According to “A Brief History of Pie,” published by Time magazine, pies — formally known as “pyes” — can be traced back to ancient Greece and became popular among the masses in medieval England. Mostly savory in nature, pyes were filled with whatever local game presented itself, including magpie pigeon.
Now, pies have become one of America’s favorite pastries (sans pigeon for the most part). And while Thanksgiving may be one of pie’s major holidays to shine, summer shares an opportunity to showcase seasonal, flavorful fruit options. Before autumn makes its entrance, entertain friends, family and visitors with a flaky, fruity and sweet summer fruit pie party.
Who better to consult with about pies than a culinary expert? According to Roger Sitrin, lead recreational chef instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education (www.ice.edu), one element is key. “The secret to a good pie goes deeper than the filling: It all starts with a good crust.
“I have been working with a recipe that I absolutely love,” Sitrin says. “It’s made with butter, flour, water and salt — that’s it!" (See cherry pie recipe below.)
Capri Cafaro, pie connoisseur and host of the “Eat Your Heartland Out” podcast on SiriusXM's Rural Radio, offers a simple but fascinating twist on an apple pie crust by incorporating cheddar cheese and saltine crackers. The mix of sweet, tangy apples paired with a savory cheddar, soda-cracker crust is what she refers to as a “truly authentic representation of New Hampshire.” (Check out the recipe in Cafaro’s cookbook, “United We Eat.”)
Regardless of where you live, Sitrin considers universal key components when preparing a pie’s pre-bake foundation.
“When making the pie dough, technique, temperature and timing are everything,” Sitrin says. “I use a stand mixer to make my dough and start with half the flour and all of the butter. This helps you get that perfect mix of butter and flour without overworking the butter into the flour.”
Once the initial ingredients are mixed, Sitrin adds the remaining flour and a small amount of water as needed. “Then I turn on the mixer until it just comes together, and then that’s it,” he says.
In terms of temperature and timing, Sitrin stresses the importance of not touching the mixture or breaking up lumps of butter. Nor should the dough be rolled out. Instead, he advises forming the dough into a ball and then gently flattening it into a disk. Then, the dough should be refrigerated for at least 30 minutes before rolling it out and putting it in a pie tin.
Once your crust has been properly prepped, rolled and baked to perfection, it’s time to ponder what filling to top it with.
“Fruit pies are so easy to make and perfect in the summer because of the abundant options of fresh berries from our own backyards or farmers markets,” says Rebecca Miller, owner of Peggy Jean's Pies. “A traditional summer berry pie like blackberry, blueberry, raspberry, gooseberry, or even all [berries] together can be tossed in a simple mix of flour and sugar and you have the easiest and freshest pie.”
Another farmers market find — albeit an illusive one, according to Sitrin — is sour cherries. “They only seem to appear for a week or two in farmers markets,” he says. “But they are juicy and tart and bake up perfectly.”
Much like creating an optimal crust, certain steps and nuances help craft a delicious, irresistible pie filling.
“In general, you can use 24 ounces of the freshest berries, washed and stemmed, of course, with a 1/2 cup of white sugar and a 1/4 cup of all-purpose flour,” Miller says. “To create the simplest and best fruit pie filling that is so much easier, cheaper, and better for you than canned fruit filling from the grocery store.”
Adds Sitrin: “The trick to a great filling is adding enough starch to the fruit to help it gel and set up when it cools down. Without starch, the pie juices will run out with the first slice and waterlog the crispy crust.”
In addition to proper use of starch, how sugar is incorporated into a filling also impacts the outcome of the final pie product. “Too little [sugar] and the flavor of some fruits can be sour, too much and it can get cloyingly sweet and very mushy,” Sitrin says.
In addition to the previously mentioned berries, strawberry, strawberry rhubarb, peach and nectarines are other summer pie filling favorites.
In the event a farmers market isn’t within a manageable distance or local grocery stores don’t have the produce you were hoping for, Cafaro provides an easy alternative.
“My go-to pies are always cream pies with cookie crusts,” she says. “These types of pies are easy to do and if you are really nervous about your skills, you can make a fail-proof pie with a premade graham cracker or cookie crust and pudding mix as a base and add things to it to customize it.”
To dazzle guests, Cafaro suggests taking time to showcase your new pie skills: “You can make a fun ‘pie bar’ with different types and sizes of pies displayed on different height cake stands.”
CHERRY LATTICE PIE
Makes 2 6-inch pies or 1 9-inch pie
4 cups pitted cherries
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Egg wash, as needed to brush the top of pie
Raw sugar, to garnish
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. On a lightly floured surface, roll one disk of dough into a circle about 8 inches in diameter, starting at the center of the disk and rolling away from you. Use additional flour and give the dough a quarter turn between each roll to prevent it from sticking to the table. Continue rolling until the dough is an even 1/8-inch thick.
3. Carefully roll one circle of the dough around the rolling pin and unroll over the pie plate. Fit the dough into the plate by gently pressing it into the corners and against the base and sides of the plate. Trim the excess dough, leaving about a 1-inch overhang. Place the lined pie plate in the freezer for about 15 minutes to chill slightly. Roll second pie disc, for use of the lattice, and set aside in the refrigerator.
4. While the pie dough is chilling, prepare the pie filling. In a large bowl, toss cherries, lemon juice and zest, sugar, cornstarch, salt and vanilla together until well combined. Set aside and prepare your lattice top. Using a ruler, make ½ -inch strips for your lattice top.
5. Fill pie with cherry filling. Top the cherry filling with a lattice top and flute the pie edge. Egg wash the top and sprinkle raw sugar.
6. Bake cherry pie for about 35 to 45 minutes, or until cherry pie filling is bubbling and set, and the top is golden brown. Allow to cool before slicing.
— From the Institute of Culinary Education