A split second before my daughter flew home for Christmas, she called to exclaim, “Let’s make the pies!” I paused. I’d planned to dole out that assignment to a family member. My tight choreography to execute the perfect Christmas feast did not factor pies into the agenda. Throwing organization to the wind, I replied with can-do enthusiasm, “Let’s!” And then I turned to you, Martha.
Truth is, pie crusts scare me. But I’ve seen you whip them up with ease in your down-home country kitchen. So I pulled your cookbook off my shelf and found just the recipe we needed. “Perfect Pie Crust.”
On Christmas Eve, Liza and I got to work. Food Network style, we gathered all the ingredients and measured them in advance. Our crust production was under way.
A toss of flour, a pinch of salt and a dash of sugar mingled in a large mixing bowl. Ice water stood by at the ready. But when we introduced the chunks of unsalted butter as instructed, absent a pastry blender, we implemented the dueling knives technique to incorporate the globs of butter into the dry ingredients.
Liza exuded a frantic energy as she moved two knives in a criss-cross-chop-chop motion. My turn. We resembled Hibachi-style chefs chopping shrimp on a greasy griddle, minus the entertainment value, grace and manual dexterity.
“How do we know when it’s done?” she asked.
“Coarse meal with peas!” I exclaimed. “Do you see peas in coarse meal!” We stared into the bowl.
“Mom, I don’t know what that means!”
Come on, Martha. What does that mean?
As best we could tell, we got close. After we lined parchment with pie weights and baked the crust to golden perfection, something unexpected happened during the cooling process. The bottom of the crust levitated. It rose slowly and surely from the bottom of the pie plate, and in no time, the lower crust traveled halfway up the sides of the pan.
So we re-weighted the crust and hoped it would drop by the time we returned home after Christmas Eve dinner. At 11 p.m., we resumed the task. And darn it, that elevated crust didn’t budge.
Oh, well. We filled this “perfect pie crust” with pumpkin goodness. Then we watched (in horrified awe) as the pumpkin punctured the elevated crust and settled to the bottom of the pie plate. Mouths open, eyes wide, we stared. Well, the architecture of this pie was certainly untraditional — pumpkin filling, crust, pumpkin filling. Not so perfect, Martha Stewart.
So we did the only acceptable thing after your pie morphs into a mysterious form. We laughed. Loud and long. After 50 minutes in the oven, Liza peaked and announced, “The middle wiggles.” Martha! You said 50 minutes! But no. Ten minutes more. Five minutes more. The clock struck midnight, and we had full-on pie fatigue.
Wiggle-free, the pie set. Except, a prominent bulge on the pie’s edge buckled like a mountain ridge on a raised globe. How novel. We laughed some more.
In our hands, this recipe is more aptly called “Imperfect Pie Crust.” Even so, I’ll give you this — when I altered my agenda to create this bumbled baking memory with my daughter, I’ll admit, it was just right.
And despite a bumpy surface and an elevated crust, we proudly finished our Christmas feast with pies. To (what we chose to regard as) rave reviews, our family exclaimed, “Definitely looks homemade!” Thanks Martha. Perfect.
— Jennifer Cramer-Miller
Jennifer Cramer-Miller is a freelance writer and custom home consultant in the Twin Cities. Follow her latest essays here. She is the author of the forthcoming memoir, Live Happy, Dammit!, and her published pieces are found in Brevity, The Sunlight Press, Grown & Flown, The Kindness Blog, The NKF Kidney Stories MN, The Emily Program Newsletter and Mamalode.