“There’s a pie festival coming up. Write about pies. Let me know when the story’s in.”
My editor is not known for long winded directives. She is, after all, an editor.
The pie party she was directing me to, the Oly Pie Fest, is an annual bake-off that pits blueberries against apples, mothers against daughters.
The group’s spokesperson sent me the names of several winning local pie makers. My plan: expose their secrets.
But clearly the pie makers were on to me. Contact was never made, phone calls weren’t returned. It was almost enough to give a guy an inferiority complex.
So, I decided to do the next best thing: make my own apple pie. Call it immersion journalism.
Though I had no intention of entering the pie contest (my inferiority complex is big enough, thank you) I figured I would stick to the Pie Fest rules:
Rule number one: “Pie fillings MUST NOT contain any dairy products. If it needs refrigeration, we cannot accept it. (Vegan is good!) For more information on potentially hazardous foods, please see the Bake Sale Guidelines.”
No whipped cream? Hazardous pies? Clearly the Olympia Bakers Guild is discriminating against clowns. I made a mental note to call Ringling Brothers and moved on.
Rule number two: “Pie crusts must be homemade. Please don’t submit a pie with a store bought crust.”
This reminded me of a friend who puts on all his potluck invitations, “If you bring store bought food to my party expect to be wearing it when you go home.” Cooks can be so snooty.
Rule number three: “This contest is for amateur and novice bakers only.”
My only previous baking experiences consist of brownies where the directions come on the back of the box in pictograms.
As an experienced pie eater I know that a well-made crust is crucial. I also knew, from a lifetime of overhearing quiet sobbing from behind closed kitchen doors, that crust making was the difficult part of pie making.
So I went to the one source that could help me: the people who bring you the “Dummies” books.
After discovering there were books called “The Bible for Dummies,” “Physics for Dummies” and “Sex for Dummies” I found “How to Make the Perfect Pie Crust - for Dummies.”
The recipe called for 21/2 cups of all purpose flour, 1 teaspoon of salt, 10 ounces of unsalted butter, a half cup of shortening and four tablespoons of water. Instructions called for the fats to be chopped into the flour until they were the size of raisins.
Soon the mixture looked like tuna salad sorely in need of more mayonnaise. Eventually, the dough came together in a big ball. But hunks of the shortening and butter still were evident. I didn’t know if this was normal. My only comparable experience was mixing tile grout, and this would not have passed muster.
Desperate, I called my ace in the hole: Mom.
“That means it’s going to be flaky,” mom said of small bits of butter and Crisco.
Then I let the bomb drop.
“I don’t have a rolling pin.”
“You don’t have a .” That was followed by a long period of silence on the other end of the phone. A silence that seemed to say, “Why did I have children?”
“Well, I suppose you could use a wine bottle. I’m sure you have plenty of those.”
Before she hung up Mom asked, “You will peel the apples, won’t you?” Clearly, she was on to my shortcuts.
I cored six Granny Smith apples, chopped them and filled the pie dish. One recipe called for the cup of sugar and spices to be mixed in with the apples. But, following mom’s advice, I sprinkled the sugar, cinnamon, ginger, allspice and pinch of cloves on top of the apples.
Lastly I added the top crust. It looked like a poorly made bed with a bunch of sleeping cats underneath the covers. I brushed cream on top and sprinkled the nutmeg I had forgotten to add with the other spices.
90 minutes later the pie was done. It was homely, but the crust was flaky, the apples perfectly cooked.
Lookout pie makers. Next year Olympia is going to have a new pie champ. And he just might have a rolling pin.Craig Sailor: 253-597-8541 firstname.lastname@example.org