by Kate Heyhoe
(Don't miss our special Thanksgiving Headquarters: A to Z)
"The pie is an English institution which, planted on American soil, forthwith ran rampant and burst forth into an untold variety of genera and species."—Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1811-1896
"I prefer Hostess fruit pies to pop-up toaster tarts because they don't require so much cooking."—Carrie Snow
There are pies, and then there are American pies.
Most cultures have some form of pie. The Greeks eat spanakopita, Mexicans enjoy empanadas, Italians make pizza pies. But American pie is so unlike other pies that it symbolizes all things 'good' in this nation. It represents comfort, wholesomeness, and family values. If one of the presidential candidates could be perceived as favorably as American pie, he'd not only win the election, he'd be the voters' idea of God's right-hand man.
American pie conjures up images of aluminum diners, Mom, country life, and the pie-loving FBI agent in the 90's series Twin Peaks. Pies aren't fancy food, they're the food of mainstream, solid citizens. And because they take time and a knack to create, they also symbolize love and caring, gifts straight from the heart.
Which brings to me to the art of making pies. I'll be first to admit that pie-making is not my strength, so I've gathered a collection of tips and recipes from true pie-making pros, below. Like some Americans, these experts appear to have been born with a pie gene, an innate pie-making aptitude. For them, pie-making is... .well, a piece of cake. And fortunately, they know how to deliver clear and concise pie-speak to the lame pie-makers of the world, like me.
You see, it's not the fillings that intimidate me, it's the pie crust. There seems to be a science of pie making that involves the perfect ratio of flour to shortening—or butter—to liquid. Not to mention the temperature of the dough, overmixing, and rolling the dough. Then there's the issue of pre-baking the shell, the skill at not burning the crust, and whether the pie turns out flaky or not. For me, whose first cooking instinct is to go freeform, usually with a handful of garlic or onion, mastering the art of the pie is like taking on a PhD.
However, the year 1962 marked an historic change for pie-making underachievers like me. It was then that Pet-Ritz introduced frozen pie crusts, creating a whole new product category. Since then, refrigerated crusts have joined the fray, all perfectly round and flat, ready for being gently nestled into a pie pan and filled with a cook's favorite filling. No longer does the pie-maker wannabe have to fear a poorly crafted crust, and with the ease of ready-made crusts, all Americans can have their pies—and eat them. (Pie-making pros may cringe at the notion of pre-made crusts, but let's face it: these products work. If it weren't for such conveniences today, I fear that few of us would make pies at all.)
If you're a pie crust purist, or just someone wanting real homemade pies for the holidays, follow the tips below to ensure a perfect pie. Even if your pie-crust comes in a package, you'll still have to fill it—and with FoodWine's collection of classic pie recipes, your creations will be good and as American as apple pie.
Kate's Global Kitchen for November, 2000:
11/04/00 My, My American Pie:
11/11/00 Stuffing Tips and Free-Form Techniques
11/18/00 Better Tasting Turkeys: Drowning and Browning the Bird
11/25/00 Turkey + 3 Ingredients = Luscious Leftovers
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Copyright © 2000, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page created November 2000. Modified November 2006.
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