The cliché says, “easy as pie.” But long ago I came to the conclusion that whoever came up with that truism was completely nuts. Pie crust is one of the trickiest, most uncooperative things I’ve ever tried to make. Give me a cake any day. But I really like pie, so one visit, I asked my mother-in-law for a lesson. And it helped. Nowadays, only about a third of my pie crusts are disasters.
Yesterday I made a cherry pie, and as I problem-solved my way through the process, it occurred to me that the lessons apply pretty well to life, too.
1. Follow the directions… I am a hopeless recipe tinkerer. I rarely measure the amount of seasoning, and if I don’t like one of the ingredients I’ll substitute something else. But baking is not an art form that takes kindly to ignoring the rules. Although it chafes to follow rules, I usually find that there’s a good reason for them, and ignoring them can make a simple process complicated—and a complicated one (like life) excruciating.
2. …but don’t be a slave. When I pulled out the frozen cherries someone had given me several years, I discovered that there were only half as many as my mom’s recipe called for, and no juice at all (my mom works from home-canned cherries). And I didn’t read the directions (see #1), so I threw everything into the pot all at once instead of separating the sugar, starting with the juice… However, I did the best I could with what I had, and although it didn’t turn out exactly as I had envisioned—I had to add some store-bought pie filling—it turned out well.
3. Don’t overdo it. There are two rules of thumb about pie crusts: use extremely cold water, and don’t overwork the dough. This second was always my problem. The dough won’t stick together until it’s been worked too long. My mother-in-law taught me that it doesn’t matter if the dough crumbles and breaks apart; it doesn’t matter if you have to patch it together. A crust doesn’t have to look good—it just has to be good.
4. Take it slow. Adding water one tablespoon at a time can be a tiresome process, but you’re supposed to use no more than necessary to make the dough form. The recipe says 6-7 T.—but after all, it’s rained nonstop for two days, and we have the house open. So the dough unexpectedly coalesced after 4. What worked perfectly last time may be a disaster this time, because the conditions are different.
5. Sometimes no matter what you do, you make a mess of things. Shrug your shoulders, shake the flour dust from your hands, and go on. But more often, things work out just fine. The result may not be bakery-perfect, but even an ugly pie tastes good.