Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Great Pie Adventure

While leaving the library one afternoon, the book "Making Piece" caught my eyes as I had noticed the subtitle "A memoir of love, life and pie." Being a pie lover, I grabbed and quickly devoured the book in a week. The author, Beth Howard, was a pie baker for the stars. She wrote about losing her husband tragically and in her grief decided to return to the things she loved the most namely making pie. Pie has followed her through life. Single, married, and now widowed. The first six years of her life were spent in Iowa. During her grief, she wanted to return to all the places she had remembered so fondly. In her journey back to Iowa, she finds the American Gothic House for rent and decided to teach people how to make pie. Upon reading this little tidbit, I knew I had to go. I wanted to learn from the best. So, myself and five others traveled over 4 hours to learn how to make pies from Beth Howard. One of the stops we made was at the Canteen Lunch cafe. She wrote about this cafe being such a part of her childhood and really the beginning of her love affair with pie. Her father was a dentist in Iowa. On Wednesday afternoons, we would take her to the Canteen Lunch cafe to eat their famous "Loose Meat Hamburger." She always ordered a piece of Banana Cream Pie.

The Canteen had an entire board listing just the pies they offered.  I think there were over 20 different varieties.  This white pie cupboard reminded me of the Mitchell County Fair I used to attend as a child.  I remember helping my friends with their bucket calves and eating at the food stand.  I remember the pies being stored in a similar cupboard.  Man, childhood memories are the best.
We were the first people to put a pin from Lincoln, Nebraska.
Her writing desk which doubled as the pie ingredient supply table.  She uses 1/2 butter and 1/2 shortening as you can see pictured below.  This little topic has caused me much distress because pie crust recipes vary so widely and when you are attempting to make the "perfect" pie, I want to know which mode of fat to use in my crust.
The Beth Howard.
DO NOT overwork your crust.  As you can see from the picture, you should be able to see almond sized pieces of shortening and butter in your flour.  THIS is the secret to flaky pie crust.  When rolling the crust out, you will see huge chunks of flattened butter.  THIS is good!  Most people overwork their crust.  We basically fluffed the flour around the butter and shortening and when water was added we fluffed it into the flour. 
Make two round discs so you can more easily roll out into a circle for your pie plate.  She also taught us to hold the dough with our palms together and work our way around the dough more or less creating a cavity in the middle of the dough.
When trying to transfer your dough from the surface to the pie tin, flour the edges before you begin scraping as the floured edge with assist in easy removal.  This tip was really helpful to me as my crusts often stick to the counter forcing me to use expletives under my breath.
It was one of those experiences where you are trying so hard to remember all her teaching tips, take pictures, remember her little short cuts, and then enjoy the mere fact that you get to experience such a fun trip.
We all loved this little tip.  Use scissors to trim excess crust. 
Heidi cut her apples into cubes, but Beth recommended just peeling your apples and then slicing them directly into the crust.
Beth doesn't measure.  She cuts, snows the apples with flour, sugar, and then cinnamon.  Repeat. 
When designing your crust, first flour your fingers.  This was a small yet great tip.  Also, be sure to make your grooves deep as to allow for some baking collapse. 
My star burst.
Laurie's perfect apple pie.
Of course, Maria had to show us all up with her crazy artistic abilities. 
My friend Heidi could have taught the class.  Even Beth said that she can spot the "ones" who know what they are doing right away and Heidi certainly knows what she is doing.
Our finished product waiting to all go in the oven.  She baked all of them at once.  I always thought you had to bake pies separately, but she says at times she has baked 12 pies all at the same time.
The House. 
Outside of the American Gothic House which is famous for the painting that bears its name.
One of the main tips I learned was that pies are supposed to look HOMEMADE.  I went there hoping to learn how to make Perkin's Pies and then realized that I had the wrong mindset.
Mech and I with our finished pies.
For more information on Beth Howard, she blogs at www.the I enjoyed watching the TV show trailer clip from her site.


  1. Finally! Thanks for posting this. I love all the pie tips, but my favorite part might be all the pics of Laurie with her sweet little guy in various carrier arrangements :). I'm still in awe that she made the trip.

  2. I've been waiting for this post! I was SO close to calling to see if I could tag along!

  3. oh my goodness, those pies look amazing!!

  4. Please talk about how she gets the top to look glazed. I've heard different ideas on it!

  5. Beautiful pics as always, Linny! Just had to say how much joy it gave me that all of this took place at the American Gothic house - who knew?!? Pretty awesome experience. Also really enjoyed "seeing" Mechie - I miss her! Please give her my love!

  6. I had a dream the other night (I dream weird things when I eat sugar before bed!) that you taught me how to make a pie! hahah! Love this post...will be back to take notes!

  7. I remember reading her story a few years back in Country Living Magazine. I was really touched. It made me think of so many things...mostly how food can be healing. Even though I try to eat/feed my kiddos healthy every day, there are just certain foods that are in your bones and must be partaken of regularly like therapy. Pie is one of those foods. My mom and grandmothers are famous for their pies, and I feel like it's an honor to try and carry the torch on to my family for them. These are great tips. I can't wait to try them! What a great memory, I'll have to add the trek to Iowa to my bucket list.

  8. I have never made a pie! But this has defiantly inspired me! Looks like you had tons of fun!! Thanks for the post!

    ~ Jenny

  9. I had so much fun with you and your amazing family!! Thank you for letting me join in the adventure and learn something new! Plan on me for the next road trip... You don't even need to tell me where we are going, Lindsay! I am still looking forward to baking you a pie soon! ;)