Thanksgiving is a time for family and for my family; holiday gatherings have almost always involved pie. One of my great-grandmother’s storied phrases was “I have my face all fixed for pie.” This declaration has passed down through the generations of my family to describe our love of pie. This phrase was used so frequently amongst my family, I was in college before I realized this was an unusual way to describe anticipation for eating something you love.
I’ve always loved pie. Stories have been passed through my family of a 4-year-old me bursting into tears when my grandpa Ben switched his empty pie plate for mine, convincing me that he’d eaten my slice.
This fierce enjoyment continued well into high school. A classmate’s mom, who accidentally ate the piece of pie I was saving at our church’s Soup & Pie Supper, could only admit it after I was safely graduated.
I’ve been a lifelong consumer of pie, sampling it whenever I can. But no pie has tasted quite as good as my grandma’s. This includes the Purple Pie Place in Custer, though their pie is amazing. Bumbleberry is a thing of beauty. But the crust just isn’t as good.
My whole life my grandma Calla has been our resident pie maker — whipping up apple pies in the fall, pecan pies for Christmases and cherry pies for my birthdays. She has desperately attempted to pass on the family pie crust recipe but in vain.
My mother has long proclaimed that she cannot make pie. This assertion was ignored 15 years ago and she was once again forced to attempt it under my grandma’s watchful eye, lured by her platitudes that anyone can make pie. My mother diligently whipped up the pie dough and when my grandma went to roll it out, she promptly grabbed it, tossed it into the trash and declared, “You’re right, you can’t make pie.”
Scarred from the experience, my mother never touched a pie crust again — except to eat it.
As one of the family’s biggest pie lovers and one of its remaining females, the mantle of continuing my grandma’s recipe fell to me.
I made my first attempt several years ago and the pie turned out perfectly. However, the result had almost nothing to do with me.
All I remember of my “first pie” was my blur of a grandma, taking the measuring cup full of Crisco or the rolling pin or the flour out of my hands and doing it herself because my technique left something to be desired. As my grandmother clearly needed no help in making pie, I left it to her.
But over the last couple of years, my grandma has been afflicted with arthritis in her hands, making pie making difficult and inspiring me to try again just last weekend. This attempt was a very different experience.
To start, shortening now comes in prepackaged bars. So there was no need to measure it and therefore, no way to mess that up. My grandma still had a very hands-on approach to teaching. But she quickly realized or was reminded that I had to do it myself and she’d step aside — opting instead to maintain a constant, whispered chant of encouragement.
We baked two pies in an attempt to solidify the techniques into my memory. The “secret ingredient” of the recipe was recognizing how it should look and feel to figure whether you needed more flour or water. The first crust was not pretty before it went into the oven, as we had underestimated how much dough would be needed to cover the pie plate. However, when it was baked it came out fine — flaky and light and grandma approved.
The second was better, with my grandma excitedly calling my mother to come look at the result of my efforts. After baking, it was picture-worthy and tasty too.
While I’ve passed the first test, I have to muster up my inner baker again and make a pecan pie for Thanksgiving dinner. Even though I’m nervous to make my first solo pie, I comfort myself with the best lesson my grandma taught me. If the dough doesn’t turn out, try again and you’ll get it right eventually. Things may not turn out perfect, but you can’t give up. You’ve got to keep trying. Now of course, in this instance I’m going for a flaky crust but it really could be applied to anything. And what can’t I do with my grandma on my side?