What the world needs now is pie, sweet pie!
(Sing it with me now to the tune of Dionne Warwick’s “What the world needs now is love, sweet love.” Homemade pie is synonymous with love.)
“Pie is meant for sharing. Pie connects people. Pie knows no cultural or political boundaries,” says Beth Howard, nationally acclaimed pie advocate, author and baker extraordinaire. “Pie makes people happy. And happy people make the world a better place. That’s why the world needs more pie.”
“The World Needs More Pie” is more than a philosophy for Beth. It’s become her way of life.
Beth bakes of hundreds of pies each season inside the famous American Gothic House. Yes, she lives in the American Gothic House – the one made famous by Grant Woods’ iconic painting. She also sells pie to tourists from her Pitchfork Pie Stand from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day weekend.
In the “off season,” Beth teaches pie making classes that include a tour of her private residence. You can take a virtual tour of this 130-year old Iowa farmhouse plus get a preview of Beth’s luscious pies by watching this segment on Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Ingredient” (from the 21 minute mark).
Last weekend, I had the pleasure of seeing inside the American Gothic House and attending one of Beth’s pie baking classes. (I still can’t believe it… I made the classic All-American Apple Pie inside the iconic American Gothic House. How surreal!) We were blessed by a beautiful spring day. The fragrance of blooming lilacs permeated the air as we posed for our souvenir photos outside the front porch; cinnamon and baked apples tickled our noses inside the house. Birds were chirping outside; inside laughter filled the air. It was one perfect day!
This class was intended as a surprise birthday present for my mom; it really turned out to be a gift to me. It provided a good “work excuse” for me to spend some time with Darcy Maulsby, a fellow advocate, ISU journalism grad and guest blogger on TheFieldPosition.com. Honestly, it turned out to be a great therapy session! It was nice break from a stressful planting season plus a diversion from multiple printing deadlines. As Beth Howard quotes in the forward of her memoir, Making Piece, “Stress cannot exist in the presence of pie.”
There was no stress during our baking class. Before that day, however, I feared making pie dough. I’ll admit it. I’ve enjoyed making pies like my treasured recipe for Colorado Peach Pie or Key Lime Pie – neither of which requires a “real” crust. But ask me to make a double-crusted fruit pie for the 4-H stand at the Franklin County Fair, and I’ve been known to call for help! (“Hello, Mom!” or “Hello, Cathy!” of Cathy’s Country Cookin’ in Hampton, Iowa… I’d dial until I found someone who would answer my call.)
But that was so last year! That was before May 18, 2013, when Beth Howard shared her wisdom:
“Forget the rules! Relax. Take a free and easy approach.”
“Use your fingers like salad tongs. It’s quick! Get your hands in and out.”
“Don’t manhandle the dough. Think gentle, loving thoughts about the dough.”
Perhaps the most important lesson I learned that day was not to worry if my pie doesn’t look perfect! “Your pie looks like one-of-a-kind and homemade,” says Beth as she encouraged her students and sang their praises for a job well done. “Give yourself permission to not be perfect. Your pie looks perfectly delicious.”
Fresh, homemade apple pie seems so patriotic and a fitting way to celebrate Memorial Day. Beth’s apple pie recipe is posted below, and you can download her recipe for Shaker Lemon Pie from The World Needs More Pie website.
Beth’s Apple Pie Recipe
Basic Pie Crust:
- 2½ cups flour (white all-purpose)
- 1/2 cup butter, chilled
- 1/2 cup Crisco
- Dash of salt
- Ice water (fill one cup but use only enough to moisten dough)
- In a deep bowl, work the butter and shortening into the flour with your hands until marble-sized lumps form. Think mixed nuts, but no bigger than almonds. Add ice water a little at a time, sort of “fluffing” the flour. Keep your movements light, as if you are tossing dressing into a salad with your hands.
- When the dough feels moistened enough, do a “squeeze test.” When it holds together, you’re done. Do not overwork the dough! It takes very little time and you’ll be tempted to keep touching it, but don’t!
- Now divide the dough in two; form each half into a disk shape and roll flat and thin to fit your pie dish. Sprinkle flour under and on top of your dough, and keep rolling surface and pin free from gunk to keep dough from sticking. Trim excess dough to about 1 inch from the dish edge with a scissors.
- 7 large Granny Smith apples, peeled (depending on size of apple & size of pie dish,
have about 3 lbs. available)
BAKER’S TIP: It’s also okay to use a variety of apples. Try Braeburn and Royal Gala. Do not use Fuji or Delicious as they are too juicy and have no taste. Approximate rule of thumb is 3 pounds of fruit per pie.
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 4 tablespoons flour
- Dash of salt
- 1 to 2 teaspoons cinnamon (depending on how much you like)
- 1 tablespoon butter (put dollop on top before covering with top crust)
- 1 beaten egg (only use enough to brush on pie before baking)
- Slice half of the apples directly into the pie, arranging to remove extra space between slices. Cover with half of your other ingredients (sugar, flour, cinnamon, salt). Then slice the remaining apples and cover with second half of ingredients.
- Add dollop of butter on top, cover with top crust; seal and crimp edges. Then brush with beaten egg. (This gives the pie a nice, golden brown shine. Be careful not to let egg pool in crevices.)
- Use a knife to poke vent holes in the top. (Get creative here with a pattern.) Then bake at 425° for 15 – 20 minutes.
- Turn oven down to 375° and bake for another 30 – 40 minutes until juice bubbles.
- Keep an eye on it as it bakes. If it gets too brown, turn down the temperature. To be sure it’s done, poke with a knife to make sure apples have softened. Do not over bake or apples will turn mushy like applesauce.
For helpful troubleshooting pie tips, see Beth’s article on culminate.com.