Pies always made me nervous. Didn’t matter if they were deep-dish or mile-high. And you could call them whatever: quiche, tart, galette. It’s the crust and the making of it that always stopped me cold. I would avoid recipes calling for pie dough, or I’d scurry shamed-faced to the frozen food aisle of the supermarket to buy ready-made.
The fear stemmed, I think, from all those pronouncements about how one can gauge not only the mettle of a cook but also the moral character by the flakiness of his or her crusts. I was scared of being found out as a flour-dusted Dorian Gray.
Last summer, though, I found myself able to confront my fears after three seemingly unconnected things happened. On a whim, I picked up two tart pans at a neighborhood tag sale for $1.50. Then I attended a reception for American chefs at the U.S. Department of State and found a 9-inch pie dish tucked into my party bag. Three weeks later, I was “volunteered” as refreshments chairman for my Sunday men’s group. I looked at those 30 hungry guys, and one printable word came to mind.
That next weekend I started making pies: Two pies usually, every weekend for three months.
I took step-by-step snaps of each pie with my smartphone and posted the photos on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. I didn’t do this for ego. It was a disguised call for help. I reasoned if I started doing something wrong, someone would step forward amid the snickers and offer assistance.
And that happened. One of the best tips came from chef Matthias Merges of Yusho restaurant in Chicago, who suggested I chill the food processor work bowl along with the steel blade before cutting the flour and butter together. Nancie McDermott, the North Carolina cake and pie cookbook pro, cheered me on with spirited praise, even when one of my pies burst into flames under the broiler.
Others were, well, less helpful. Some of my favorite lines: “Why aren’t you using lard?” “I’m getting pie overload here … can we move on to Christmas cookies?” “It just never works out like Martha Stewart’s pie crust.”
I’m sure many people were bored by it all, but I did learn to make a pie crust. That repetition, week in and week out, with the memory of the prior week’s pie still fresh, made it progressively easier for me to make a dough, turn it into crust and fill it to make pie. Not a great pie, not a pretty pie, not a professional pie, but my pie. Mine. It is what it is. And I humbly accept.
For my fear is conquered; I’m living happily the life of pie.