I am lucky to own three gorgeous enamel ware pie plates that I bought at the Goodwill for .25 cents each, I know that many bakers prefer glass because it produces a browner crust, but I had a glass pie explode on me once and I’ve yet to get over it.  So use whatever type you prefer.  Chill the crust that you’re using, wrap and freeze the other.


5 cups washed fresh blueberries

2/3 cup granulated sugar

3 tbsp. cornstarch

zest and juice of 1 lemon

In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients, gently mix and set aside while you make the crumble topping.

Topping (this is a great and easy topping, thanks July Bon Appetit magazine)

3/4 cup all purpose unbleached flour

3 tbsp. brown sugar, (I used dark brown because that”s what I buy, the original recipe calls for light brown, but the dark tastes fantastic)

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1/4 tsp. salt

(here’s the cool part)  2 1/2 oz. (5tbsp.) unsalted butter, melted

In a medium bowl, combine dry ingredients with a fork, then add lightly cooled melted butter, and continuing mixing (or sort of chopping at it like I did) until it comes together, which is pretty quick.

Take out your chilled pie crust, carefully fill with your fruit and then sprinkle topping over the fruit.  Bake in a preheated 375 F. oven for approx 1 hour or until golden brown and juices are thick.  I always bake my pies on a foil lined pizza tray, the kind with the holes, it catches the juice and still allows the bottom of the crust to cook


The fat in the flour


My beautiful vintage pie plates.










My humble pie, from my sweet kitchen.

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