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Life of pie 

With fresh fruit still in season, it’s prime pie time.

click to enlarge In pie we crust.
  • In pie we crust.

Patience is a virtue, especially when it comes to pie-making.

When it comes to the expression, "It's as easy as pie," there are two schools of thought.

The first camp would argue that whoever first expressed that opinion obviously never made pie and needs a boot to the head. The second camp would state that whoever said that obviously knew what they were talking about, because pie isn't scary.

Talk to people about pie and stories will come out: burned or gummy pastries, over or under sweetened fillings. But there will also be an testimonials that the storytellers' grandmother/mother/sister/sibling/dad knew the secret to great pie.

So how does one leave the first camp and end up in the second? Practice makes perfect, or so it seems.

Elinor Crosby knows this well. Although she lives in the second camp, she acknowledges the first one. "Pie seems easy at first. I mean it's filling sandwiched in between pastry, but so many things can go wrong with it," says the librarian-by-day, belly-dancer-by-night. "As with most things, pie is easy when you know what you're doing."

Crosby grew up in a pie-making household. Her mother instilled a love of baking in her, and it found its way into the realm of pies. "The first pie I ever made myself was pumpkin pie recipe from the Moosewood Cookbook," she says proudly. Nowadays Crosby's pie-making extends past the realm of sweet, and to the land of savoury. "I make turkey pot pies a lot, and I make a delicious salmon and leek pie with lemon and dill that is one for my favourites," she says. "Anything can be pie!"

Robyn McNeil is one of those lucky people who was seemingly born to make pies. McNeil worked as a cook in various kitchens, but downplays her culinary skills since she "never had formal training or papers." McNeil doesn't spend her days in the kitchen anymore---she's an admin for a tech company---but she refuses to outsource her pies from outside her own house. "There's really nothing that can compare with homemade pie, and a store-bought pie really hammers that home," she says. Crosby agrees. "I don't find the crust very good in store-bought pies, and the filling is often too sugary."

Yes, the crust is the real crux of the matter. Although pie may be defined by its filling---apple, berry, lemon, pumpkin---the crust is what makes the pie. And when it comes to crust, it's the kind of fat used that makes a difference. Lard or shortening-based crusts tend to give easy and luscious flaky pastry, while others swear by the all-mighty butter crust.

When asked about what kind of fat they use for making their crusts, both pie bakers say it depends. "I used to use butter, but I struggled with making the dough and it tended to get overworked," says Crosby. "I have one recipe from my mom, and one from a friend," says McNeil. "Depending on the one I choose it's either got butter or vegetable shortening. Often it's more about what's on hand in my kitchen than preference as they're both very good."

In the end, both pie-bakers thinks it's important to explain to others that pie is not as scary as one may think. So call your mom, your grandmother, your dad or whoever made pie in your house. If you weren't lucky enough to have someone like that, grab a cookbook and try it out.

"It's easy to make and even easier to consume," says McNeil. "Sometimes I forget how easy making pie is, and don't do it for awhile. Then as soon as I do I'm like damn, PIE. It's SO good."

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