I worry about pie.
I worry that we're going to lose pie making.
I'm not worried about cakes. Yes, box mixes are a different animal than from-scratch cakes, but people are still making cakes. Pie making is dying. Honestly, when was the last time you actually made a pie from scratch, the whole thing? The pre-made graham cracker shells, boxed and canned fillings, frozen dough, and cool whip, people just don't make pies anymore. I even hear the heresy that there are people who don't like pie. Well of course they don't like pie, if all that pie means is frozen, boxed, packaged, and canned sludge.
It feels like pie makers are going to the grave with all their secrets. Across America, your aunt or grandmother, neighbor or church lady, have a lifetime of pie making that no one is bothering to learn. Because pies are regional, and the secrets to making them depend on local conditions and ingredients, these women are the repositories of baking magic. Pecan pie is made where they grow pecans. Apple pie strongholds in the north east and north west, wouldn't you know it, where they grow apples.
From the way I hear you tell it, the scariest thing in the world is pie dough. But don't let it scare you out of making pie. There's something so satisfying about the challenge of pie dough. Will you get the ratio right? Will it be too warm or too cold? Will it tear as you transfer it to the plate? I suspect it's those kind of questions that keep people from making their own pies, but that's the adventure! I've been making pies for almost 30 years and I still don't get it perfect, but I always try.
So what's the secret? Keeping it cold. When the recipe says chill the dough, really chill it. Chill the pie plate after it's filled with dough, too. Don't get it out of the icebox until you're really ready to fill and bake. Where I live the air is so dry that pie dough needs more water than the recipes call for. As for the filling, there's no right or wrong answer, but if I could nudge you, it would be to make pies that mark the season: strawberry pies in June, apricot in July, peaches in August, apple in the Fall. No more lovely way to mark the passing of a calendar than to make a pie.
My dad is the pie maker in the family. His pumpkin pie is legendary (shh, he uses the recipe on the back of the Libby's can.) Mincemeat and apple are his other specialties. He'll tell you that the best apple pies are made of Rome pples. My mother-in-law swears by McIntosh. Every region knows a different most delicious apple for pie. I've even heard of fights over a double crust apple vs. a crumb-topping apple.
My specialty is coconut cream. Oh, it's so, so good.
We can't lose pies; it's Un-American. That's what the House Un-American Committee should have been about: how to stop pie loss.
So ask your grandmother, your neighbor, the church lady to help you know the pie-making secrets in your corner of the country. What's your regional specialty? Shoo-fly? Banoffee? Mulberry? Sour cream lemon? Whatever it is, I want you to make a pie for real, from scratch. For extra credit, look around your neighborhood or farmer's stand and pick what's bursting in season this week. And for heaven's sake, whip some real cream.
The first pie pictured is apricot. It's my personal favorite because it's not only easy, it's out of this world delicious. The recipe is a variation on Ruth Reichl's apricot pie:
Chilled pie dough in a 9 or 10" pie plate
2 lbs fresh apricots
1/4 cup flour
1 stick butter
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
Preheat oven to 400ºF with rack in lower third.
Pull apricots (with skins) apart into halves, throw away pits. Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat, then stir in sugar, flour, salt, and nutmeg, and remove from heat. Cool mixture until firm enough to crumble, 10 minutes. Toss the apricots with 1/4 c of flour, just to coat them, discard the extra flour. Put apricots in pie shell (I like to stand them up on their ends, overlapping them slightly,) crumble butter mixture on top.
Bake the pie, with a foil-lined baking pan on rack below it (to catch drips), 10 minutes.
Reduce oven temperature to 350ºF and continue to bake until top is golden, 50 minutes to 60 minutes.
Cool pie to warm or room temperature on a rack, serve with fresh whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.