Lisa Sweet Cambridge is a communications professional writing about all that retirement brings to her life ... some of it is sweet and some requires grit.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Pie Perfection

My goal this summer is to make a pie (from scratch) using every fresh fruit … well, not all in the same pie, of course.  And, using only fruits I like. So, that limits the possibilities somewhat, but has already exceeded the number of pies that I have made in my entire lifetime.
Peach. Check!
Apple. Check!
Lemon. Check!
Cherry. Check!
Assorted berries. Check!
Strawberry. Check!
Every single pie baking exercise has presented its own unique challenges.  
The lemon meringue was too soupy – had to eat it with a spoon.  

The cherry pie required pitting cherries (duh!), but in my case without a cherry pitter. I thought a fondue fork might work until I stabbed my thumb with it. Turned out that the best solution was the big end of a chopstick.
The assorted berry pies (more appropriately should be called tarts) – well, I forgot to set the timer on the oven, started talking on the phone, and voila!  -- tarts were a little overdone resulting in berries that were very dark and a little dry. However, covering them with a large blob of whipped topping or ice cream eliminated having to look at the berries, and they tasted super.

The peach and apple pies were divine on the inside, but the crusts were a challenge. Crusts are always a challenge!
Yesterday, I made a strawberry pie and I nailed it! My crust was perfect and I’m going to share how I did it.

I started with a recipe given to me by Dan’s dear departed Aunt Ruby, who grew up on a farm in Iowa when everything was made from scratch. Her pies were always fabulous. However, using her recipe, I wasn’t quite getting it. Something in my technique or touch must have been wrong because it just wasn’t flaky enough. And, I never seemed to have enough dough to make a double-crusted pie, top and bottom. I imagine that was because back in the day, pie pans were only eight inches.  Mine are all nine inches.  So, I made a few adjustments and my AARP (Adjusted Aunt Ruby’s Pie) crust recipe is below.
But, first a few tips:

·         You can use only Crisco or only butter, but some combination of the two is better. I go with ½ and ½.
·         While you’re sifting the flour, sugar and salt, let the Crisco sit in the freezer. Five minutes should do it. And make sure your butter is cold. Everything must be cold!
·         An easy way to measure the Crisco, if you aren’t using premeasured bars, is to fill a 2-cup glass measuring cup with cold water to the 1 1/8 c. line. Add the 6 T of butter and then add enough Crisco until the water line hits the 2-cup mark.
·         Let your 3/8 c. of cold water sit with ice cubes in it for a few minutes. Again, everything must be cold.
·         The vinegar is critical. Don’t leave it out just because it sounds weird.
·         If you leave the dough ball in the refrigerator much longer than 30 minutes, it will get quite hard. That’s okay because it will soften as you roll it out. But, just beware. I thought I had ruined mine and almost tossed it in the trash.
·         When you roll out the crust, don’t skimp on the flour. It’s okay and your dough won’t stick.
·         If you’re making a single crust pie shell and don’t have pie weights, use beans. Or, until I purchased pie weights,  I used coins that I stole from my shoe-shopping jar, wrapped in foil.

AARP Crust
2 ½ c. flour
2 ½ t. sugar
1 ¼ t. salt
½ c.  Crisco
3/8 c. butter (=6 tablespoons)
1 egg
2 ¼ t. white vinegar
3/8 c. cold water

·         Mix and sift dry ingredients in large mixing bowl.
·         About a tablespoon at a time, cut butter and Crisco into flour mixture.  
·         In small bowl, mix egg, vinegar and water.
·         Stir egg mixture gradually in to flour/butter and mix until it forms a ball.
·         Wrap dough in saran wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Now, I just need to master the technique of making the rim pretty once I place it in the pie plate.  If anyone has tricks or tips, I’ll gladly listen.
As I mentioned, I’ve made more pies this summer alone than in my entire lifetime. Since beginning chemo, Dan has a real sweet tooth. We now always keep desserts in the house. And, since I retired, it just seems only right that I make them all from scratch.  Well, all except the stash of vanilla wafers that we always have on hand.  

I’ve also discovered the best whipped topping ever. Another side effect of Dan’s chemo treatments is lactose intolerance. And, I endured the Whole 30 diet a couple of months ago. Since then, I too have removed most dairy products from my diet. The best solution for whipped topping for pies is Coco-Whip by So Delicious. It is a coconut milk-based whipped topping and is divine!
Thank you for reading my blog. I lack a theme because I have so many topics I want to write about.  I might cover anything from cooking to gardening to sewing to tips for retirement (which I recently did and learned a lot about how to prepare for this new stage in life.  I’m still learning.) Perhaps some updated geneology for the Sweet/Gwaltney family. I’ll try to refrain from political commentary but, with the RNC and DNC right around the corner, I may not be able to keep my thoughts and sarcasm to myself.

To coin a phrase, I’m good at many things, but a master of nothing. Maybe that’s why I want so badly to “master” the perfect pie crust.

Please come back and God bless!

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