Baking A Pretty Pie

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Just like any self-respecting farm girl, I have made many pies. Some have been runny, some have not. Some have been overly sweet, some have been tart. I dare say that none have been pretty, as a matter of fact, a couple only looked good when smothered in ice cream.

I knew that Patsy Orns made pies for a lot of functions that I attended. They not only tasted good, they also looked good. So, when I heard that she was giving pie making classes, I only had one choice — “Sign me up!”

Was I ever in for an eye opener. Pie making is definitely an art in itself. “That’s why I started to give classes,” she says. “So many people have asked me if I would teach them how to make a pie that I decided that maybe there just was a market for them.”

She really started getting serious about the pie business when she and Frank, her husband of 24 years, first got together. His favorite was peach pie and that was a common request of his. “It’s not so special to me anymore,” he concedes, “because now I know I can have it whenever I want!”

Another event that prompted her was when they ordered from restaurants, which was a rarity for them. Egg custard is an easy pie to make, yet when they split a piece from a prominent Indiana restaurant there was hardly any filling in it.

“I really enjoy a good red raspberry pie too,” Patsy confesses. “One year we went to Traverse City and we tried one of theirs and it turned out to be mostly gel with hardly any fruit. Not that I am being picky, but a berry pie should be mostly fruit.”

So, she got the bug, knowing that she could bake a better pie. When she makes a fruit pie it is mostly fruit. Every one of her peach pies boasts a full two quarts of peaches. I chose apple for my learning experience. After we peeled and sliced we had a whole bowl full of apples that I just knew would never fit into one pie. Wrong again. Frank has a unique outlook on all this fruit though, “Patsy’s pies are not desserts, but rather fruits. So, you can eat as much as you want,” he laughs, though I am not too sure that he isn’t serious.

Her philosophy is that a pie should not only taste good but also must look good. To achieve this, the secret is in the crust. When it comes to this important part she has two golden rules; don’t be afraid of the pie and follow the recipe exactly, especially when it comes to measuring ingredients.

Her crust recipe is simple; 2 cups flour, 2/3 cup Crisco, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/3 cup cold milk. Using milk instead of water is what sets her recipe apart. Although it calls for 1/3 cup milk, this is only a guideline because on warm, humid days the crust needs less liquid and vice versa. Also, the way the flour is measured comes into play. She uses the “short cut to sifting” method which is filling the measuring cup with another cup so as not to pack the flour too tightly.

After the crust ingredients are cut together, she separates the dough into two equal portions and then works each part with her hands until it becomes a round disc with all corners tucked under and it is smooth underneath. After this step she uses a smart pin, which is rolling pin with interchangeable discs that fit on either end to achieve the desired thickness.

One of my other biggest challenges was trying to achieve the desired consistency for the filling. Patsy basically uses flour to thicken apple and peach pies and tapioca in cherry, blueberry and blackberry pies. The key here is to remember that tapioca has to soak before it thickens so it is best to let the filling set for 15 minutes before filling the crust to bake.

Now comes the making it pretty part. Her secret here is to tuck the top crust under the edge of the bottom and then use the thumb and forefinger to hold the outside while pushing the crust between these two with the forefinger of the other hand. This gives the perfect crimped edge. She made a pie along with me and I watched her do this with ease. It looked so simple. It definitely was … for her. I, on the other hand, will need quite a bit more practice which, I am sure, my family won’t mind.

I also learned how to avoid the “towering crust” when baking an apple pie. You know, when the top crust bakes way above the apples with space underneath. “You just pat the top crust down until it touches the apples and that will prevent this problem, she explains.

As for the decorative vents in the top crust, all of Patsy’s pies have her signature cross cut in. She glows, “God gave me this talent, so my cross in every pie is my thank you to Him!”

Even though she didn’t win the contest, her apple pie was held back as a finalist in one of Zehnder’s Restaurant’s apple pie contests in Frankenmuth, Michigan. “That was truly an honor to me and I had so much fun participating,” she says.

She has a thick binder with all of her pie recipes in. She tries various recipes for different varieties and when she truly finds a winner it makes it to the book. “Everyone has their thing,” she explains, “Baking pies is my way of relaxing. Any time I feel stressed I just start a pie and I don’t know if it is working with the dough or seeing the final creation, but I always feel better after I bake.”

Frank has a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye but he doesn’t say a word. I get the feeling that he is the lucky recipient in this venture more often than not.

I told her that I thought it was great that she and Frank were willing to open their home for her to do these classes. “Why would I not want to share a talent that God has given me?” she asks.

Knowing Patsy, she wouldn’t have it any other way. I can’t remember when I have enjoyed a morning more. We had the wonderful aroma in the kitchen, great conversation and I learned that making a pie is more than just dumping some filling into a crust. Isn’t it too bad that I will have to keep practicing until I get it right!