Getting flaky

Chapel Hill, N.C. author Nancie McDermott was winning over the room at Raleigh’s Quail Ridge Books on Saturday as she talked about her new cookbook, “Southern Pies: A Gracious Plenty of Pie Recipes, from Lemon Chess to Chocolate Pecan” (Chronicle, $22.95). The table full of pies from the book, that she’d baked for sampling later, was attracting gazes. Then McDermott said something that drew gasps: Crust doesn’t matter.

The biggest gasp came from my friend and neighbor, whom I call the Queen of Pie. She has been making pie crust from scratch since she was 10 years old and could do it in the dark.

Isn’t pie all about the crust?

McDermott explained that she meant that people should make and enjoy pie without stressing over creating The Perfect Pie Crust. The pressure of the crust often scares off cooks. Without that pressure, making pie is – well – easy as pie, especially when you compare it to the efforts frequently required to make even a simple cake. Cake is an opera; pie, a folk song.

Pie is a good filling, using things an even moderately well-stocked kitchen would have (sugar, lemon juice, buttermilk, canned pumpkin, peanut butter) inside a simple crust. It’s the weeknight dessert, not the towering special-occasion effort of a coconut or devil’s food cake.

There’s no fuss and bother about pie, just enjoyment. And McDermott encourages cooks to approach it that way. Her cookbook includes crust instructions, if you want to make your own. I do make pie crust…most of the time. I have to say, the refrigerated crusts are not bad at all. Don’t let a mere crust stand between you and pie.

The cookbook leans toward classic pies, with a whole section on variations of chess pie. There are a goodly number of chocolate pies and classic apple. But there are also some intriguing left-field pies, like Sweet Tea Pie and Summer Squash Custard Pie (another way to use up excessive summer squash without leaving it on neighbors’ doorsteps in the middle of the night).

When I left the signing, the Queen was having a word with the author over her crust statement – she had just won the QRB-sponsored pie contest and was flush with confidence. Emails were exchanged, but only sweet words.


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