|Fresh baked pies (cherry/cranberry and peach) waiting to head over to the pie and ice cream social at work today|
Where he works, they're in the habit of providing their week-long stays with a pie. In the years that Andy's worked at the business, they've gone through a series of pie-bakers. (I suppose if we didn't live in the woods, we might go so far as to call them "pastry chefs.") One baker made pies that were too sweet and goop-y (instant pudding has no place in a pie shell, I say), another had trouble achieving an affordable wholesale price, the last had a severe gluten allergy that made assembling pie crusts rather tricky. In the end, the business opted to go the frozen, pre-made pie route, buying the pies directly from a wholesale restaurant supplier. But homemade or "home-baked," the guests don't care. They just want their pie.
What is it about pies?
I'm hard-pressed to think of another common dessert that strikes more fear in many of even the most experienced bakers' hearts. You're either a pie baker or you're not, although these days, with the advent of frozen and pre-made pie crusts, many non-pie bakers can limp along admirably. But despite the fact that many bakers would rather serve cake, cobbler, cookies, anything but pie for dessert, pie remains the ultimate in all-American desserts. (Keeping in mind, of course, that apple pie isn't really American - it's English, don't you know.)
A pie's complexity lies in its simplicity. More often than not, it's just two layers of pastry with some sort of fruit filling in between it. But a beautiful pie can quickly turn to disappointment if the crust doesn't flake when cut in or the pie filling spills out in a puddle when served.
I didn't really come from a pie eating family. My grandmother was well known for her fresh berry pies, which involved fresh fruit placed in a vegetable oil pie crust and covered with a Jell-O glaze. The fresh strawberry pie (which my brother still requests for his birthday) was delicious . . . the fresh blueberry pie with lemon Jell-O glaze remains a memorable flop. My mother's fear of pie crust meant most pies I ate as a little girl had a crumb topping, so she could avoid the hassle of a top crust. It wasn't until I discovered pie baking at age 13 that pies started be served with some regularity at home.
If you asked me if pie was my favorite dessert, I'd probably tell you "no." Ice cream and cheesecake rank above pie in my book. But when it comes to birthday treats - both those I request and those I bake for others - I find I gravitate towards pie. Key lime for me, please, molasses bourbon pecan for Andy, pumpkin or cherry for Dad.
You can't make a good pie without confidence and a bit of love for the craft. I once told an apprehensive pie baker that the secret to good pie crust was "telling the pie crust how good it was going to be the whole time you're making it." Oh and time. It doesn't take that long to roll out a homemade pie, but you just wouldn't want to rush a good pie.
So what is about pies?
I think a good pie conjures up a warm, fuzzy feeling of nostalgia and love. A good pie speaks of a slower pace of life, when there was time to futz about in the kitchen, when people worked hard enough to have their pie and eat it each evening, when ingredients were fresh and locally sourced, when our chief worry about what was going in our mouths was how it tasted.