by Kate Heyhoe
My favorite way to make pies resembles first-grade art class: gather up your materials and give in to self-expression. You don't even need a pie pan: roll out the dough, plop a fruity mixture in the center, and fold up the sides, like a crater with fruit in the core. Known as a galette in France, this method is wonderfully rustic and liberating. And yes, you can even make it with refrigerated pie dough.
Pies aren't just for eating, though. Let's not forget the role of pies in comedy: whipped cream projectiles were fired by the Marx brothers, Lucille Ball, Jerry Lewis, and toonster, Wile E. Coyote. Soupy Sales will be forever remembered with pie on his face.
From pundits to princes, pies have been leveled at the rich, the famous, and the absurd. Notable targets include Andy Warhol, William Shatner, Jeffrey Skilling (Enron CEO), Ralph Nader, White House plumbers G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt, William F. Buckley, Pat Buchanan, and Prince Charles. Yippie icon Abbie Hoffman practiced civil disobedience with pies, among other tactics.
In more recent decades, Bill Gates suffered a direct hit from the hands of Noel Godin, a Belgian pie-pitching anarchist and filmmaker. Godin's intent has been to "entarte" a particular group of targets, those with an overdose of self-importance and a dearth of humor. He's creamed filmmaker Jean Luc Godard, author Margeurite Duras, philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy, among others, and often works with co-conspirators, who serve to distract, and sometimes to prepare and reload.
Pie throwers don't always have such good aim. In 2004, the group known as Al Pieda scored a glancing hit on conservative wacko Ann Coulter, connecting with her shoulder and just part of her face. At the American Fashion Awards, a PETA-sponsored tofu-cream pie intended for Karl Lagerfield smashed onto Calvin Klein, just as he was heading up to receive his lifetime achievement award. Oops!
Back to pie-making for consumption. Pies have a history as humble food. Their crusts require less flour than bread, so in hard times, they're an economical dish. Scraps and mish-mashed mixtures can fill a pie without seeming scroungy. Of course, fancy pies have their place at the table, too. But I'm not sure that fancy pies with expensive ingredients taste any better than their humble counterparts, like just-picked apples from a neighboring orchard.
The pie-crust is the most difficult part of any pie recipe, or at least the most time consuming. Pie purists lovingly make their own crusts, but these days there's nothing wrong with cheating: frozen and refrigerated pie crusts may not have the same flakiness as scratch dough, but if the challenge of hand-scratch crust is coming between you and your pie, then these time-savors are perfectly acceptable products.
Speaking of products, all sorts of pie-making enhancers grace today's gourmet catalogs. You can buy strings of beads and bags of pie weights to keep your par-baked shell from bubbling up (or you can use beans or rice, the old-fashioned way). I saw a gadget called a pie dam, with two pieces hinged together to prevent just-cut fillings from spilling out. Pie pans come in aluminum, glass, silicone, and ceramic, including ones with painted scenes that reveal themselves with every missing slice.
Outside of rolling pins, I've managed to do without most pie accessories, but I've taken a fancy to pie shields. I used to cut a ring out of foil, which usually blew off as I moved the pie, or it rested unevenly on the crust. In particular, I've found that the Sili Gourmet Silicone Pie Crust Protectors work far better than foil, and because they're flexible and flat, they store easily (a bonus for kitchens overwhelmed by gadgets and gizmos. They're dishwasher safe, too, and come in red or apple green, for $7.99 srp; find more info at www.wmboundsltd.com).
Did you know there are official pies? In June 2006, Governor Jeb Bush passed a bill designating Key Lime Pie as Florida's official state pie. Apple is Vermont's official state pie. Boston Cream Pie is Massachusetts' official dessert (though it's not a true pie). Oklahoma designates Pecan Pie as part of its official state menu, and Natchitoches Meat Pie is Louisiana's official meat pie. State fairs put pie competitions on pedestals, and nationally, Crisco sponsors the Great American Pie Festival and Championship.
For some reason, I always consider October to be "pie-month." Forget the fact that National Pie Day is January 23, that the Great American Pie Championship occurs in April, and that Thanksgiving is the time when most pies are consumed. Maybe it's because I enjoy pies more in October, when the weather cools, the leaves turn color, and there are no major holidays to distract me from tossing together a simple, spontaneous pie, to be enjoyed at home, for no special occasion...made with my neighbor's apples.
Copyright © 2006, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page created October 2006
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