Have you ever met someone who made you feel at home – even though you were miles and miles apart? That’s my new friend Becky. We are kindred spirits in so many ways. We both love good food and adore time spent around the table talking. But this girl has got me beat in the home-cooking category. Her Kitchen Therapy includes things like canning and making her own pickles. Her recipes are vintage, and her stories bring back so many great memories – like flaky-crust fresh-from-the-oven pie. Seriously, I love pie, don’t you? And of all the pies she chose to share, she picked my favorite. I mean, if you ever want to make me weep tears of joy, cherry pie will melt my heart. Thank you, Becky, for the long-distance love!
The anchor of every important gathering in my family has always been pie for dessert. Holidays, reunions, funerals, our favorite is a staple of comfort and joy in endless supply. But in the undercurrent of those high and low tides of living flows a string of Sunday memories from my childhood.
Each week I awoke in the dawning morning to the sound of the oven door clanging open and the metal slide of pie glass against oven rack, where a pie would bake before we left for church. While we worshiped the pie cooled, patiently setting in wait for our return.
My initiation into my family’s pie tradition began by playing with leftover dough scraps at my mother’s elbow, watching and waiting while she performed her craft. One day she granted me the honor of pulling out the heavy wooden board reserved just for doughy things, its permanent dusting of flour coating its surface. I heaved it onto the counter and instruction began.
The crust is the most important part.
Your crust needs to be strong enough to hold the filling inside, but delicate and flaky to taste. If the crust is not whole, its sweetness will ooze out and make a mess of your oven, your hands, your floor. But if you go too far and create a tough crust, nobody will want to chew it. They will scrape out the insides of your pie and leave the outer shell behind in a state of rejection. You must find the balance in your crust.
The key to good crust is light handling.
Don’t overwork your crust. This is where experience helps. You want to roll out your dough in as few strokes as possible in order to get the right size and shape to fit the pan. Don’t worry if your first try isn’t perfect. Keep at it. Practice.
So I roll out the dough while my mother stands by my elbow. When I begin to steer off course she steps in, corrects my path, and guides me in the right direction. Roll, roll, flip turn. Not too much. If your dough tears just pinch it back together. Roll, flip, turn.
Then the fun trick: curl the dough around the rolling pin and with a flick, uncoil it into the pan. Next comes the filling. Finish with a second piece of crust and seal with a pinch. Use a knife to trim your edges. Cut a letter into the top to vent steam and to tell what’s inside. Sprinkle everything with sugar.
And if, after all of this, your pie doesn’t set and the filling spills everywhere, top it with ice cream and eat it anyway.
Last summer my own daughter learned to make a blueberry pie. Now I was the one at her elbow, holding my breath as I forced myself not to take over. Trying to know when to help, when to hold back. And watching with pride as her confidence soared. Seeing her smile as she presented her achievement to her father, himself from a line of award-winning pie-making men, and noticing her hope for approval. She was not disappointed. She was at home.
This is the recipe for the Cherry Pie that I baked for the county fair as a child. Enjoy.
From Better Homes & Gardens
1 ½ c. sifted flour
½ tsp. salt
½ c. shortening
4-5 TBS cold water
Sift together flour and salt. Cut in half of the shortening until mixture looks like corn meal. Cut in remaining shortening until pieces are the size of peas. Sprinkle water 2 TBS at a time over dry mixture. Form into a ball and let stand several minutes. Divide dough in half. Form ball. Flatten slightly and roll 1” larger than pie pan. Repeat.
¾ c. cherry juice
1 c. sugar
3 ½ TBS cornstarch
3 TBS butter
3 c. pitted, drained cherries
Combine juice, ½ c. sugar, cornstarch, and salt; cook until thick; add butter and remaining sugar. Pour over cherries in 9-inch, pastry-lined pan. Cover with top crust. Bake in 400° oven, 45 minutes to an hour. Let cool a bit, and enjoy!
A bit about Becky.
Becky Noffsinger invites you into her kitchen at TheLastJar.com, where she cooks up stories of her family’s history with food and the farmers that create it. You can also find Becky and The Last Jar on Facebook and Twitter (@lastjar).