Monday, November 12, 2012

Pies and Generations

Jan here, getting ready for one of my favorite holidays!

What is it about Thanksgiving that brings out the best in us? We spend a whole week or more preparing for an entire day of giving thanks. And when we do it right - the giving thanks part, not the preparing part - aren't we blessed with the best day ever?

One thing I give thanks for quite often is my family - past, present and future.

This is a picture of my mom (the little girl in glasses), my grandmother (looking more stunning than I ever remember her looking!) and my uncle, Johnny, taken in 1936. These are the people who gave me my love for pies (and books, too, but that's another story).

My grandmother taught home economics before she got married, and was well prepared to be a wife and mother. Then the Great Depression hit - and Grandma used her skills to feed her family very frugally. 

My dad says one of his first memories of his mother-in-law was noticing how thin her pie crust was. She got more pies out of a batch of dough than anyone else he knew.

My mom never felt she was as good a cook as her mother, but I think she was better in the kitchen than she realized. 

This picture is her in 1940 at age eleven, with a cake she baked herself. Not bad, right?

This side of the family - my mom's side - is Church of the Brethren from way back. Like back in Germany in the 1600's.

My dad's side was Amish, became Amish-Mennonite, and then Brethren.

And that's a huge pie heritage that I inherited.

So when I was asked to review this new cookbook by Jerry and Tina Eicher, I turned to the pies, first thing. And of course there are pie recipes in an Amish Cookbook!

Since Friday, the 9th, was my Mom's 83rd birthday, I decided to make her favorite kind of pie - Custard.

It's also my favorite pie. Go figure :)

The Eicher's cookbook has a the same crust recipe as I use, but since it only makes enough for one pie, I did cheat a bit as a reviewer - I used my own pie crust recipe.

So we'll start with the crust.

Never-Fail Pie Crust


3 cups flour
1 cup shortening
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vinegar
1 beaten egg
5 1/2 to 6 Tablespoons water

Blend the flour and salt in a medium bowl.

Cut in the shortening. I like to use butter, but it also makes a great pie crust with lard or vegetable shortening (i.e. Crisco). The butter gives you a better tasting crust that browns more easily, but the lard or shortening gives you a flakier crust.

Anyway, cut in the butter or shortening, and then beat the egg in a separate bowl, and add the vinegar and water. The amount of water you add will depend on the humidity on the day you make the crust. It's a good idea to start with the lesser amount, and then add more later if you need it.

Pour the liquid into the flour mixture, and mix well. The dough should be able to stick together, but not be sticky. If you aren't able to form the dough into a ball, add a bit more water. If it's too sticky, sprinkle in a little more flour.

This recipe makes enough dough for three single crust pies, or one single crust and one double crust. 

Now, you need pie plates. Here's a look at my collection.

The three on the top are ones I've had for years. The bottom three are ones that were my mom's, and I rescued them (along with a van full of other stuff) from my dad's garage sale last spring. I normally use an 8" pie plate, but one of my mom's is a 9". 

One thing I like about this custard pie recipe is that it gives you the ingredients for either an 8" or 9" pie.

Now, divide your pie crust dough into thirds, and roll out one third on a floured board or counter.

Try to keep the thickness of the dough even - but, you know what? Nobody will notice if one side is 1/8" thick and the other is 1/4" thick.

This next step is where a dough scraper comes in handy. A spatula would work, too.

Carefully lift the edges of your pie crust, lifting the crust as you loosen it, and lay it over your free hand.

When you've folded over half the dough, loosen the remaining half, but leave it on the board.
Now get one of your pie plates, and ease your folded dough onto the plate.

Carefully...carefully...fold the top half of your dough over to the other side of the pie plate.

Next it's time to ease the crust down into the plate. You don't want to just push the dough into the corners - that stretches the dough, and as it's baking, it will shrink back to its original size.

So lift and ease the dough into the plate.

Now the fun part. Do you remember the scene from Disney's Snow White movie where Snow White is making a pie and the birds carry away the scraps of the crust as she trims them off? Lift the pie plate up, angle a table knife along the edge of the plate and slice around the edge of the pie. Sorry, I can't guarantee cute birds will show up!

Final step: crimp the edges, and your pie crust is ready. 

How do you crimp the edges? Pinch the dough between your index fingers and thumbs of both hands, more along the crust and repeat the motion, over and over until you've gone all the way around.

Yes, it takes practice.

Yes, it's a skill worth developing :)

Now for the filling!!!!

Old-Time Custard Pie

Ingredients for an 8" pie:

3 eggs
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 3/4 cups milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Beat eggs slightly; beat in remaining ingredients. Pour into pastry-lined plate. Bake 20 minutes. Reduce temperature to 325 degrees. Bake until knife inserted halfway between crust and center comes out clean, 10-20 minutes longer.

As you can see, I didn't get a picture before the vultures descended.

And yes, it tasted that good!

My mom would love a bite, but since she lives 1000 miles east of the Black Hills, I'll just have to eat her piece.

She won't mind. Really.

Oh, and remember that my pie crust recipe makes enough dough for three pies? I rolled out the crust, put it in pie plates, and stuck the other two in the freezer.

Next week? Pumpkin Pie ! 


  1. Oh my gosh!!! This is like PIE 101!!

    I so could have used this class a few months ago when I was trying to make pie crust. Holy smokes, nobody told me it was that hard.

    It came out chewy, salty and somehow underdone right in the middle. Blah.

    Stealing this recipe.

    Loving on those old time pictures. :)

    My grandmother said in the depression, she and her sister shared a coat during college. She tried to get their classes at opposite times so one could run home and give the other one the coat.

    1. I love hearing stories about the depression - it makes me realize how well we really live.

      My mom used to tell how she would go use the neighbor's outhouse. My grandparents had the only indoor bathroom on the block, and they used real toilet paper, so Mom would go to the neighbor's outhouse so she could read the magazines they kept there for...well, other purposes.

  2. man that looks good! I dont mess with crust - my mom used to bake a looonnnng time ago and my job was the crimping except I was given a fork and told to 'go around it'! my aunt uses storebought crust(heck the last 10 yrs I think she's gone to entire store bought pies too!) so I scoop out the inside part and leave the crust usually.

    I bet you can do it Virginia - you're a pro!


    1. My mom always used store bought crust, too. First it was the sticks that you'd add water to, then roll out (do they even sell those anymore?), but as soon as frozen pie shells became available, she bought those.

      I learned how to make the crust from scratch because when our children were little we didn't have any extra money to spend on things I could make myself.

      It's amazing what you can learn to do when you really want to :)

  3. I really cant get my mind around pumpkin pie!
    mum has a really easy pie crust or pasty. I miss the dough almost tempted to work out a pie to make but then I dont eat much pie and not sure who to make one for.

    1. Jenny, when you're in the US next year, you'll have to try pumpkin pie. It's sweet, spicy, creamy deliciousness.

      And you can make pie to take to a church dinner - that way, if it doesn't turn out as well as you wanted, you aren't stuck with a lot of leftovers.

      And if it does turn out? You'll be asked to bring pie every time.

    2. Jan Please don't torture me. I have to say I HATE pumpkin. we did have it here once and it didn't go down well with most people I think cos we are not use to it.

      For most church dinners (we dont have many) we are meant to take finger foods. Also there is the heating issue but then mum did make slices with her pastry if I could just remember or find how to make the currant slice I could make that one and share it.

    3. Jenny, you're allowed to hate pumpkin.

      (You might want to skip next Monday's blog, though!)

    4. cant do that I dont mind looking! I really want some dough about now! Oh I may miss some posts next week as I am going away for a week.

  4. This looks yummy. I've never had custard pie before but I love custard so I'm game to give it a try. I'm jealous of your perfect pie crust, folded over in half so perfectly. Bah! But I make my pie crust with spelt flour so it's a little trickier. I usually roll it out on wax paper to give it some substance and then plop it over into the pie pan (lovely collection by the way. I only have one!) I usually end up patchworking the bottom pie crust before baking. :-) My pies won't win any beauty contests but they still taste good. :-)

    Love that glimpse into your family history as well, Jan. What a rich heritage you have!

    1. I've never tried spelt flour for pie is the flavor? Have you ever tried mixing the spelt with another flour to change the texture of the dough?

      The next question is, am I brave enough to face my family's wrath if I start messing with my pie crust recipe?

      And yes, I have to patchwork the crust quite often. I didn't take pictures of that one!

    2. Spelt flour is kind of a cross between whole wheat and pastry flour, I find. It bakes pretty much like regular flour. I don't notice the difference in cookies or cakes. Pie crust has a bit of a different taste -- more like whole wheat, I guess. But it's not heavy or dry or anything. I bake with spelt because my daughter is wheat sensitive.

    3. I've used Spelt flour for muffins and cookies, but not by itself.

      Time to expand my horizons...

  5. Jan, this looks so simple! The pie filling, I mean. Crust is never simple. LOL Although, years ago someone gave me a recipe that you plop into a ziplock baggie and roll out right in the bag. Then you cut the bag off and NO MESS! I'll have to go on an archaeological dig and find that. It made an amazing texture crust. Nice and flaky.

    In the meantime, I think I would love a custard pie! I've never had one. I may have to try this on my family when they come for Thanksgiving. :) And yes, I'll buy my Pillsbury rolled up refrigerated crusts. :) (I hope y'all won't kick me off the blog for admitting that! I fear the wrath of Ruthy!)

    1. Pie crust isn't that hard - but when you add it to all the other preparation for a special meal, it's one more thing you can take off the list by buying the refrigerated pie crust :)

      On the other hand, you can also make it a month ahead of time and freeze it...

      You'll have to dig for that ziplock baggie recipe. It sounds interesting!

  6. Perfect timing. I made chicken pot pie for dinner. But I did use the frozen pie crusts. I always use the Oronoque Orchards Deep Dish because it doesn't have sulfites like some of the others.

    Today's bonus - I used little leaf cookie cutters for the top layer so I had scraps left over. I flattened them together, poured melted butter, cinnamon and sugar, and rolled. Then I sliced them like cinnamon rolls and added a topping of Ghiradelli chips. Better than the pot pie - almost.

    1. What do you mean "almost"???? Cinnamon rolls top just about anything. And top EVERYTHING savory. :)

    2. I love using the leftover dough - but I never thought of rolling it up like that! Sound scrumptious.

      I usually end up cutting out the leftover dough and using it to decorate the pie with seasonal decorations - pumpkins, leaves, that sort of thing. I saw a picture in a magazine where someone had used alphabet cutters and spelled out the words "I (heart) PIE". It was cute!

  7. Wow, I have been around for a long time and I haven't until now heard of putting vinegar in pie crust. What does the vinegar do?

    Your pie is so beautiful. Can't wait to see the pumpkin pie pics. If I have time, things sure get busy this time of year.