I just had yet another birthday, which is as good a time as any to think about death. This year’s observation: we’re told that people on the cusp of death see their lives flash before them in a chronological series of memories, like a slide show. I have discovered that the exact same thing happens in the process of baking a pie, except in reverse order, and with only the wretched memories, and nobody needs to die unless they’re in the same room with the baker.
It’s pie season around here, when I make all the pies for the whole year in order to confine the aggravation to one short period, and then I slam them all in the freezer to think about what they’ve done. I’m the baker in this household, not from any particular talent for it, but by default, since Dave refuses to follow a recipe per se and prefers to let inspiration be his guide. He fired himself from the baking chores after once trying to assemble cookies out of butter, flour and sugar (but no baking powder). That is still known as the Sugar Puck Incident, and if we had not found a nice pothead willing to take them home and suck on them, they might be in the landfill, unchanged, to this day. Anyway, I am willing to follow a recipe, but what works fine one time doesn’t work the next, and lacking any understanding of how things work, I’m helpless to diagnose the problem, and have to resort to Renaming. This results in a lot of Crumbles, and Fallen Angel Food, and Lava Frosting, and Egg Custard Pebbles, and Oopsie Flambe, and Holy Shitcakes, and I Can’t Believe It’s Not Rising. Mine is a natural, unstudied, serendipitous method that others prefer to call incompetence.
Pie season 2011 got off to a rocky start. The blackberries were large and luscious and would probably have baked up nicely if I had been able to correctly adjust the amount of thickener to account for the extra cup of fruit-fly maggots that had distributed themselves throughout the haul. These pies are hard to put a shine on, but I’m going to give them a good five months in the slammer, dub them Amnesia Pie and see how that goes over.
It was the famous Huckleberry Hazelnut pie that produced the near-death experience. Mary Ann came up with the recipe and she doesn’t have any trouble making it come out right, but she knows what she’s doing, and where’s the challenge in that? Pie crust is supposed to have just enough liquid added to get the butter and flour on speaking terms. By the time I added all my ingredients, my food processor was full of soup. I poured it into a dish and refrigerated it, and miraculously, it firmed up. I centered it in a halo of flour, a plump, perfect patty, my little Pangaea, and then it went tectonic. In a short dozen rolls of the pin, the crust had separated into seven continents adrift on the cutting board. I assessed the situation over several large, frosty mugs of serenity. I thought I could get it all to come together with more flour, a colder rolling pin and about 250 million years. Dave backed slowly out of the room.
The immediate danger to bystanders is past and the renaming process has begun. You’re all welcome to come over for some of my dammit dammit dammit dammit famous you dirty low-down bastard son-of-a-Republican hazelnut don’t you come stumbling in here at four in the morning, you can just sleep right there on the floor where you passed out crust none of my friends have to be home by ten o’clock huckleberry I thought you were my best friend cinnamon doo-doo-head and butter mommy mommy mommy mommy Marie Callender’s Thaw & Serve Coconut Cream Pie.
Can I have mine A LA MODE?
I wish I could invoke my mother's name and the pie crust gods would visit me as they did her, but no, I've been forced into a shallow relationship with the Pillsbury Dough Boy instead. Now you're telling me I can cozy up to Marie Callender. The times they are a changin'.
My head is all in a swirl over the possible ingredients in a Dirty Low-down Bastard Son-of-a-Republican pie.
I buy frozen tenderflake pie crusts….tada.
Think we'll omit the fruit-fly maggots from our pies. Have to get our protein from somewhere else.
Oh man if I made a year's supply worth of pies and put them in the freezer my family would be SO HAPPY!
I wish you wouldn't use the m-word in describing that blackberry pie, Murr. "Fruit angels-in-training," something like that?
I make one pie a year (commercial crust) and it comes out fine. I figure trying any more than that is pushing it.
My grandma, the logging camp cook, used to say that the best pie crust was made with bear suet, if you could get a bear that hadn't eaten too many fish.
I firmly believe that pie crust senses your fear and reacts accordingly. I tend toward cookies.
My lamentable attempts at pie-making encouraged me to turn it all over to my talented younger sister, her daughter and her granddaughter, who do it all just wonderfully well. My efforts tended to produce thoughts like "you Communist piece of cr*p crust you never did this to my mother stop it right now".
Two things I've learned to amass in my arsenal to overcome pie crust rebellion are 1) a pastry cloth, and 2) a sprinkling of sugar onto the flour you've sprinkled on the pastry cloth. Then do the same atop the dough as you roll it. I swear to you, this tames the beast and helps avoid name calling, which I used to regularly resort to with no appreciable results other than my own elevated temperature. Supposedly it's in the crystaline shape of the sugar that causes the dough to flow, so to speak.
You can always call the maggots coconut, aka blueberry coconut curse.
You know the expression "easy as pie"? I assume it was originally meant to imply that pie was easy to eat, not easy to make. Yet flaky crust seems to run in my family; I take no credit for being able to accomplish it; my grandmother, my mother and her sisters (and one of her brothers), my daughter–we all seem to have the gene. But ice water is your friend. And forget the food processor. Get an old-fashioned pastry cutter and keep it in the fridge. Grandma used lard (2nd cousin to bear suet) but Crisco works for me.
Alas (or luckily?), I'm allergic to hazelnuts.
I really don't know if I'm going to be able to eat the blackberry pies when I re-bake them. The blerg factor is too high, and I've never even eaten an oyster because I'm pretty sure I don't like them. Three cheers to Roxie, though, for raising the bar on pie difficulty. "(1) Slay bear…"
I loved this so much I don't need to even eat any pie to be sated…….I think I would pass on the blackberry one anyway,,,,,
I've said it before and I will say it again…..
Murr……you are a goddamned incredible writer !
A year's worth of pies – that's like trying to imagine nothingness. But I can totally imagine the great pie-baking fiasco that sends you running to the store. I am not a pastry maker and have often experienced that continental drift. Bake on!
I prefer my blackberry pie without the crust. Also known as freeze the berries on a cookie sheet, put the frozen berries in a gallon-sized baggie, and pull them out a handful at a time during the winter for smoothies.
"…if you can get a bear that hasn't eaten too much fish…"
Now I have the perfect excuse not to make pie crust – no bears in Australia. (Unless you count the infamous Drop Bear :-))
Perhaps a better choice than living blueberries would be dingleberries—our fruit trees are full of 'em.
Now a drop bear (which is partial to rum) would make a wonderful pie crust. So I now owe thanks to you Murr, to anon, and to dinahmow for yet another recipe I wont get around to making.
What a coincidence! I'm thinking about death over at my place also…
And my brother just took me to experience the wonder that is Costco, and I walked out of there with a 10 1/2"-diameter deep-dish apple pie for 10 bucks. Who says money can't buy happiness? Not my kids, for sure…
I save myself the aggravation and let those around me with white thumbs handle the heavy pie lifting. I just agree to be the guinea pig who eats it. It's good to be the guinea pig.
Okay. I'm dying to know. What exactly happened during the "Holy Shitcakes" incident?
Just in case anyone wants the "NEW FOOLPROOF PIE CRUST with Hazelnuts" recipe, here it is (you could substitute other nuts, or leave them out and adjust the amount of flour up a quarter cup or so)
If you pass this recipe on, I would appreciate being given credit for it! Mary Ann Dabritz, Portland, Oregon
NEW FOOLPROOF PIE CRUST with Hazelnuts
4 cups whole wheat pastry flour
½ Cup Ground Hazelnuts (you can just spin ½ cup of whole nuts in a food processor until ground)
2 tsp salt
1-3/4 cups unsalted Butter
1/2 cup cold water
1 T white or cider vinegar
1 large egg
If you want to do this in a food processor, you will need to divide the ingredients in half and make half a batch at a time – put in half of dry ingredients, mix, add butter in small chunks and process until crumbly. Mix up the water, vinegar, and egg in a separate bowl – measure half of that solution and slowly add it to the dry ingredients in the food processor while it is running until it comes together into a ball. Remove the first batch and repeat the process with the second.
Non – processor mixing – In large bowl, stir together with fork the flour , nuts, and salt; cut in butter until crumbly.
In small bowl, beat together water, vinegar and egg; add to flour mixture and stir until are ingredients are moistened. Will be sticky.
Divide dough in 5 portions (or 6, if you will be rolling it thin) and shape each into a flat, round patty; wrap each in plastic or waxed paper and chill at least 1/2 hour.
When ready to use, lightly flour both sides and roll on floured board. (I roll mine out between sheet of parchment paper with no additional flour needed.)
Dough can be left in fridge for up to 3 days or frozen and thawed before use.
Anne writes: You made a might good 'pots de creme' (sp?) one Labor Day Weekend… I just remember it seemed to take forever to get your little ramikens(?) back to you…. btw…. thanks for the recipe… Jerry bakes the pies around here!
Ah yes, Anne, Chocolate Weekend! See? I can make some stuff. Although the pots de creme sometimes have to be renamed too. (Brown Rubber Bits! Mmm!)
Ahab, you're better off not knowing.
Thanks Mary Ann! I have no doubt at all you could whip up a recipe using only dead bear and fir duff, too.
I thought all pie crust was frozen and available for purchase at the stores?? Little old ladies created them for all of us who do not have the time, patience or notion to make them ourselves. I love those little old ladies! I also use them for Quiche Lorraine! Mmmmm!
Tears are flowing, and I am watching the pangaea of pie crust, flour flying, and Dave leaving–I have been there with you, sister. But, never ever did I have the command of colorful metaphors and flowing lava of language. You rule.
Thanks, Susan! Rose, craziest thing, and I think I have my sainted mom to blame, but I just can't bring myself to buy a pie crust.
Linda Koons, I have on hand a foolproof pie crust recipe with genuine Crisco, vinegar and egg, and I use it for my normal pies. Huckleberries are more precious and require a greater degree of difficulty plus the vocabulary to go with.
Oh, and Dale, you are my new official re-namer.
Now. What is a drop bear?
A drop bear is a large and possibly mythical animal which drops out of gum trees onto campers and steals their supplies of Bundaberg Rum. I think I have that right – it originated in a very clever series of ads for Bundaberg Rum.
Sitting here, laughing on my 61st, I can only be thankful that I have 1) an eldest daughter who is baker supreme with an apple crumble cooling on the table and 2) I don't have a large freezer.
Ever since the episode of strawberries (we have them growing all over the hill as ground cover) with bees – my family has requested that I stick to soups. Apparently the fuzziness was not appreciated. How was I to know that several had snuck into the pail?
It sure is, and, let me tell you, I rarely snort.
I never bake pies, or anything else, for that matter, baking being a foreign language to me. I was going to ask, is it allowed to admit to buying frozen cake? It does away with the need to fast-freeze, which is always such a faff.
My best thoughts about death always come when I'm ironing, so I try to do very little of that, too. except, that I could almost welcome the grim reaper when I have to do a shirt or blouse.
If that wasn't a perfect Sunday morning chuckle, I don't know what is 🙂 That last pie name was my fav! Did anyone ever eat any of your Amnesia Pie?!
Well, the beginning on this post had me tempted to hop in my car and drive up the 101 for a visit and some free pie. But after "Shitcakes" and "I Can't Believe It's Not Rising," I realized I could stay at home and eat my own crappy baking.
Fruit fly maggots! You know how I feel about claw my skin off, prickly heat, histamine hell fruit flies. I love blackberry pie, but now I'll be awake itching all night at the very thought. Maybe you could disguise them with ice cream…Maggot A La Mode.
With all these commentaries about slaying Bears, and Bear suet and the like, I'm not sure if this is a safe place for me.
I'm gone, even without the pie.
You crack me up. If someone put a table of contents on your blog and asked how many people wanted to read it, no hands would rise. But they really do. You are very funny.
I'm the baker in this household, not from any particular talent for it, but by default, since Dave refuses to follow a recipe per se and prefers to let inspiration be his guide.
That doesn’t work, madam. I tried that with a bag of corn bread. They put bad directions on these packages so you will mess it up and have to buy more. I did exactly what the package says, which presumably my mother, who purchased this corn bread had done, and it came out pure slop. So, I cooked it a little longer. Then it was burnt slop.
you dirty low-down bastard son-of-a-Republican hazelnut Now that literally made me laugh out loud.
Keep rolling your pin, Murr. Crust is highly overrated and only a vehicle for filling transfer to the mouth. However, I'm going to have to print off Sculptori's Hazelnut recipe and stick it in the drawer with my other good intentions. The last pie I made, I just baked the filling. I was too lazy to make crust.
Elephants Child answered your question about the Drop Bear and for anyone who wants further proof of widespread inanity Down Under, it's even on Wiki
Ah yes–"unusually large, vicious, carnivorous koalas." Must be related to Jimmy Carter's killer bunnies.
Oh God, absolutely hilarious. But HOW in the world do you make a "year's supply" of pies actually last for a year? If I made that many goodies at once, we'd just eat them faster.
Happy (Belated) Birthday 🙂
My gawd, woman.
Who bakes a years worth of pies, you lunatic? And how many pies does a clan need for a year? And do you make an assortment? Or do you just make the ones YOU like? And–and—oh hell. I'm foaming at the mouth just thinking about all this, since Turkey Day is at my house this year and I will be baking pies pies and more pies.
And I was having a good Oktober so far, here in Middle Amerika….
continents in a kitchen! mercator projected or some weird culinary calculus?
Obviously you've missed your calling in Public Relations. Signed, Not so great with crusts in Portland
Anyone who bakes a pie is an angel. How could it be different? Pies are the most angelic things on earth.
But I believe I will pass on your dammit dammit dammit dammit famous you dirty low-down bastard son-of-a-Republican hazelnut don't you come stumbling in here at four in the morning, you can just sleep right there on the floor where you passed out crust none of my friends have to be home by ten o'clock huckleberry I thought you were my best friend cinnamon doo-doo-head and butter mommy mommy mommy mommy Marie Callender's Thaw & Serve Coconut Cream Pie, if you don't mind.
I don't mind. I'm passing on the Amnesia Pie, myself.
A fruit fly pie doesn't sound too good, but I guess I could go for a piece of good homemade blackberry pie. About the only pies we ever get in our house are Moon pies and those very rarely since they're hard to find in Southern California. Then there's the frozen pecan pie that's been in the freezer for about five years. I wonder if it's still good? I keep meaning to check it to see what it looks like. I really do like pecan pies, but I don't know about that one.
Tossing It Out