Feeding people makes me happy. I always liked being able to make things that smell good and please others. During my long marriage, I had happily cooked dinners, lunches, breakfasts, desserts, appetizers, picnic lunches, dog biscuits, diet foods and multiple course company dinners. I loved sharing food I had made. I kept people (and dogs) in mind as I cooked and offered food as an offering of love.
“Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.” ― M.F.K. Fisher
In 2014, after a divorce and because of the the great good fortune to be able to do so, I took a “sabbatical” from working, with the intention of spending time with my aging parents and to reconnect with things that filled my soul rather than emptying me out. I hadn’t realized the energizing power that would come with the huge gift of TIME. I could return to the things I used to love: painting, gardening, being close to friends, volunteering, learning, photographing, all of which were now possible in days which I could direct. My happiness came in re-finding things I had loved but had had no time for. And cooking was one of those things.
I wanted to cook again, to make things to share with others. But where to start? What about starting with something that carried good memories for me? What about pies?
Closing my eyes, I could taste the delicious lemon meringue pies my mother used to make. When a pie was reverentially presented, a collective “oooooohhh” would emanate from those at the table. I could suck the sweet meringue through my teeth, then plunge my fork into the custardy lemon filling that always had lots of lemon zest in it. And the crust was so good–thin, almost whafer-like, and slightly sweet. I doubt anything tastes better than a mother’s pie.
“Mother took the pie out of the oven and it hissed fragrant apple, maple, cinnamon steam through the knife cuts in the top crust. She was making her world beautiful. She was making her world delicious. It could be done, and if anyone could do it, she could.” ― J.J. Brown
But because I hadn’t made a pie in a long, long time, I didn’t know where to begin again. It seemed daunting to do–especially the dreaded crust. The cruicial thing seemed to me to be making a great, thin crust. Was the best crust made with Crisco? Or Crisco and butter? Or, ick, lard? I would have to research pie crust recipes.
It seemed to me that my mother must have used Crisco, a name the instantly conjured a plastic feel on my toungue. But I’d lived in France since childhood, and I remembered the incomparable pasty crusts over there–the insanely, buttery delicious taste. And then my research yielded this crazy new thing (and delicious thing) about making pie crusts with ice cold vodka.
The research continued as I read books about pies, visited pie shops, and sampled pie after pie, always asking proprietors about the crust. I was more concerned about the crust than what was inside. In all the sampling, I found my mouth preferred the butter crusts.
“It could be argued that there is an element of entertainment in every pie, as every pie is inherently a surprise by virtue of its crust.” ― Janet Clarkson,
After a while, I began to realize that “doing research” was a delaying tactic, that I was afraid of failing. That pie crust would be too hard. Still, the call to bake was strong, so I put down the books, put on an apron, got into the kitchen and began.
I won’t sugar-coat the tale of my two-crust pie baking experiments. Crust weren’t easy for me. And they still aren’t super easy. It’s the rolling out part that I have not yet mastered. I can roll out a cold disc of pastry dough between two sheets of waxed paper, but darn it, I can’t roll out a circle–or even anything like a circle. And the two crusts (not being circle-like) never really fit securely together at the edges to keep the juices from escaping. And they often burned–or got real tan.
So now I make galettes, a single crust, free-form kind of pie, sometimes called a “rustic tart.” With the pressure off geometric perfection, I am able to fully embrace baking.I can whip up a galette in no time flat.
I delight in finding the fruit I’m going to use and in thinking of pairing it with another fruit, or perhaps a snippet of mint from the garden. As I prepare the fruit, I smell its aroma and think of a spice that might bring out a flavor. Rolling out the single, butter filled crust is stress-free because I am not failing at making a circle to fit inside a certain width pie pan.
And, in fact, I love the taste of apple galettes even more than two-crust apple pies. The galette cooks the apples more directly so the sugar in them, plus the little bit of sugar I add, becomes lightly caramelized. Also, with the open galette, you can really taste the particular flavor of the fruit or kind of apple you’ve chosen because they are not smothered in crust.
In a two-crust pie, the fruit sort of steam cooks, the final cooked pie is more watery/juicy and, to my taste, less flavorful. The crust above and below seems to snuff out the distinct flavor of the fruit inside.
“We must have a pie. Stress cannot exist in the presence of a pie.” ― David Mamet
If you’ve been hesitant to bake a pie for any reason, but particularly if it just seems too hard to make that crust, give a galette a try. You can bake a galette with whatever fruit is in season: peaches, rhubarb, plums, apples, etc. And you can combine fruits for some tasty surprises.
Here’s a recipe for an Apple Galette from Bon Appetite that is easy and makes a lovely buttery crust: http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/apple-galette
For a video to encourage your foray into single crust galettes, here’s an Ina Garten Apple Crostata (the Italian word for galette) recipe that includes a video tutorial: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/apple-crostata-recipe.html
And here is both a crust AND a terrific peach galette recipe from Stella Parks on seriouseats.com: http://www.seriouseats.com/2016/08/how-to-make-a-freeform-peach-pie-galette.html
Serving guests a slice of warm galette is an impressive, delicious and always welcome finishing touch to a meal that often gets the “oooohhs” and “ahhhhs” my mother’s pies used to get.