(A Story from Fall 2016)
Before I could scramble an egg, I could make a stellar pie crust from scratch.
I’m not exaggerating. I honestly learned to make homemade pie crust long before I was allowed to use the stove to make myself scrambled eggs.
My dad had his priorities right 😉
The story of homemade pie crust starts three generations before myself. My Great Grandma Julie made fabulous apple pies, and she taught my dad how to make her recipe, using her technique. He practiced with her many times, and now that she is gone, he continues to make her pie recipe. When I make pie, I can feel that I am part of a long line of home-cooks, and I feel like I can continue the legacy of my family. Of Great Grandma Julie, Grandma Mimi, and my father.
Grandma Mimi influenced my life more than most other people. She taught me the love of food and the joy found of being in the kitchen. Her expectations were simple to meet, like braiding challah dough that she had already prepared, ready to be braided just in time for me and Laura to arrive at her house. I could always make her proud.
My Grandma taught me how to eat — how to appreciate good food, try new things every now and then, and eat traditional Jewish dishes to feel the connection to my heritage. It was important to my Grandma that I have a strong Jewish upbringing, so I went to Hebrew school and completed my b’nai mitzvot. But I did not become bat mitzvah in time for her to be there, because she passed away the summer before my bat mitzvah.
Random things from her house are at my parents’ house now, like her magazine rack from the guest bathroom where we began to store newspapers, her entire dining room set is replicated in her dining room, and her bathrobe and several pairs of silver slippers stay in my closet. Her dishes are in our cabinets, and her genes live on in the genetic code of my body and my sister Laura.
I know if Grandma could know that I teach cooking to kids now, she would be so immensely proud. I have succeeded.
The first thing I ever learned to do in the kitchen was how to make a perfect pie crust using flour, sugar, Crisco vegetable shortening, cold water, and a pastry cutter. I learned it from my dad, carrying on the traditions from his side of the family.
I will always prefer the pastry cutter above all other kitchen gadgets.
In recent years, I have begun to experiment with the all-butter crust instead of using Crisco. Recently I discovered after searching for a long time for what I was having allergic reactions to, that I am actually seriously allergic to Crisco! (The first ingredient is soybean oil, and I have a soy allergy.)
So, butter crusts have become a necessity. Which is a good thing, because you can never have enough butter!
(On a side note, it always takes me two or three times to spell “necessity” correctly because I learned how to spell it in Latin before I figured out that the spelling is different in Latin than it is in English. Shout-out to Latin One with Sara, circa 2006!)
The first technique I learned for making crust when you don’t have a pastry cutter available was from an Alex Guarnaschelli recipe. She said to incorporate the butter by using your fingertips to rub the butter into the flour. I tried this out immediately, highly intrigued by the magic of Alex, and it works! So when I teach cooking classes to kids, that’s what I show them how to do.
I’ve heard there are some things you learn as a child that stick with you and continue to inform you for the rest of your life, and for me, making pie crust from scratch is one of them.
I have taught my best friend Jonathan how to make perfect butter crust too. Last winter, my dad watched in amusement and pride as I coached Jonathan as he rolled out the crust to the perfect thin-ness and placed it over the pie plate. I felt super proud that Jonathan could make the perfect homemade crust, so happy that I had passed on the lessons of pie crust to someone else. To continue the legacy of making pie crust from scratch.
Sometimes now I use a traditional butter, and sometimes I substitute a stick of it for lactose-free butter to make it a bit easier to digest.
Sometimes I use a pastry cutter, and sometimes I simply use my hands.
But what every pie crust has in common is the patience, care, attention to detail, and the love that goes into creating each individual crust from scratch.