Monday, 21 October 2013

Learning to Make Pies

I made Kelvin a pie after I was married, one of my first creative acts of cooking. We had invited over a friend to share the pie, Neil Stanford from Claresholm. A few minutes after I served the pie Kelvin asked, “Would you mind if we had a knife as well as a fork to help us eat this?”

This put me in a state of mind where when the Stake Relief Society came to our ward and asked the young married women, “What would you like us to teach you?”, mine was one of the voices that called out, “How to make pie crust.”

I can only remember two of the women’s names who came to teach us that day: Melba McMullen and Faye Pitcher. They were models of the highest kind -- women who could go home from chocolate dipping all morning, challenge each other as they went out the doors of the church to their cars in the parking lot, as to whom could sew up the best dress for the dance at night, and then both of them arrive wearing something new.

So ... teaching young women to make pie crust? A cake walk for them. They instructed us all to bring as many pie pans as we had, some pie filling, and a pound of lard. They told us to meet them Saturday morning in the church kitchen. They came armed with ten kilogram bags of flour.

We rubbed lard into dough, rolled out the pastry and I can remember Cavell Rollins saying that every pie maker has her signature on the top of the pie, so you can tell whose pie is whose when you take them to church functions. Then she showed us how to cut out piece of the upper pie crust dough so that it looked like three cherries were hanging from a string, or how to add three leaves artfully glued on the top

We all practised a pie signature – perhaps the number of vents that are cut into the top of a pie – maybe differentiated by the length or number of them, or cutting a vine design on top of the pie. I used the one my mother had always used:  3 cuts to let out the steam, made when the dough was folded in half -- thus, 6 cuts on the top of the pie.

The lesson on pie making was a success for no one ever asked me for a knife again when I served pie.

The art of rubbing the lard or Crisco into the flower, and the “best” recipe for the crust was permanently driven home when I watched my Aunt Erva make pies.

As a bit of history, she had been divorced. He kept the farm. She got the house in town. She had cooked on the farm for the work crews. Now, to have cash, she made pies and buns and a local cafe became the talk of Shelby, Montana when people tasted those home made products of Erva's.

Erva also made a mean fruit salad – drained fruit cocktail, pineapple and bananas that she would fold into real whipped cream. “That is too expensive, Erva, to serve us,” I heard my mother say when our family of 10 visited her in Shelby one weekend. “You be quiet, Wyora,” Erva said, and then she passed that bowl of fruit cocktail around the table again. From then on, I knew our family were royalty and would have fruit salad at Aunt Erva’s house.

 But I digress.

Yes.  Those grande dames, Melba, Faye, Cavell and Erva.  They could make pies.

Here is my pie recipe. Pick some apples off a tree. Steal them if possible, for that will make them taste better. Now why did I say steal some.  The truth is, one should take all of the apples off of the Birney Road apple tree and share them around with everyone else who wants some. An empirical experiment demonstrated that  there were enough apples left at our house from that tree, apples cored  to make 22 pies. We must have frozen some of the pies.  That is a lot to eat at one time.

Peel, core, slice, and toss with some cinnamon, a tad of flour and perhaps some nutmeg.  Add a dab of butter on top.

There must be exact proportions somewhere.

We will figure those out when we make pies out at the lake this summer.  Someone will have a good apple pie recipe.


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