Today is National Pie Day, as proclaimed by the American Pie Council, an Illinois-based organization "committed to preserving America's pie heritage and promoting its love affair with pies." So deciding what to write about this week was as easy as, well, pie.
Let's first tackle that old saying, given the trepidation with which many regard making a pie. According to language dictionaries cited by Wikipedia, the phrase does not refer to the making of a pie, but instead to eating a pie, which should, of course, be a simple thing.
An apple pie a day?
Apple is the top pie filling choice among Americans, according to a survey by the American Pie Council (APC) and Crisco. Next? Pumpkin, chocolate, lemon meringue and cherry. Also: The average American eats six slices of pie annually (mostly around Thanksgiving, we're guessing). More fun with numbers from the APC: Six million American men between ages 35 and 54 say they have eaten the last slice of pie, yet denied it. One in five Americans claim they have eaten an entire pie by themselves (and why would you lie about something like that?).
Mark your calendars
Minnesota's biggest pie festival occurs on the first Friday of August in Braham, Minn., about 60 miles north of the Twin Cities. Braham Pie Day, on Aug. 1 this year, attracts dozens of pie-baking contestants, which translates into hundreds of pieces of pie. Lanesboro's Rhubarb Festival, on June 7, is a sure bet if you want to nab a slice of rhubarb-strawberry pie.
About those blackbirds
In the 16th century, "animated pyes" had their moment, and were a hit at banquets. But how do you get four-and twenty live blackbirds in a pie? A cookbook, "The Italian Banquet," used this technique: Make a very large (gigantic?), sturdy and deep pie crust, cutting a hole in the bottom crust. Fill the pie with flour, and top with the upper crust. After baking, lift the crust from the pan and remove the flour through the hole. Just before serving, push birds (or turtles, or rabbits; there even are reports of dwarves) through the hole, then bring the pie to the table and cut open, releasing the birds.
Lights! Camera! Action!
Pies long have had a place in the silver screen, from "Mildred Pierce" in 1945, in which Joan Crawford makes a mean crust to the upcoming "Labor Day" starring Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet, in which Brolin's pie skills show his sensitivity.
The apple of our eye is "Waitress," a 2007 movie starring Keri Russell who made pies with names such as "Baby Screamin' Its Head Off In The Middle of the Night & Ruinin' My Life Pie." you will gain weight just watching this film. For some of the recipes, visit http://bit.ly/1dtoBA4.
From a variety of sources, here are some recommended books about pie:
Newest and luscious: "The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book: Uncommon Recipes From the Celebrated Brooklyn Pie Shop" by Emily and Melissa Elsen.
Informative: "Pie, a Global History" by Janet Clarkson.
Hard-core and authoritative: "The Pie and Pastry Bible" by Rose Levy Beranbaum.
Inspirational: "Pie: 300 Tried-and-True Recipes for Delicious Homemade Pie" by Ken Haedrich.
Savory recipes: "Pie" by Angela Boggiano.
That recipe with vodka
Cook's Illustrated caused a stir a few years ago with its Foolproof Pie Dough recipe that called for vodka. The logic: Because the alcohol in vodka will evaporate in the oven's heat, you can use it as additional liquid while mixing. This enables you to make a more easily handled dough, yet one that emerges from the oven as flaky as a water-only crust.
Foolproof Pie Dough
Makes 1 double-crust or 2 single-crust pies.
Note: From Cook's Illustrated.
• 2 1/2 c. unbleached all-purpose flour, divided
• 1 tsp. salt
• 2 tbsp. sugar
• 12 tbsp. (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch slices
• 1/2 c. cold vegetable shortening, (such as Crisco) cut into 4 pieces
• 1/4 c. cold vodka
• 1/4 c. cold water
Process 1 1/2 cups flour, salt and sugar in food processor until combined, about 2 (one-second) pulses. Add butter and shortening and process until homogeneous dough just starts to collect in uneven clumps, about 15 seconds (dough will resemble cottage cheese curds and there should be no uncoated flour).
Scrape bowl with rubber spatula and redistribute dough evenly around processor blade. Add remaining 1 cup flour and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl and mass of dough has been broken up, 4 to 6 quick pulses. Empty mixture into medium bowl.
Sprinkle vodka and water over mixture. With rubber spatula, use folding motion to mix, pressing down on dough until dough is slightly tacky and sticks together. Divide dough into 2 even balls and flatten each into 4-inch disk. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days.