Perils of Holiday Pie Baking: 8th Time’s the Charm

Mom's apple pie

Mom’s apple pie

Growing up in a family of six children, there were two occasions when the apple pie had to be perfect: when we all gathered to eat on Thanksgiving, and then again on Christmas Day.

And you couldn’t fool around with the ingredients on those hallowed family occasions, the pie had to be made with the exact same recipe my mother learned as a young Foreign Service wife more than fifty years ago.

This year, when pie duty fell to me for the first time, I naively thought, What a great opportunity to learn how to make Mom’s apple pie. My two teenage sons love the fruity pastry and here was a chance to learn  the beloved family recipe directly from the source.

Applesauce pie. Not exactly what I was going for.

Applesauce pie. Not exactly what I was going for.

One Saturday morning, my 13-year-old son, who loves to bake, and I drove over to my Mom’s house and got down to business. My son took notes and I took pictures and it turned out to be a great bonding experience for three generations of our family. The pies were delicious, of course, and we devoured them after dinner.

In the run-up to Thanksgiving, I decided a few practice runs were in order—just to make sure the holiday pie would be as good as Mom’s.

I’ve never been interested in baking, but there was something calming and surprisingly satisfying about making my own dough, rolling it out, and assembling the pie. It wasn’t unlike the feeling that comes over me when my writing is going well.

That first trial run, my crust turned out a little hard, but I figured I’d perfect it the next time. And I did, more or less. The second time, the pie crust was pretty good, flaky with just the right crispness, but the apples had turned to applesauce. All of the experts had an opinion: maybe I’d used the wrong kind of apples (I hadn’t), maybe I’d used too few apples (possibly).

The next three tries ended up the same—more applesauce pie. By the fifth try, my failed attempts at apple pie had completely turned the boys off the dessert they’d loved since they were toddlers. But I refused to give up. I’d come home from the day job and roll up my sleeves to roll out some dough. I was determined to perfect that darn apple pie if it was the last thing I did. No flaky, fruity pastry was going to beat me.

In some ways, I thought as I concocted the sixth or seventh pie, the endeavor wasn’t unlike writing a book. You have to constantly tweak the ingredients until you come up with the best possible result.

"The Monster" apple pie

“The Monster” apple pie

Buy an oven thermometer, said my BFF/Beta Reader/Amateur Gourmet Chef, your temperature must be off. It wasn’t, at least not too badly.

Pile on tons of apples, said my sister. That resulted in a pie my BBF called The Monster. As it happens, The Monster turned out OK, but it looked ridiculous and some of the apples were under cooked.

Desperate for a good outcome, I went to Mom’s house on Thanksgiving morning to make the pies under her watchful eye. She used more flour and apples than I did. And the pies, of course, turned out great.

With Thanksgiving done, I now had Christmas to worry about look forward to. After tweaking the recipe the way I’d seen Mom do it at Thanksgiving, my eighth attempt finally, finally yielded decent results. The pie wasn’t perfect, but the crust was fine and the apples weren’t mushy.

So I’m all ready for Christmas Day. Sort of. My sister just texted me that she’d be happy to make the apple pies this holiday. I think I’ll try a one more apple pie test run before I text her back. I’d never turn over the writing of my books to anyone else. But pie is another story…

Happy Holidays everyone!


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