Pandemic where I Pursued the Pleasure of Perfecting Pies

UPDATE: Mom’s pie crust recipe at the bottom!

How’s that title for alliteration? 

My mother, who was a good cook and decent baker, taught me many of her kitchen skills. I learned to cook fairly well before I wed, and in the past fifteen years or so, I have become a better-than-average cook. As for baking? Mom could make delicious cookies, spectacular home made fudge and tasty cakes (although in fairness…we always teased that her cakes never looked pretty  because typically, they would crack down the middle.)

Nina Lee Wallace (my Mom) left, and her sister, Virginia Kemplen (my Aunt Ginny Pinny) right. 2007

But for all of her shortcomings with cake, Mom was the consummate pie baker. During the time I grew up in northeast Ohio, Mom’s pies were almost legendary within our tiny community and church congregation! Never fancy or frilly, they were unbelievably delicious made from simple ingredients and her knack for flaky, melt-in-your-mouth pie crusts. (Her tried-and-true recipe for those crusts goes against every well-known pastry chef’s generally accepted regimen that pie dough be kept very cold throughout the preparation process. Oh no, no, no, NO! Mom absolutely insisted her dough be made using boiling water so the ingredients melted together to create a flaky crust as light as a feather! She learned this trick from her Mother and probably from a generation prior to her mother, too. And of course, she passed this on to me. 

Like I said, I’m a good cook and a baker myself. But I never really had a need or a knack for making pies prior to now. Since the men in our family prefer cookies and cakes, I never fully committed to learning how to make pies beyond the occasional pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving. 

Until the pandemic hit. 

During the angst and uncertainty in those early days of stay-at-home orders, the thought of eating a piece of one of my Mom’s pies sounded so good. So comforting. Perhaps I was looking to connect with my late Mom and her reassurance and guidance more than it was about making or eating the pie itself. So one early day in April I found myself pulling out her recipe box and deciding to make her famous homemade banana cream pie. Reading the words on the recipe card written in her own hand was comforting in and of itself. And as I mixed and carefully combined ingredients, the worries of the outside world began to slip away. There was just me, my memory of her, and a warm, distantly-familiar aroma in my kitchen. 

I had honestly forgotten how amazing Mom’s recipe for banana cream pie tastes! And even more surprisingly, was how much my husband and son loved it, too! The pie was finished off in less than two days with requests for more. (And you can find the recipe for her banana cream pie HERE.)

And so, the days and weeks which followed have become known in my mind as “the Pandemic where I Pursued the Pleasure of Perfecting Pies.” Since that first pie, I have made a variety of pies including cherry, Dutch apple, pumpkin, and pecan. 

Most recently, I made my own version of Oreo chocolate pie with homemade whipped cream, which was not one of Mom’s recipes. I adapted her basic cream filling recipe to make it chocolate and added a homemade Oreo pie crust. This pie earned some rave reviews!

I have found this pie-baking process both soothing to my soul and oh-so-satisfying to be able to share these home baked pies with family and a few, nearby friends. I’ve felt connected to my Mom and my family heritage which, in turn, has helped me to feel grounded during such a tumultuous time.

There is a line in the movie, Julie and Julia where Julie is baking chocolate cream pie, and says to her husband: “You know what I love about cooking? I love that after a day when nothing is sure and when I say nothing, I mean nothing. You can come home and absolutely know that if you add egg yolks to chocolate and sugar and milk, it will get thick.”

Amy Adams as “Julie Powell” and Chris Messina as “Eric Powell in Columbia Pictures’ JULIE & JULIA.

I couldn’t have said it better. So here’s my thought to you: If you are stressed or feeling anxious or worried, make pie. 

 

By popular demand! Here’s Mom’s pie crust recipe:

Water Whip Pie Crust

Disclaimer from Kimberly: Mom taught me how to make this crust when I was a young girl. The secret to this crust is to use boiling water, which is completely opposite from most pie crust recipes that call for keeping the dough cold through the preparation process. Mom said the boiling water melts the Crisco and makes the dough easy to roll out between sheets of wax paper. Mom’s pie crusts were always light, flaky and just perfect. She told me her mother taught her to make pie crusts this way and it worked like a charm every single time. 

1 cup minus 2 Tbsp (7.8 cup or 14 Tbsp total) Crisco shortening (don’t skimp and use an off-brand!)
6 Tbsp boiling water
2 tsp whole milk
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt

Whip together the first three ingredients using mixer. Add the flour and salt. Mix together until a ball forms. Don’t overmix. Roll between two sheets of wax paper. 

Yield: 2 pie crusts. 

Recipe from Nina Lee Wallace, given to her by her mother (during the depression years) Kathryn Jackson Dale Shawn

 

18 Comments
  1. What a beautiful and sentimental story, I could almost smell the pies. Might have to try the Oreo one.

  2. I thoroughly enjoyed making your mom’s Banana Cream Pie! My husband and neighbors loved it! Thank you for sharing!

  3. Wonderful way to put a positive attitude to the times we live in, now. I bet those cake men have converted to pie. Around here, pies are the number 1 dessert. Even for birthdays. One granddaughter has a standing order for homemade Key Lime pie for her Christmas Eve birthday. Grandmas do what they need to do!

  4. you making me go to the store so I can create a pie…. I can see 10 lbs comingmy way soon. Thanks

  5. Lovely story! Do we get the pie crust recipe too? Pretty please?

  6. I just bought cherries at Costco but that Oreo pie – oh, my – that one almost jumped off the page. Sure wish it could

  7. Ah Kimberly I don’t know which was sweeter: the pies or the memories. You are so blessed in both.

  8. Kim, I used your banana cream pie filling to fill cream puffs last week. The filling is nothing short of amazing! Thank you for sharing. They seem to disappear though…
    My Auntie Jean made Ricotta pie with grated lemon and orange peel in the crust and filling. You may enjoy it: Add grated lemon and orange peel to any pie crust recipe. Filling: 16 oz container of ricotta cheese, 4 beaten eggs, rind and juice of a lemon or orange or both, 1 tsp vanilla, 3/4 c sugar, scant 1/4 c chocolate chips, scant 1/4 c chopped Maraschino cherries. Bake 350 45-50 minutes. I have personally removed all the calories from this recipe for you and applied them to my own thighs 8^)
    Virtual Hugs
    Lois

    • Dear Lois — OH MY GOODNESS — THANK YOU for the kind words about my Mom’s cream pie filling recipe and also for sharing this AMAZING dessert recipe. I’m going to try it tomorrow night! I can’t wait to make it and will share a photo when I do. THANK YOU again for your kindness in sharing!

  9. My mother died 33years ago and I still miss her. But I have all her handwritten recipes and it is so lovely and comforting to see my mother again in her recipes and enjoy a short visit from her. Sadly these days our recipes are typed and our children and grandchildren will miss this experience. Enjoy your cooking visits with your mother

    • Linda, you’re so right. It is such a shame that today’s recipes are typed or written on the computer instead of by hand. Those boxes of recipe cards are treasures for sure.

  10. As I was reading this, going through my mind was the time I spent reading through my dad’s recipes after his passing about four years ago. They were old, discolored and well used. I recently used his recipe for Hungarian Goulash (which was wonderful) and had him with me for dinner. I truly understand your connection to your mom’s recipes and the need to connect.

    Abundant blessings to you and your family.

    • Thank you SO much for sharing this memory and “dinner date with your Dad.” I loved reading it — and would love to know the recipe for his Hungarian Goulash, if you ever felt like sharing. THANK YOU for taking the time to write.

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