How To Find What You Came Here For

Welcome to the worlds that populate my brain!
The short stories you find here are the product
of a vastly overactive imagination
powered by coffee and M&Ms.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Apple Pie Magic

My grandma had an amazing talent - she could dump flour and lard and just a touch of water into a plastic tub in the sink, stick her hands in, and produce a perfect pie crust every single time.  No measuring cups or spoons were involved, something that - as a person who measures by weight and follows recipes to the letter - fascinated me.

As a child, when I saw her pull out pie plates and start cutting up apples, I'd pull a chair over to the kitchen counter and climb up.  She'd let me toss the apple slices with sugar and cinnamon and flour in a big bowl, reminding me to be careful when I got a little too enthusiastic and catapulted an apple slice to the floor.  While I stirred the pie filling with my wooden spoon, she'd get out a green plastic tub.

The tub fit into the bottom of the sink; the same kind we used on camping trips to wash dirty dishes and small children.  Following the tub would be a large container of flour, a tub of lard, and the salt shaker.  By the time Grandma had all the ingredients on the counter, my arm would be tired and I’d push the big bowl of filling to one side so I could watch the magic.

Scoop after scoop of flour was dumped into the tub until Grandma was satisfied with the amount, and then she’d open the tub of lard.  She’d spoon mounds of the white lard into the tub on top of the flour, toss in a couple of dashes of salt, and then pick up a kitchen fork and started pressing the lard into the flour.  In no time at all, the tub was full of pea-sized clumps. 

She would fluff through the mixture a few times to check for chunks of lard, and then turn on the faucet and run a little cold water into the tub.  Reaching into the tub with her hands, she’d push all the little clumps together until, between one blink and the next, there was a big ball of dough where nothing but flour and lard had been a few minutes earlier.

To make two apple pies she’d break the ball into four parts, then pick one at random and start rolling it out.  Her dough never tore, never cracked, never failed to roll out perfectly every time.  She’d lift the first circle and quickly lower it into a waiting pie plate and then repeat the process with a second ball. 

Once both pie plates had their covering of dough she’d come back to my bowl of apples, sugar, and spices and give it another quick stir, then scoop the filling into the pie plates.  The amount in the bowl was always exactly the right amount to fill the plates to the edge.

A waiting cube of butter was cut into pats and scattered over the top of both pies, directly on the filling.  The top crusts were rolled out and laid over the pies, centered effortlessly.  Grandma’s hands would move around the edges, rolling the top crust under the bottom and pinching it together until it looked like a rope all the way around.  Any extra dough was cut off, vent holes were made in the top crust, and then both pies went into the oven. 

I never knew how long they were supposed to take to bake until I had a cook book of my own – Grandma always seemed to know they were done by the way they smelled.  She was magic that way.

My grandma was a rancher's wife.  She had four girls (including my mom), and three boys.  For most of her adult life, she cooked for her family and ranch hands so she was used to cooking large quantities of food.  Grandma wasn't a gourmet cook; the food she made was basic and filling - designed to fuel you for a hard day at work.  Most of what I know about cooking without a recipe, I learned from her.  She is the reason I can occasionally turn away from my cookbook, beat down my OCD, and take a walk on the wild side when I cook.


  1. I love this post. It reminds me of one I did about my Mother's peach cobbler and especially her crust. They worked magic! I could taste this pie and feel the love for your grandmother. Thanks for sharing. Well done!

  2. I love this post. It reminds me of my grandma and watching her cook. Thanks for taking the time to write and post this!