Let Us Eat Pie on The 4th of July - a Q & A with Our 'Pie Pal' Ken Haedrich

"Yes, this shall be our party. And we must have a pie. Stress cannot exist in the presence of a pie… Give me a pie."
--- Anna in David Mamet’s Boston Marriage

It’s time to plan your menu for the Fourth of July.  Of course, you’ll serve pie.  For some guidance in preparing this quintessential American dessert, we turned to Ken Haedrich, who has spent a good chunk of his life making pie in rural New Hampshire and now calls South Carolina’s Lowcountry his home.

A self-taught cook, food writer, and author of 13 cookbooks, (his latest, The Old Farmer’s Almanac Everyday Baking will come out later this summer), he’s the guy who brought us THE book on the subject, Pie (Harvard Common Press.) At 640 pages, it provides 300 recipes, 25 for apple pie, nine for cherry, plus a gazillion helpful tips to demystify pie.

Ken recently launched a new venture, ThePieAcademy.com, to help both novice and experienced pie makers become better bakers. The site, says Ken, is an extension not only of his passion for pies, but for sharing his know how with others. To that end, he plans to make extensive use of online video to teach his craft. “I’ve given a lot of pie-making demos in my day, taught a lot of pie classes. So I’ve experienced firsthand what a difference it can make when someone can visualize the process firsthand. It’s like a light bulb going off.”

We caught up with Ken in-between crusts to ask him a few questions about pie making.


OLDWAYS:  You’ve referred to your father a “serial apple pie maker,” so you clearly grew up in a household with homemade pie on the table. What’s your earliest memory of making a pie on your own. What kind was it?
KEN: Not just homemade pie on the table, but all manner of desserts. My mom’s idea of a dysfunctional family was one that had fewer than four sweets on hand at any given moment. Dinner, for me and my six siblings, was a formality we tolerated on the way to dessert. As for my first pie, it was apple, and I made it for my Navy buddies when I lived off base down in Mississippi in the early 70’s. It wasn’t pretty, but it sure as heck tasted great - though not as good as my dad’s.

OLDWAYS: Making a pie seems to bring out terrific insecurities in people who haven’t mastered the art. Why do you think it looms so large and why do so many people declare they can’t make a good crust?
KEN: I think a lot of people try once or twice, have trouble with the pastry, and give up in frustration. Part of the problem is that cooks set their expectations too high at the outset: If their pie doesn’t look perfect, like it jumped off the pages of a food magazine, they lose heart. You shouldn’t. Beautiful pie is overrated. I like a little ugly in my pies. Plan on a gradual pie-making courtship and be satisfied to learn a little something new each time you and a pie are together in the kitchen.

OLDWAYS: Do you think there’s any truth to the idea that only an optimist can make a good pie?
KEN: I can’t be sure about that. But I can tell you that some of the happiest, most upbeat people I know are regular pie makers. Without sounding too woo-woo about it, I think pie making is rather meditative. It asks that you pay attention, stay in the moment, and focus on the tasks at hand. That’s good for the psyche.

OLDWAYS: What are the most common mistakes fledgling pie makers make?
KEN: I offer some advice in the video that appears below.  In addition to that, I think most of the mistakes that occur have to do with rolling the pastry: Not using a decent, comfortable rolling pin and/or pressing too hard with the pin. Plus an unfamiliarity with how best to mix up a batch of pastry.

OLDWAYS: Can you share with us one or two tips that you’ve learned over the years that can make all the difference between a mediocre pie and a terrific pie?
KEN: Since so many pies are fruit pies, it’s crucial to use the best local, seasonal fruit you can find. You should be making peach pies in July, not January. The other thing I can’t stress enough is the importance of homemade pastry. Homemade pastry can be sublime; frozen and refrigerated options, while expeditious, pale by comparison.

OLDWAYS: In writing Pie, you must have made hundreds of pies. What are your three all-time favorites?
KEN: Three? I couldn’t answer that even if you said 33. But I’ll try: Any of the buttermilk pies, either of the chocolate chess pies in the book, and any of the summer fruit pies with too much crumb topping on them.

OLDWAYS: We’re coming up to the Fourth of July. When you think about this holiday, what kinds of pies seem especially appropriate?  Can you share a recipe for one of them with us?
KEN: By the Fourth of July it’s hard to keep up with all the wonderful fruit that’s coming to market so I like to make a pie where I can invite all of them. That’s why I love this Cherry-Berry Pie with Oatmeal Crumb Topping. It’s inclusive, and because the fruit is ripe the flavor sings of summer. Enjoy!

 

 

Cherry-Berry Crumb Pie with Wheaten Pie Crust
In place of the raspberries, feel free to substitute an equal amount of blackberries.

Ingredients:

Wheaten Pastry
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 teaspoon (scant) salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into ¼-inch pieces
1/3 cup ice cold water
1 egg yolk

Cherry-Berry Filling
2 cups fresh pitted cherries
1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries
1 cup fresh red raspberries
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons cornstarch
pinch of salt

Oatmeal Crumb Topping
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into ¼-inch pieces

Directions:

Make the pastry: Combine the flours and salt in a large mixing bowl. Whisk to mix. Add the butter and - using a pastry blender - thoroughly cut it into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. Some pea-size pieces of butter should remain. Combine the ice water and egg yolk in a 1-cup glass measure. Blend with a fork. Drizzle half of the liquid over the flour mixture. Mix briefly with a large fork, “lifting” the mixture up from the bottom of the bowl.  Drizzle on the remaining liquid and continue to mix just until the dough pulls together; don’t overwork it. Place the dough on a large piece of plastic wrap, knead once or twice, then flatten it into a disk a little less than ¾ inch thick. Refrigerate for 45 to 60 minutes.

Make the filling: Combine the cherries, blueberries, and raspberries in a large bowl. Add half of the sugar and the tablespoon of lemon juice. Mix well and set aside for 10 minutes. Mix the remaining sugar with the cornstarch and salt; stir into the fruit. Set aside.

Assemble and bake: Lightly flour a sheet of wax paper and place the chilled dough on top of it. Dust with flour and roll it into a 13-inch circle. Invert the pastry over a 9 inch deep-dish pie pan, center it, then peel off the paper. Tuck the pastry into the pan, without stretching it, then sculpt the edge into an upstanding ridge. Place the pan in the freezer for 15 minutes while you preheat the oven to 400°F. Scrape the filling into the pie shell, smooth with a spoon, then place on the middle oven rack. Bake for 25 minutes. Prepare the topping while the pie bakes.

Make the topping: Combine the flour, oats, brown sugar, salt, and cinnamon in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse several times, to mix. Remove the lid and scatter the butter pieces over the dry mixture. Pulse the machine repeatedly, until the mixture resembles fine crumbs. Empty the crumbs into a large mixing bowl, then gently rub them between your fingers to make uniform crumbs. Refrigerate until needed. After 25 minutes, slide the pie out and carefully spread most of the topping over the pie (save and freeze a handful, for your next batch of muffins); rake it out evenly with a large fork. Reduce the heat to 350° F and bake another 30 to 35 minutes, until the juices bubble thickly. Transfer the pie to a cooling rack and cool for at least 1 to 2 hours before slicing and serving. Makes 10 to 12 servings.

 

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