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  • Eat, Darling, Eat

The Importance of Pie

Updated: Mar 1

(by Cherie Burns)

In Indiana, where my family lived, everyone seemed to make pies. My mother, my aunts, and my grandmother had boxes full of recipes (mostly clipped from women’s magazines) for pecan, apple, pumpkin, mince, gooseberry, rhubarb, even butterscotch meringue pies. When the sour cherries were ready to pick on my uncle’s trees, my mother took me out to his farm with bowls in the back of our station wagon. She could climb trees, but I didn’t inherit her innate athleticism, so with her on a higher branch, I stood on the ladder, and we filled our bowls with beautiful red and yellow cherries. I can still see her in Bermuda shorts and sneakers, her dark French twist coiled up, a branch or two over me in the trees.

Back at home in our pale yellow kitchen, I cut the shortening into the flour with two dinner knives, and we rolled out the dough on the surface of a marble-top stand as she doled out cooking and marriage advice. She would tenderly roll up my shirtsleeves and brush back the tendrils of hair that fell into my face while my hands were covered with flour. The secret to any good pie is the crust, she said, made with Crisco. (Yes, Crisco.) And never marry a man born in February, as she and my grandmother had. Her cooking advice stuck; the other didn’t.

When I was a new bride, my journalist husband invited a group of foreign correspondents to dinner and wanted to serve an American menu. I must have lost my mind or been enough in love to volunteer making six pies. My mother had died years before, but as I rolled the crusts, my fingers crusted with flour and water, I felt an incredible connection to her. The pies had power (and were of course, a hit).

After our daughter Jessie was born, I was determined that she, too, would be part of my Hoosier pie-making tradition, and she caught on right away. A young woman who had been her babysitter became a high-powered business executive, greatly admired in our household. One night she was invited for dinner, and I served cherry pie for dessert, mentioning that I had taught Jessie pie-making because I thought it was important. “Oh no, it’s not,” our guest asserted, embedded in her anti-domesticity position. Jessie and I exchanged a look across the table. We knew better.

Jessie and I now live across the country from each other, and Thanksgiving is typically a difficult holiday for her to travel away from her own high-powered job. But last year she baked a pie for her boyfriend’s family. It thrills me that when we are apart, making a pie is something that binds us together. It still does that for my mother and me, so many years after the fact. For Jessie and me, contrary to our opinionated dinner guest some years back, pie-making is important.

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Cherie Burns is the author of Searching for Beauty—The Life of Millicent Rogers. Her latest book is Diving for Starfish—The Jeweler, The Actress, The Heiress and One of the World’s Most Alluring Pieces of Jewelry. She can be found at www.cherieburns.com.

Pie Pastry

2 1/4 c. sifted floor

1 t. salt

1/4 c. water

3/4 c. Crisco

Sift flour and salt together.

Take 1/3 cup of flour out and mix with the water into a paste.

Cut the Crisco into the flour with a pastry blender or two knives until the pieces are the size of small peas.

Add the flour paste to the flour-Crisco mixture.

Mix until the dough can be shaped into a ball.

Divide into two parts.

Roll each crust about 1/8-inch thick and place in a 9-inch glass or metal pie pan.

Preheat oven to 425.

Bake 10 - 12 minutes if filling the pie later, or follow the instructions for a pie with filling.