I remember it clearly, from my junior high home economics days: Miss H, with her Dorithy Hamill haircut, her home-sewn brown smock dress, and her sensible shoes was teaching us the basics of baking. Pie pastry, she said, is very tricky and you need to be an experienced baker to make it.
What I heard was Do Not Attempt.
I was fine with that, really. I have never liked pie, as a dessert, I've always considered it somewhat of an abomination. I am in the minority on this subject, I know. I really do! But that, right there, is the reason I've gone my whole life with no desire to make pie. It's too hard! I don't like it anyway! Who cares?
It turns out someone cared. My youngest son, who benefits from my love of making homemade ice cream and who has access to home-baked goodies every day of his life, said to me that he wished, one day, to have a cherry pie. Cherry pie, he said, just seemed like it would be delicious, even though he'd never had it before.
My husband said, a bit shyly, that cherry pie was always his favourite, and since I knew how to make so many things, maybe I could think about making one.
At first I brushed them off. I thought that if they wanted a damn pie, they could go out and buy one. But then I started thinking: I've faced fears in the kitchen before, and they've always turned out tremendously well. At one point in my life I thought homemade bread and home-canned jam seemed impossibly hard, and yet I taught myself how to bake bread and make jam. Neither was particularly difficult, although I did have to read and follow the directions fairly closely.
The difference is that I LIKE homemade bread and I LIKE jam. I started to feel that I was being a little bit selfish, with my refusal to learn to bake pies.
Here's the thing about kitchen fears: most things are not difficult to make, so long as you follow the directions. Nothing is actually impossible. Even pie crust.
I set myself a goal: I was going to do it. I was going to bake a pie. I am an Alberta girl, where fruit is always at a premium, and so I decided I wouldn't waste fresh cherries on a pie, and also I didn't want to pit them. I bought a bag of frozen cherries and some vegetable shortening and consulted with my friend Catherine, who is an experienced pie maker. She sent me her never-fail pie crust recipe, with the following words of encouragement: There is no way you can mess this up. Buoyed by that statement, I set to.
I was so worried about "overhandling" the dough that I probably underhandled it. The result was pretty ugly, but as a pie-loving friend said to me, the ugliest pies are the best pies. I watched as my husband and sons bit into it, and I waited for the verdict.
This is the best pie ever! the three of them said. You'll have to take their word for it; I didn't try it. I told you, pie is an abomination. But I sipped a glass of wine and felt satisfied at their happiness and at the fact that I overcame a major kitchen fear: pastry making.
For the crust
In a medium bowl, combine flour and salt.
Cut in shortening, using two knives, until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
In a small bowl, mix together egg, vinegar, and water. Add it to the flour mixture and mix with a fork until it comes together as a ball. Do not overmix!
Divide into two portions and refrigerate until needed (or wrap in plastic wrap and freeze).
When the pie filling is ready (directions below) roll each portion of dough separately on a lightly floured surface, with a lightly floured rolling pin. Roll from the centre outwards, until dough is uniform thickness, and is a circle approximately 1 inch larger than the upside down pie plate. Do not over-roll!
Gently transfer bottom shell to pie plate. Fill with cherry filling and top with the second piece of pastry. Trim the edges of the pastry to fit the pie plate.
For the filling
Place cherries in a medium saucepan over medium heat, and cover. After they lose some juice (approximately five minutes) remove from heat.
Add sugar and cornstarch, mix well. Mix in almond extract.
Cook over low heat until thickened, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and let cool before pouring into the pie crust.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Make a slit in the top of the pie crust for steam to escape.
Bake for 50 minutes.
Wait for the praise to roll in.