IT’S NOT PIE WITHOUT CRUST

Pie – Food evokes all the senses: the scent of pastry baking, the sound of a fork clinking on a plate… I don’t think this is going to make anyone’s mouth water, but this is the way it happened. Another true story from the giant closet of memories I call life.


dessert Island

I do not have a hand for pastry. I have had it demonstrated step-by-step and followed along as my gifted friends made pastry. With the flick of a wrist, in no time flat, they had that sucker on a big floured board, rolled out and voilà. Light, perfectly flaky pie crust.

I was glad to discover that the secret ingredient of at least two women whose baking was out of this world was the pre-made crust they bought at the grocery store. It made me feel a little better. They made the filling, but not the crust.

I make great filling.

Yet, I was troubled by my inability to conquer pastry. I’d watched pie crust being made. It appeared easy enough. There seemed no reason why I shouldn’t be able to do it myself. I cook well. I make bread. Excellent bread and by hand, if you please. I also make cake and cookies from scratch. You should try my ginger snaps — they are fabulous (if I do say so myself).

My husband comes from a West Indian family. Spicy meat pies are near and dear to his heart and I had just gotten his mother’s secret recipe for filling. She bought pre-made crust and suggested I should too. She even told me what brand to buy.

I was going to make my own pie crust. No store-bought stuff for me!

I did it. On previous attempts, it had fallen apart when I tried to roll it out. By golly, I was not going to let that happen again. I put the flour in the bowl. I added the butter, and a pinch of salt. Mixed it with a fork. I did that multi-knife chopping thing that turns it into dough, but maybe I didn’t do such a great job. And it was too dry.

So, I added (per the recipe) a bit of ice water.

Which made it too wet. So I added a bit more flour. Then a bit more ice water. A bit more butter. Finally, I could roll it out. I couldn’t roll it thin, but I figured a little thicker wouldn’t matter. I was making meat pies … so a slightly heavier crust would be fine. Wouldn’t it?

I made two meat pies and they looked fabulous. When they came out of the oven, they smelled like heaven and the crust was gorgeous, a baked-to-perfection shade of golden brown.

I proudly presented one to Garry, who took a knife and fork and began to dig in. He could not cut the through crust. He couldn’t even scratch it. Finally, he took a knife and stabbed it with both hands. It would have killed a lesser pie.

NOTE: Garry was a Marine. He does 200 push-ups every morning and has for his entire adult life. He’s no sissy. This was more than 10 years ago, so he was even stronger back then.

The knife bounced off leaving the crust unscathed. Garry kept apologizing, as if it were his fault … trying, I suppose, to spare my feelings. It was hopeless.

I eventually pried the top off both pies and we ate the filling. The crust could have been used as a building material. The one thing it was not, was food.

Is anyone surprised to learn this was my last, absolutely final, attempt to make my own pie crust?

Author: Marilyn Armstrong

Opinionated writer with hopes for a better future for all plus a big helping of cynicism.

27 thoughts on “IT’S NOT PIE WITHOUT CRUST”

  1. You have to use flour and not cement for a pie crust. Anyhow I always buy the crust, nicely rolled out and packed in hygienic plastic. Why do it yourself, when you can buy it already made. Shame they didn’t do it when my mum baked a pie. One thing you have over me. I like to fill my savoury pies with spicy meat mixtures, so what about a couple of suggestions from those islands in the sun?

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    1. I will. It’s really easy, but it helps if you have a food processor or something like it.

      You need minced beef, onions, green (or red or yellow) sweet peppers. Adobo spice (with cumin) but if you don’t have Adobo, you can use garlic, black pepper, cumin, chili powder, and salt. Mix it to whatever intensity you like. We are pretty mild these days, our stomachs not liking very spicy stuff.

      Throw an onion and a cut up pepper into a food processor and mix it until it’s almost liquid. Brown the meat in a skillet (use whatever oil works for you … I use olive mostly, but corn oil does the job too). Add a small can of diced (drained!) tomatoes.

      For the spices, if I’m using chopped garlic, I brown it in the pan, then add the beef and brown it. To the meat mix, add as much of the onion and pepper mix as you like (you can save any remainder), then the rest of the spices. Easy on the salt.

      When the meat is brown, simmer until most of the liquid steams off. Scoop into pie crust, seal, and bake. Slit the top of the crust to let steam escape.

      You can use other spices. I add basil and thyme. You can chop the tomatoes finer too, if you like. This is one of those recipes where you can play around to get it to taste as you like. It’s the combination of spices that gives it an island taste, especially the cumin/chili mix.

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      1. We don’t have Adobo spice here – perhaps in the big towns like Zürich or Bern, will keep my eye open for it. Otherwise the ingredients you mention are similar to what I like, especially the peppers and cumin (although if I don’t tell Mr. Swiss cumin is in it, it is ok, otherwise he doesn’t like it). I have a complete herb bed in the garden so no problem with the bail or thyme.

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  2. My late husband’s mother taught me the art of making pie crust. Prior to that, I had disaster after disaster. Biscuit making was an even worse adventure. Once, when I presented homemade biscuits with a nice hearty dinner, no one could bite into them. My husband said they were like ‘hardtack’, he even said that if it were thrown against a wall, the wall would crack and he was right!

    I can make pie crust but never mastered homemade biscuits.

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  3. It sounds like one of those moments like with Post-It note glue, where you start off trying to make a pie crust and end up selling it to the military as body armour 🙂

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    1. If I make pies at all. My kitchen life has dropped like a rock in retirement. 40+ years of cooking and my enthusiasm has waned. Every now and I get I’m hit with a wave of inspiration, but mostly, I cook simply, quickly, with easy cleanup.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hey ! Indian connection sounds welcoming. Now I know 🙂 Your first and last attempt of baking perfect pie left me wondering what you must have been done with the building material.

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      1. I will email you my mom’s pie crust instructions. My sisters and I are pie experts.., actually just the one, Martha.., Anne has relinquished any involvement. Our whole family loves pies and both my mom and my dad made them. I used to help and so learned by doing as a kid. I will leave you with a few thoughts that should work no matter what the recipe :

        Shortening, whether Crisco, Butter or Lard is part of the secret for flakiness. The more shortening the flakier, ice water is the other, about 6 tablespoons for a 9incher using 2 cups of flour. But most of all “faith” is what makes a good crust. Cut the shortening in thoroughly and add all the ice water at once. It will seem a little dry at first but keep mixing. This is the Faith part.., even if it comes out a little wet, fine, spread a couple sheets of waxed paper and sprinkle some flour on it before plopping down the dough. Roll out a little and sprinkle a little more flour on top. This will keep it from sticking to the rolling pin and help it spread out. Sprinkle as needed.., the wax paper now becomes your tool for transferring the crust to the pie since you can get under it with your hands. Fold the crust into quarters sprinkling flour to keep it dry on the surface so that you can unfold it when in place. It’s important not to mix the flour into the dough as this will change the consistency of the crust, just use it to aid rolling it out and handling.

        Feel free to ask any questions. Remember, my crusts (my mom’s) are legendary, but I gotta say that , in a pinch, I’ve resorted to Pillsbury to save time, but it’s just not the same.

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        1. Mine is legendary too, but not in a good way. Being as Thanksgiving is right around the corner, I might give it one more try … but I am not optimistic. I really HAVE TRIED. Really. I do not seem to have any talent for pastry.

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  5. Yeah, I can see why you would give up on making home made pie crust. So this was the third post I read just today about pies, all of which discussed home made versus store bought pie crusts. Was thee some kind of prompt that I missed about pies and pie crusts?

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