Filial pie-ety

A pretty wide cultural gulf separates me from the idea that I ought to live such that I bring pride to my parents and family. Like many American parents, mine encouraged me to do whatever seemed valuable or fulfilling to me personally (“just don’t be a writer,” I remember Mom—a writer—saying).

As I took my first, faltering steps into adulthood, I often thought of my parents as characters in my own drama—measuring their habits and foibles against mine, taking mental notes on their behavior and life decisions. I file away their successes, avoid their mistakes, try not to act smug when they seem out of touch. I may or may not be less self-involved, but now I’m more likely to wonder to myself how I know these people so well without knowing that much about their lives.

My mom, for example—I have no idea where she learned to cook. Her mom, exemplary farm wife though she is / was, hates cooking. She still did it, of course, with Methodist stoicism and plenty of help from Schwann’s delivery service. None of this is to disparage Grandma (writing about this now, it feels like a silent protest against feminine Midwestern conformity; Grandma, though traditional in lifestyle, was more radical than you’d assume–at least until talking to her). But I have to imagine Mom was self-taught.

Spirited discussion always accompanies the ritual exchange of pies at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Mom will inevitably bring one up for dinner, and Grandma will express her admiration and bafflement at the crust.

“Leigh, you make such good pie crust. Where you learned that, I don’t know, because it wasn’t from me.”

And my mother: “It’s just an oil crust, mom. Your crust is perfectly good.”

Maybe it ends there, maybe there’s a competition of well-worn self-effacement. My grandmother is right, though—Mom’s pie crust is great.

A disclaimer here: I can’t stand butter crust. It’s always a pale imitation of other cold-butter pastries, and the shape of a pie crust tends to mean it comes out brittle: often tough, always disappointing. (Here is where butter crust devotees will tell me I’ve never had a good butter crust. They’re wrong though.) I’ll take crumbly oil crust over a laboriously flattened butter or Crisco shell any day.

My favorite kind of pie is like a four-way tie, but definitely the most nostalgic is a late June strawberry rhubarb. If you’re like me, the best part of a pie is the sticky, goo-saturated bottom crust, and strawberry rhubarb filling makes some top-shelf goo. Recipe below.

Crust

  • 1.75c flour
  • 0.5c vegetable oil
  • ice water (about 2T)
  • salt and sugar to taste

Super simple stuff–just throw the 1.75c flour in a big bowl, add a pinch of salt and a couple spoons of sugar, then pour in the 0.5c oil. Add the ice water 1T at a time while mixing with a fork. It should come out moldable, but not sticky. Play-doh, maybe. Adjust with flour or water.

Then separate into two not-quite-equal size balls and roll out the bigger one between sheets of waxed paper (the small one’s for the top crust). If you’re nervous about it not coming off in one piece (like if it’s 100 degrees, as it is here today), refrigerate for a few minutes before transferring it to a pie plate. (Now’s your chance to make a cute pattern on the edge!)

If you like your bottom crust to have a little more structure, pre-bake with something flat and weighty (10 minutes, 425°) while you make the filling and roll out the top crust. And either way, don’t forget to foil the edges.

Filling

  • 2 pints strawberries, cut at least in half and macerated with…
  • 0.75c sugar
  • 1c rhubarb, cut in 1/2 inch segments
  • 1-2T tapioca starch

Or—do whatever you want. I’m really estimating here. I don’t macerate the rhubarb (can you do that, even?). It gets gooey enough as it is.

Mom doesn’t use the tapioca starch, but I kind of like being able to cut a clean slice once it’s cool. Whatever your preference is.

Put the filling in the (pre-baked) crust, throw your top crust on there and poke some holes. Bake for 15 minutes at 425°, then about 25 at 350°.

Let it cool! I swear to god.

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