Turning 50: King Arthur Flour, meet Granny Smith

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Catherine Clark, a long-time King Arthur Flour aficionado and pie baker, shares her experience of baking hundreds and hundreds of pies on the way to crafting a perfect replica of her mother’s apple pie. Our special thanks to Elaine Marten, many of whose photos illustrate this story.

The older I get, the more I become like my mother.

During my 40s, I had no problem in becoming more like my mother with every passing year. My mom is a remarkable person, a wonderful woman with dozens of good qualities, any number of which I would be glad – nay, honored – to incorporate into my own profile.

But as time marched on, I began to see that it wasn’t that simple. For one thing, I’d actually have to get older. Fifty and even beyond – which, like many other Baby Boomers, I thought of as a hideous fate that would befall everyone but me.

Also, I couldn’t pick and choose the ways in which I began to resemble my mother. So instead of taking on my mom’s patience, tact and discretion, I acquired her laugh and the way she tilts her head when posing for photographs. Her superhuman work ethic passed me by, but I began to exhibit signs of her skepticism about restaurants (“I could have made this entire meal at home for the cost of one glass of wine!”)

As my 50th birthday neared, it became clear I needed to identify and consciously acquire one outstanding talent or habit or ability that both defined my mom in the hearts and minds of her family, and yet was accessible enough to be a possibility for me. There was, in the end, really no question. To truly honor my mom, to create a family tradition of handing a skill down from mother to daughter (or son) – it had to be cooking or baking.

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And in the end, it had to be pie.

My mom is the best – the very best – cook and baker that I’ve ever known. Entirely self-taught, the second-oldest girl in a big family where meals were simply another chore, she’s a truly great, instinctive cook.

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My mom’s baked goods are all excellent, but for sheer symbolic heft, nothing beats her pie. For years I watched her throw flour and Crisco and salt into her faithful stainless-steel bowl, mix it with her hands, splash in some water, and roll out the resulting dough almost as an afterthought. The dough was always supple and stretchy; it rolled out smoothly as a length of silk, and practically floated into the waiting pie pan.

But even in my forties, looking back on all those years in her kitchen, I still didn’t quite grasp the concept of pie crust. I watched my mother make pie, helped by slicing the apples or washing up the mixing bowls, and absorbed little snippets of advice and information that she passed along, but I never made a pie (or anything else) under her tutelage. It was time to begin.

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I started with the cookbooks that my mom had received as wedding presents in 1956 (and passed on to me), then branched out and looked at apple pie recipes in contemporary cookbooks and online. The recipes were all basically the same (flour, salt, shortening, water), and I decided that the point wasn’t finding the best or most reliable formula – yet – but rather getting my hands in the flour and messing around with the ingredients.

Here’s the first big lesson, and it took me months to recognize it – pies are uniquely challenging. And even a purportedly easy, foolproof recipe is no guarantee of success. As any cook or baker can attest, the process is as important as the product.

The recipe would be simple, straightforward, and easy to understand, but for months every pie I made was different from the one before: some were acceptable, some were pretty good, and some barely edible. This was absolutely maddening at the outset, but ended up being one of the best aspects of what I began to call the Pie Project: as in Buddhist philosophy, change is the only constant.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but in taking on the challenge of the Mom-worthy pie crust, I was simultaneously addressing some larger concerns that had to do with The Big Picture: growing older, watching my children leave home, setting aside time and energy to devote to my husband when it felt like every breath I drew was for my children’s benefit.

It was, and is, the same litany that every mother repeats to herself as the children outgrow their childhood: How can you leave me? How can I let you go? Why are you in such a hurry to depart, when we have so little time left together – and that so fleeting? And most of all, Who will I be when you’re gone?

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I’m not saying that these questions were answered by baking or eating or serving apple pie (although it didn’t hurt). But trying to understand the essential nature of apple pie gave me a goal and a challenge, which took my mind off those pesky Aging Mom questions. I went from being fearful and doubt-ridden about my pies to using their production as an opportunity to focus and think – all while sifting flour through my fingers, or peeling apples. It was very restful, in a way. It was like the best kind of meditation, both calming and productive.

It’s probably safe to say that in about three years I made at least 400 pies. If no one was around the house, I often called up friends or neighbors and said, “Want a pie? Fresh out of the oven.” After awhile it got harder to give the pies away locally and I had to venture farther afield with them. I became a familiar sight, roaming the neighborhood with a pie held in front of me like a sacramental vessel. A friend started calling me the Pie Lady. She still does.

Nowadays, about 8 years later, I make fruit pies almost entirely by feel. I can’t do a good estimate of the total pies produced by my quest, but up to a zillion is a fair guess. This is not to imply that I’ve become an expert at anything; I still learn something almost every time I bake. But it does indicate that I’m always happy with my hands in a bowl of flour.

The crust thing is no longer scary to me: I may not be quite on the same footing as my mom, but I’m in the zone. She ate a slice of my apple pie on her last visit, and then had a second slice. “Boy, this is good,” she said. That accolade lit up my little baker’s universe for months.

So has Mom’s assurance resolved the becoming-mom thing? Yeah, it pretty much has. My mom is still baking at the age of 81. My dad is still eating the results of her baking at the age of 83. I hope, decades from now, I’ll be able to say the same for myself.

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Every week I buy a bag of Granny Smiths, as there’s always one more pie I want to bake. Here’s what I’ve learned along the way.

First, the filling. This is the easiest part in terms of outcome – it’s hard to ruin apples mixed with sugar, cinnamon, and butter. As for variety of apple, it’s Granny Smiths all the way. Their flesh is crisp, the slices keep their shape after baking, and they’re tart rather than too sweet.

Here in New England, we’re fortunate to have dozens of local apple varieties to choose from, among them heirloom fruits that make wonderful pies. But they’re only available for a few weeks in the fall, and then it’s back to the supermarket produce aisle, and those faithful Granny Smiths.

Take 5 or 6 Granny Smith apples. Peel, core, quarter, and slice them lengthwise, to a thickness that renders 4 to 8 slices per quarter, depending on the size of the apple. Put them in a large mixing bowl, tossing them with a couple of tablespoons of lemon juice if they begin to brown. When all the apples are sliced, add the following, mixing until the apples are well coated: white sugar, brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, butter, salt, and optional lemon juice. Don’t worry that I’ve forgotten the precise measurements; it’s more sadistic than that: I simply don’t use them any longer.

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Let the apples sit in their marinade for 20 minutes or so, while you do the crust. When you transfer the sliced fruit to the crust-lined pan, you’ll want to squeeze any extra juice out of it. This excess slurry can be boiled down to a delicious, soft-caramel spread that’s excellent on toast.

Now, on to the crust – a word that strikes terror into the hearts of many otherwise fearless bakers.

I know any number of accomplished, confident professional women, with important jobs and fabulously impractical shoes, who practically gibber with terror at the prospect of rolling out pie crust. When I show up with a pie at a dinner party, I’m always asked by other women, “Did you make that crust? From scratch? Was it hard? What ingredients did you use?” Their unfeigned amazement and congratulations are touching; and the fear-of-failure thing is not unfounded: I’ve made many unsatisfactory crusts in my time.

If I’m making one double-crust pie, I empty 2 cups of King Arthur white flour into a big mixing bowl. This is the only ingredient that I still ritually measure. Then I add salt, about a teaspoon, and more later if the crust tastes bland.

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I scoop a handful of Crisco out of its can and work it into the flour. Then I add a smaller handful – palmful, sometimes – of softened butter, and mix again. These are my secrets, and I share them with you: butter and Crisco make s crust with better texture and more flavor than Crisco alone. You don’t need much butter, because even a small amount makes a difference.

When the texture of the flour/fat/salt looks kind of pebbly and coarse, I start pouring in ice water. I always put ice in the water, and I always use much more water, added faster, than most recipes recommend – I splash in maybe a half to two-thirds of a cup, for a double crust. This, more than any other ingredient except the flour, dictates how the crust will turn out, and educates the baker as to how the dough should feel.

The dough should soak up the water till it’s kind of goopy and feels wet. It will all cohere in one loose, untidy ball. If you tear that ball in half, the dough should stretch and look shredded, ragged. Don’t worry that the dough feels too moist: you’ll be rolling it on a floured surface and sprinkling more flour on top so it doesn’t stick to the rolling pin. Even this small addition of flour will completely even out the dough’s texture.

Warning: don’t over-handle the dough, despite the pleasure of working it with your hands. It should roll out smoothly, as elastic and stretchy as the circles of pizza dough TV Italian chefs toss in the air.

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Next, preheat the oven to 425°F. Divide the ball of dough in half. Place one half on a lightly floured surface (preferably moveable; I use a large wooden cutting board), and roll it out with a rolling pin. Remember to roll from the middle to the edge, not from one side to the other; rotate the cutting board rather than the crust, if possible.

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When the dough is uniformly rolled, lift and transfer it to a 9” pie pan. Trim any excess from the edges. Using a slotted spoon or your hands, stir the apple slices to distribute the sweet spice mixture. Taste one last time. Then lift the apples into the pie pan, squeezing to extract as much juice as possible. They should fill the pan, but not mound in the middle.

Dot the fruit with a 3 or 4 pats of butter (about 2 to 3 tablespoons). Roll out the second half of dough and lift it onto the pie. Trim off any excess and, working around the circumference of the pan, press the edges together with your thumb and forefingers to make a decorative, sealed rim.

Slash the crust with a knife or fork so steam can escape. Lastly, brush the crust with water, and sprinkle it generously with white sugar.

Bake the pie at 425°F for 15 minutes, then turn the oven down to 400°F and bake until the top crust is golden in spots and the filling bubbles through any small holes, anywhere from 20 to 35 additional minutes. (This is usually shorter than the baking times suggested in cookbooks.) I use a crust shield (a 9” aluminum circle) to protect the crust from getting too dark. When the pie is done, remove it from the oven, and let it cool for half an hour on a cooling rack. Then serve it with ice cream or heavy cream.

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Even after baking so many pies, I never get over the feeling of anticipatory pleasure and interest in how the next pie will turn out. There’s one coming out of the oven now. Stop by.

Catherine would like to add this note, written to all who’ve expressed their thoughts below:  “I am writing to thank you all for taking the time to read this essay, and for your unbelievably kind, funny, gracious and generous comments. It has been wonderful hearing from each and all of you. With my sincere gratitude, Catherine.”

comments

  1. Julia de Peyster

    As a crust-challenged neighbor with 3 growing boys, I love the pie lady’s output! And she has generously taught them and me the fine art of crust making – sometimes partly in Spanish! A multiple talented friend and generous spirit – proving it really does take a village…and a village pie maker…

    Reply
  2. Patrice Ryan

    I am now 5 days into being an empty nester. I now know how my mom felt. And so, with your help, I shall make pie!

    Reply
  3. thyra

    I noticed that you don’t go through the elaborate preparation of freezing the shortening.. freezing the flour…freezing the work surface, and possibly even your hands, as every recipie for pie dough insists on !!! And not refridgerating it for “exactly” 4 hours and 23 1/4 min.!!
    I don’t remember my Grandmother doing any of that, and her pies were fantastic!!
    I’ve made a few passable crusts using the food processor, but the next one will be yours !
    Wish me luck!!

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  4. Moe Henzel

    I can attest to Catherine’s amazing pies. She fills her home with such love, it is no wonder her pies are magical as well. Thank you, Catherine, for this wonderful piece of writing, and many, many delicious pies.

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  5. marianne

    This was a lovely essay on growing older, carrying forward traditions and skills, and taking time to master a tricky task. Thank you for not showing us a blue-ribbon showpiece of a pie, but an everyday, achievable, sometimes a little wonky perfectly decent delicious pie. I think sometimes we forget to be a little forgiving with ourselves and expect ourselves to turn out something perfect, forgetting that a perfect appearance is so often factory produced and not nearly as wonderful in essence.

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  6. Liz Gelotte

    Loved the article! I have never made a pie and would love to learn! Maybe we could have a mother daughter day and Leigh and I could learn from you! I love pie! I have been to that store in Vt. I love that place.

    Reply
  7. Betsy

    Such a vivid tale of love and pie. I am “pie challenged” but the instructions for making a pie are so
    clearly explained – both verbally and in photographs – that I might just make a pie!

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  8. Dean Macri

    Crust – a word that strikes terror …….

    Indeed, Ms Clark. Though you solved my dilemma: Crisco or Butter. A Hatfield/McCoy debate that has raged among pie crust bakers since Eve.

    The Answer is: Both! How perfect.

    “I scoop a handful of Crisco out of its can and work it into the flour. Then I add a smaller handful – palmful, sometimes – of softened butter, and mix again.”

    Thanks.

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  9. Jane Neilson

    Catherine, I really enjoyed this article. Making a great crust is like styling an outfit with a scarf. You have to assume you will look great and tie/toss it over your shoulder with confidence. Approach your crust with the same confidence and it will be light and flaky!

    Reply
  10. Martha

    What a beautifully written account of growing older, relationships with mothers and others, accepting the flight of the children, the value of patience, and sharing your wisdom with all of us! I love the photos, especially the photo of the pie, which looks like a real pie.

    On a more practical note: My pies have always been too juicy. My approach was always to use more thickener (flour, cornstarch or tapioca), but now I realize I don’t have to put in all that juice! What a revelation.

    Thank you so much, Catherine!

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  11. Ellie

    Thank you, Catherine! Such relaxed, encouraging instructions for conquering a pie! You are a perfect teacher and a natural writer. I’m eager to read more!!

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  12. christine

    Loved this piece. Beautifully written, heartfelt and poignant. Inspired by Catherine, I have an apple pie in the oven right now :)

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    1. The Baker's Hotline

      What initiative Christine! If all of us who were moved by this article whipped up an apple pie, then this world would certainly be a happier place! Happy Baking! Jocelyn@KAF

  13. Liz Jenison

    Catherine- Thanks for sharing your memories, feelings and apple pie secrets. ( I also remember making apple pie with my mother. ) Great pictures. Love, Liz

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  14. lorri woodacre

    the essence of the PIE LADY blog is mother love . The love she exudes for her own mother is a tribute to the value of time mothers spend to teach their children … from baking to our education majors. careers or chosen vocations.. Even the choice of our spouses and friends often are a result of what our mothers
    have taught us by their words and deeds
    The virtues of patience and the intrinsic worth of laboring with love to provide for our families in the often mundane chores is what the apple pie story represents. the old saying MOTHERHOOD AND APPLE PIE…. have long stood for core American values

    PIE LADY has resurrected the fine art of baking a pie for a new neighbor, a sick friend, a husband, child, old friends, and anyone who needs to experience the pure charm of an old fashioned apple pie baked with love and it seems with the superiority of KIng Arthur flour

    we should all PIE UP

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Thank you so much for your moving sentiments Lorri! My childhood revolved around spending a great deal of time in the kitchen with my mother, sometimes baking up a delicious pie, cake or cookies, and other times just making a big floury mess for a little afternoon fun! We greatly appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts and happy baking to you! Jocelyn@KAF

  15. Jennifer Cooper

    Love this article!

    How perfect to blend one’s identity of mother, daughter, wife and woman with the age old art of pie baking. For many of us pie recipes, tips and techniques have been handed down through the generations – some more successfully than others! Every time I bake a pie, loving thoughts of my grandmother are conjured. I share every morsel of her being with my sons as they help bake or sit nearby studying. My husband comes home to the scent of warm apple pie and the feeling of family. At times, I wonder when my boys go to college who will keep me company while I bake? So glad to know that Catherine Clark and King Arthur will be there for me.

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  16. Tamara S

    I don’t know what I’m savoring most: this loving and lovingly written tale of the phases of womanhood and motherhood, the memorialization of the perfectly delicious pie, or the inspiration it gives me to bake my own pie. Beautiful ~ thank you!

    Reply
  17. Terez

    Two questions.

    1) When you say “lift the apples into the pie pan, squeezing to extract as much juice as possible” — are you lifting (and squeezing) with your hands? I don’t see any other way to do this but just want to be sure I’m understanding.

    Do you squeeze them over a separate bowl or cup so as not to add more juice over the remaining apples?

    2) Your instructions say the apples should fill the pan but not mound in the middle. The accompanying photo shows apples mounded in the middle. Did you fill that pan in with more apples, or is this “do as I say and not as I do”? :) What am I missing?

    Thanks,
    Terez

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel

      Terez, yes, let the juice drip into a separate container. And I think the photo was taken before Catherine spread the apples into a more even layer; I believe she simply means “don’t overfill the pan.” Enjoy – PJH

  18. Jeri

    I remember my mother making pies – she used room temperature Crisco or Tenderflake lard, cut into the flour with a knife. Her crust always rolled out like a dream, and she never made fewer than three or four pies at a time. She was baking up into her 80′s although she stopped making pies to concentrate on muffins, cookies and quickbreads.

    I inherited all of her best recipes, and I refer back to the family favourites often. I also was given a number of cookbooks by an aunt who was waiting impatiently for me to get married. Despite repeated attempts, I was never able to master traditional cookbook pie crusts. I finally found a recipe that used sour cream, cold butter and a food processor. It makes a lovely pie crust that is easy to handle. Once I get my new stove (the one we bought when we moved in to the house 16 years ago crapped out this week) I think I am going to try pie crust Mom’s way one more time – it will soon be time for pumpkin pie and apple pie, and this September 24th would have been Mom’s 93rd birthday. I think a perfectly baked pie would be the best way to pay tribute to her memory and her legacy.

    Reply
  19. Patricia A Pettway

    My mother passed 25 years ago(and I still miss her everyday) She always made the best pie crust.
    I always bought frozen pie crust and would open a can of cherries or apples and bake. My kids loved
    my “home made pie”.At age 65 I said enough of this and decided my first item on my bucket list was making real homemade pie.I followed every recipe I found, and was exhausted when I finished.
    Most results did not come close to my mothers.Finally I said enough, and by-passed all the rules ,frozen butter,frozen this and that, and got my hands in the mix and did not refrigerate the dough overnight. Finally success and I’m so happy to finally make pie from scratch.
    Loved the article. Pat from Michigan

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  20. Linda K

    More . . . I think . . . than the Granny Smith apple pie recipe tips (and they are very good ones that I shall put into some test-action on my own very soon), was the excellent writing in this article and the memories that I am sure it evoked for many of us out here reading. I wish my dear mother were still around to bake a pie. She would have really enjoyed reading this lovely and touching account written around this loving daughter’s honoring of her mother. It was simply excellent and I am saving the webpage to read again and again.

    Reply
  21. Judy B

    I loved reading the article and felt the closeness of my own memories of baking and watching my mother bake her pies and delicious homemade biscuits. My dad loved having her dessert after each meal. Everyones comments were beautiful whether it was about their grandmother, mother or their own baking experience. I am loving every moment of making cookies with my grandchildren and taking pictures to add to their album of time spent with grandma. I hope many young ladies will learn the art of baking from scratch – along with creating special memories.

    Reply
  22. lizdavey

    I am a pie baker. In fact it has been said that you should not move too slowly through my kitchen or you will end up in a pie! Every time I cut the sheaf of wheat design into a top crust I think of my mother and grandmother who used the same design. Alas, I have no daughters with whom to share that pattern, but I will be sure that I share it with my beautiful granddaughter, who is becoming an accomplished baker.
    .

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  23. father francisco ayala-castro, o.p.

    Baking in the Missions of Honduras!! Impossible to get KAF here, and would like to know if the results would be faithful to your recipe using another flour?? Am anxious to try out this recipe!! My mouth still watering!! Blessings on All at KAF!!
    FATHER FRANCISCO, O.P.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel

      Father, I’d say give it a go with whatever local flour you can get, hopefully a wheat flour. The crust might not come out exactly as planned, but I’m betting it’ll still be plenty tasty enough. Good luck – PJH

  24. LouAnn

    This article brought memories to my heart and tears to my eyes, thinking of my grandmother who taught me most of my cooking and baking skills. My wonderful mom although a good cook quite hated the task of cooking and baking. The only thing missing was what to do with the pie crust scraps that you cut away……You Make Pie Crust “Cookies” ! Cut the scraps into approximately 2″ irregular shapes, no need to reroll them, the shape does not matter. Place them on an ungreased cookie sheet, brush with melted butter, sprinkle generously to taste with sugar, then dust with cinnamon (again to your own taste). I prefer the layered taste effect of the sugar and cinnamon rather than mixing the sugar and cinnamon together, but that works too. Bake at 375 F for about 7 to 10 minutes until lightly golden brown and puffy. Watch carefully as they will burn easily. Yummy warm from the oven or if they make it to the next morning, served cold with your morning coffee. This is such a delicious memory, that I am guilty of making a pie crust dough just to make the cookies to munch on. You can even get adventurous and use apple pie spice mix or pumpkin pie spice mix dusted over the melted butter and sugar. Both are tasty. I have also cut out pie crust leaves from these scraps, baked them as above, and used them as a garnish for the whipped cream dollop on top of a piece of pumpkin pie. One thing I never do is though out a single piece of pie dough. Grandma would not have approved of that :)

    Reply
  25. Karen

    I loved the article. As a relatively inexperienced baker, I have yet to tackle a pie crust. My sister says to buy the frozen crusts and move on. I refuse. I keep saying I will tackle a crust one day. I’m now baking bread and learning about the feel for the dough. I don’t know if that will help me when I finally try making a crust. I do know the more I bake, the more I learn about the importance of practice and experience. I am also learning to be more forgiving of my results. I expect perfection. But, people seem to enjoy the results whether beautiful or not.

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  26. Deborah Chamulak

    I enjoyed the article very much. My own mother passed away last year at 91 years. I can recall learning to make pie from her skilled hands when I was 8 years old. She always used “Farmer Peet’s” shortening. Shortening, for those of you who don’t know, before Crisco was refined lard. Kept in the fridge it would last for months. The bad news was that it was quite soft and in the days before food processors one had to work fast with a hand pastry blender. We didn’t have Granny Smith apples 50 years ago. They are an Australian apple. We used MacIntosh or if we were very lucky, Northern Spy. Believe me, if you make a pie in this manner, you will taste the difference. It will send you back in time to when things were made just a little differently but the taste is well worth it.

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  27. Bill

    I want to thank all you ladies for your insight into making that perfect pie. Catherine, your article was like a page out of my mother in laws pie cookbook instructions. My wife learned from her and both of them let my grand daughters sit on the counter top and help mold the pie dough, they learned the basics of how to make that special apple pie. Not to leave out teaching them to taste a bite of the dough while rolling it out. I love to dabble in the kitchen myself and now that my wife has passed away, you brought back 47 years of memories of where family is made…at the kitchen country making that special pie. Let me know when you want a taster..I would be more than happy to oblige. I will trade you my apple sauce receipt made with wild flower or sourwood honey ,a little Jack Daniels, Vietnamese cinnamon and three different types of apples and you will have a winner to go with southern BBQ, a topping for cake or warm with a dollop of ice cream this Fall. Bill

    Reply
  28. Sandie Sudberry

    This was such a beautiful, touching article. Thank you for sharing your pie dough method, as well as your memories of your mother. She must have been a very special lady, as I’m sure you are from your beautiful writing.

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  29. Deb

    It is my favorite pie sooo fall like. I like to make mine with cinnamon and nutmeg. Others add other spices. It just sooo says here is fall and welcome to it :)

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  30. Twila

    Loved reading the article and all the posts. As a newly wed in 1950, I baked my first apple pie with my aunt. She gave me the confidence to bake my way through many cook books over the years and even for a time, baked pies for a restaurant. I used many different recipes for crust but finally decided my go to was one that included Crisco, butter, egg, vinegar and sugar. It is indestructible. Proof – my grandchildren and great-grandchildren “help” and make their own cookies with the leftovers, working the dough until it is gray and it still comes out tender and flaky.

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  31. Alyson Piro

    What a touching homage to Catherine’s mom. My own mother inherited her love of baking from her mother, who had 10 children and kept a barrel of homemade donuts on the porch during cold Canadian winters to feed her seven boys, husband, and three girls, all while baking dinner rolls for the families in her neighborhood. My mother, age 89, still wakes up each day knowing what will be for dessert that evening–her pie baking days are over, mainly because she has no one left to feed, but she still bakes cookies and muffins. Her own record for piebaking was 11 in one day to put in the freezer to keep her small family of six supplied at any given time. Watching Mom make a piecrust brings to mind the word deft–she threw together nothing more than flour, salt, Crisco and ice water, rolled it all out in about 10 seconds, and tossed it into the pie plate in no time flat. “Nothing to it,” she would say. It sounds as though Catherine has reached that point of perfection herself; kudos to her for encapsulating all the feelings, tactile and emotional, associated with baking and memories of moms everywhere!

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  32. Looi Lee Hwa

    I am so glad I see the finished product. For the longest time, I judge my pies by how they look and they never did look like those store bought pies and I equate that to failure or lack of skills on my part. I had the impression that they have to be perfect looking, in addition to tasty. I now realise I can be proud of my pies even they do not look so perfect as long as they taste wonderful. There is beauty is the rustic outcome. Thank you.

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  33. Marissa Nolan

    This article made me smile. My mother in law used to make the most amazing apple pie every year for Thanksgiving. Sadly she passed away too young and it has now been my husband’s mission to make her pie every year. The first few years he struggled with it, even setting off a few fire alarms! However, now not only is he great at it but our children have started to help as well! Wonderful article!!!

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  34. Karen Schmitt

    Loved this touching and informative article. The author had such great advice and a wonderful humorous perspective. Such a tribute to her Mother. Good memories for those who can relate and envy on the part of those whose moms didn’t bake. Thanks for a beautiful article and making me laugh.

    Reply
  35. Marie

    Love the article. It makes me think of all the times my grandmother then my aunt made apple pies from scratch. (and the funny stories that come from under baked or over done pie crust) I thoroughly enjoy baking but have always been hesitant to make crust from scratch. I like how Catherine just dug her hands in and found her perfect pie. Makes me want to try it myself.

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  36. bonnixon

    Everyone speaks fondly of learning pies from their mother or grandmother. I learned from my dad! Mom, a wonderful cook, couldn’t make a pie to save her life. Or fudge, another tasty item my dad taught me to make. Used to make her furious! . His pies were divine, and his crust recipe was from an odd little 1949 pamphlet promoting a cookbook by one Aunt Chick. The pamphlet is in tatters now, over-used and over-loved. But her straightforward recipes are still the best! I wonder if her book ever made it to print!

    About that fudge…we occasionally would find a box of Mom’s dreadful attempts at fudge, grainy and hard as a rock, hidden away in unlikely places. She had tried, recognized another infuriating failure when she saw it, and stashed the evidence. Her depression-ingrained frugality wouldn’t allow her to just throw it out!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi bonnixon,
      Dads and grandpas can certainly bake too! My grandpa was famous for his fudge actually, and a delicious double cruncher cookie which were made with corn flakes of all things! Fudge is one of those very tricky things, and everyone under the sun has a different way of doing it. I feel like a grainy pan of fudge should be seen as almost a right of passage for all confectionery cooks! Happy baking! Jocelyn@KAF

  37. Barbara

    My eyes are still damp. You made me cry with that statement, “It was, and is, the same litany that every mother repeats to herself as the children outgrow their childhood: How can you leave me? How can I let you go? Why are you in such a hurry to depart, when we have so little time left together – and that so fleeting? And most of all, Who will I be when you’re gone?” I mean, put my arms on the table, lay my head down on them, and just cried.

    My 72nd birthday is coming up in a couple of months and I’ve been remembering my mother’s culinary expertise at some things, too. And how I have improved my cooking skills. As I have aged, I have, and still am, trying to make things for my children to remember me by. First there was the needlework, and now it is the recipes. I have used scrapbooking techniques to make pretty, cute, and sometimes funny cards with my own recipes on them, or those of cherished friends and family members, and especially my beloved grandmother’s. I’ve made those for so many years that I loved the old recipe cards to death. My new cards have been printed and laminated, and uploaded in digital format for my kids and perhaps the someday efforts of my still-very young grandchildren.

    So why did you make me cry so copiously? Because of the memories, and because I miss having my kids around to cook for, and I am terrified of the time coming with I can no longer cook. There’s just my hubby and me, living in our retirement home in Florida, and although he loves for me to experiment with new recipes, I miss the old family favorites made in large batches and often shared with friends and neighbors.

    We are suffering the slings and arrows of our age, my dear husband and I; he has this year, in a three month span, had to have a triple bypass and brain surgery. I have my difficulties physically, too, but cooking is the one thing I never want to have to stop doing. It is my one constant in the past, present, and future, and the one area where I express myself every single day. It is how I show I care to those I care about; my dearest husband of 48 years and my sweet neighbors. I have recently learned that I will slowly lose my eyesight over the coming months.

    If I can no longer cook, who am I? I don’t know, and it makes me cry.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Invite those kids to Florida for a baking adventure! Take advantage of time and bake along with your kids so they’ll really know those recipes. This will create precious memories for both of you, as well as passing on any secrets of the family traditions. Your heartfelt advice about home baking brought a pause to our day and a tear to our eye as well. Happy Baking – Irene@KAF

  38. D'Ann

    Thank you, Catherine. I loved this article. The weaving together of pie baking and motherhood was brilliant! You are not only a fabulous baker, but a good writer! Beautiful photos, too. I can’t wait to bake my first pie for the Fall!

    Reply
  39. julie

    Beautiful pie and pictures of the process. Has anyone on this blog actually made the pie crust and if so, could someone offer a little more precise info on amounts of shortening and butter? I know what “handful” and “a little” means, however I sure would appreciate rough measurements as my hands are huge and my sisters are tiny. Thank you in advance. Very nice article.

    Reply
  40. Eileen Packard

    Wonderful piece about your mother, family, aging and apple pie. It is touching to see and taste the love in your pies. They are unsurpassed in our house.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      There’s no more important ingredient in my mind in any recipe than some good old-fashioned love! Jocelyn@KAF

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