Don’t sweat the crust! Little Deer Isle’s “Pie Lady” dispenses therapy

By Mary Offutt

Special to The Ellsworth American

LITTLE DEER ISLE — Few things cause more kitchen anxiety than pie crust. Just its mention evokes the sound of Julia Child’s voice admonishing the viewer to chill the dough and make sure added water is ice cold.

Being a contrarian, who sometimes flaunts expert advice, I gave up trying to make the ideal pie crust a long time ago and have never looked back. I’m known for my pies. I feel so strongly that everyone can make pies that when each of my sons set up household, I contributed a rolling pin purchased from an antique store.

My pies are BIG and take advantage of what is grown locally, ideally on my own property. My pie-making starts with rhubarb, strawberry, blueberry, raspberry (if I’m lucky), apple and pumpkin. Many times, I combine them such as half apple and half raspberry, which makes it possible to make a smashing raspberry pie with half the amount of precious raspberries. The above pie is strawberry rhubarb with some apple I canned last fall.

Now about the crust. My basic recipe is 1¾ cups of flour and a stick of butter. Work those together in your food processor, with a pastry cutter or even just with your hands. I next add about ¼ cup of sugar, then as much water to make the crust workable. You have to defy Julia and add as much water as you need to make the dough manageable. Sometimes I overdo the water and end up with something with a consistency of pizza dough, but that’s OK. Because the reason to eat a pie isn’t the crust, it’s the filling.

The filling is where you get to develop a recipe all your own. Start with a recipe from a trusted source. You might hit a hole-in-one with that recipe or you might think, hmm, maybe next time I’ll use less or more of certain ingredients. You might add lemon juice one time, lemon zest the next, cinnamon or other spices, dabs of butter, even rum. The sky’s the limit. Some friends taught me about crème de cassis. I put a tablespoon or two in my berry pie. When friends invite me to pick their excess of currants, I take advantage and make cassis (it’s easy).

For your fruit pie you will need a thickener. Some use flour, others use tapioca. I use corn starch. My fruit pies, which are big, take between 4 and 5 tablespoons of corn starch (for about 7 cups of fruit). Over-thickening is a crime according to what my mom taught me.

As for tools, I’ve mentioned a Cuisinart because that’s what I have. Must-haves include pie plate (of course!), rolling pin, pastry cloth (inexpensive and makes crust rolling much easier), and a pie crust shield. I have never been able to find a shield big enough for my pies, so I made one from an aluminum oven pan.

In the photo the pie has boiled over (thus the cookie sheet underneath). To me this is a sign that I put enough filling in, and that the filling has bubbled and therefore the pie is done. Bake at 425 degrees F for 30-45 minutes keeping an eye on it to be sure it’s not under or overcooked. Today I made a mistake because I’m rusty and set the convection oven to 425 degrees F when it should have been 400 degrees F, so it was done sooner than I expected.

So please give yourself permission to add as much water to your pie dough to make it workable. Forget store-bought pie crusts because they aren’t that good. And start turning the bounty of summer into unique creations to share with friends and family.

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