Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Perfecting pastry

This was an experiment. Could I produce a pie crust equal to my mother's?

My new food processor is supposed to help me make perfect pastries.

We could say that our guests Janice and Jim look so relaxed post-lunch because the dessert was so great, but really, they are exhausted after moving a few blocks to a new West End apartment. 

As I fumbled with some pastry this week, trying to make notches around the top of a pie crust and eventually resorting to pressing it down with a fork, I thought of mom. I remembered her long, practical fingers flying around a pie pan, notching the pastry in quick, even pinches born of decades of farmhouse cooking.

I helped in the kitchen a lot as I was growing up, but I never mastered pastry. In later years, I took to collecting advice from pastry experts, whose mantra was always the same: keep all the ingredients cold and don't overwork them. Chill even the salt and flour, they said, and God forbid you should touch anything with your hot hands -- use pastry blenders or dump everything in a food processor.

I got my first food processor a few months ago, and in preparing for visitors this week, I hauled it out to see whether it was possible that I could -- after years of sporadic and unsuccessful efforts to make tender pastry -- finally produce something as good as mom's. As I followed the recipe and chilled, blended, re-chilled, rolled out, then chilled again, I thought of how mom used to produce perfect pies in a sweat-hot kitchen with no chilling at all. It's not surprising: When she was growing up and learning to cook herself, the family had no real refrigerator -- just an icebox in the summer, where a block of slowly melting ice was the only cooling element. And the serious pie-making went on in the hottest time of the year, when fieldwork was heavy and farmers needed lots of calories.

Mom's technique was to blend the ingredients together with her hands, feeling when the constituency was right for the pastry to be gathered into a ball. Then she rolled it out with swift, smooth strokes, producing a pliable sheet that draped easily over the pie pan. After the filling was added, an equally quickly rolled out upper crust would be laid on top. She'd pinch together top and bottom crusts -- no fork! -- and slip the pie into the oven. No chilling, no fancy equipment.

So how did my pie turn out? Well, the custard and fresh fruit filling covered a multitude of sins and my visitors -- John's cousin Janice and her husband Jim -- were kind. But truly, mom would have been appalled by the force required to push a fork through that pastry.

1 comment:

  1. really wasn't that bad especially the bottom. Perhaps the sides were worked too much....who knows...a pastry chef I ain't! Give Fern's recipe a try. Her pastry is fantastic. My mom never did go in for pastry so I don't have that to live up to but my Grandmother Fleming made wonderful pastry (and gravy and everything else). Her family were prairie farmers too. And she was a wonderful gardener (but then she got her fertilizer from the milkman's horse's droppings so how can you compete with that!) And she always won at lawn bowling and canasta at the Kerrisdale Lawn Bowling Club. I was very blessed to have two wonderful grandmothers.