November 26, 2008


I can’t very well keep a blog with a subtitle including the sacred word PIE without paying tribute and offering a secret recipe in time for Thanksgiving.  Here forthwith…

Two quick reading suggestions, both involving road trips, and a call for others:

Pascale Le Draoulec published a lovely, small book, American Pie: Slices of Life (and Pie) from America’s Back Roads (NY: Harper Collins, 2002).  I’ve experimented with many of her recipes and enjoyed reading her escapades on the road to find perfect home made pie.  I picked up a great bit of pie jargon from Le Draoulec: “marriage pie.”  That’s when you take two dramatically different fruits and tuck them into a pie crust.  The sum of the different parts is infinitely better than either standing alone.  A great metaphor, no? For the record, my best marriage pie is nectarine raspberry.  

More than a decade after I read it, I still think about the late writer Michael Dorris’s essay, “The Quest for Pie,” Paper Trail (NY: Harper Collins, 1994). (Somebody at Harper Collins must have a soft spot for pie). Dorris wrote about a road trip he took with his aunts when he was a kid.  He got out a map and plotted the route.  He made sure to include stops for pie.  It’s a quiet, gently funny piece, well worth a read.

On to the real deal, now.  My husband (Mark) publicly outs me as a pie snob.  He’s right.  I don’t eat pie in restaurants.  The last good slice I had was in the summer of 1981, when a friend and I travelled around the South, canoeing the Buffalo River in Arkansas and reading a lot of Faulkner.  We stopped in New Orleans to stay with my beloved high school history teacher, Rex Mooney, and his wife Barbara.  Rex took us to the Ponchartrain Hotel, and we ordered slices of Mile High Pie.  The meringue!  Did the hotel and its famous pie survive Katrina?  Anyway, most bought pies are just gross.  Leaden crusts.  Gloppy fillings.  No, no, no.

Pie needs to be made the day it is to be eaten.  The crust has to be meltingly flaky.  Fillings mustn’t be too sweet, else they overwhelm the crust.  My friend Roz is a fine pie maker.  My sister-in-law Liz is tremendous — and because she’s artistic, her pies always look beautiful. Butthe best pie crust hands down comes from my friend Lisa, who won’t let me use her last name. I can’t quite believe she’s agreeing to share her secret recipe.  Her daughter Sylvie still remembers her mother making 27-some-odd pies for a wedding.  Sylvie got “sent away” when Lisa got to cooking pie.  I could never figure out how she made all those pies…until she shared the crust recipe with me.

So, here it is.  It’s not fussy.  It always works.  And it doesn’t use standard pie fats.

Pie, itself, is a miracle.  Lisa’s pie crust is the Miracle of Miracles.  Happy Thanksgiving.



Note: This recipe makes 2 crusts: top and bottom for a traditional pie, or bottom crusts for 2 pies (i.e. pumpkin).

2 1/2 cups flour

3T sugar

2/3 cup vegetable oil (NOT olive)

1/3 cup milk

1T sugar for top of pie

1.  Set oven to 425 F.

2.  Whisk flour and sugar together in a med-large bowl.

3.  With a fork, make a well in the center of the flour mixture.  Pour the milk and oil into the well.

4.  Fork the ingredients together into a moist dough.  With your hands, form the dough into a ball.  Cut the ball in half.

5.  Place half of the dough between sheets of waxed paper and roll out into a circle about 1 1/2″ wider than your pie plate and about 1/8″ thick.

6. Center the dough circle into the pie plate, and add pie filling.  Roll out the other half to the same size and thickness of the first.  Drape over filling in pie, trim to fit, and seal and crimp edges.  Slice through the top crust to provide steam vents.  Sprinkle about 1T of sugar across the top crust.

7.  Cut a square three to four inches larger than the pie out of a brown paper grocery bag.  When you put the pie into the oven, fit the paper over it.  After about 30 minutes, check the pie and turn the oven temp down to 375F.  If the crust is browning too quickly, keep the paper over it — otherwise, remove the paper.  Rotate the pie so that the edges of the crust are baking evenly.

8.  The finished crust should be a uniformly light golden color.  If you’ve made a fruit pie, the juices should be bubbling around the edges, indicating that they are cooked through.

N.B.: Exact cooking times vary depending on the fillings.  Typically, apples take longer than berries, for example.  Thirty to forty-five minutes should bake most any fruit or berry pie.

Lisa says, “Enjoy!”