Learning About Pie, Learning About Myself

I woke up like I do any other morning, except for a nagging dream that came to me in my sleep and wouldn’t disappear until I did something about it.

I needed to learn how to make pie.

Now I have no idea where this came from. But the way the whole thing worked out I’m beginning to see that this yearning for pie came from a higher power, or at least from deep inside my subconscious. And it needed to be addressed.

In my dream I became adept at taking summer fruit, putting it into a pie made with love and then handing them to others to enjoy, to share, to eat. I gave them to friends and strangers at picnics, made a few for our summer outings, and had one on the counter for anyone that stopped by and wanted a piece. I suspect this is exactly why people make pies but me? My pie skills were embarrassing. So embarrassing that I shied away from making them for others. How could I make something for others when clearly there are pie makers with generations of experience, expertise and knowledge?

It turns out my adventure – and my feelings of pie self-worthlessness – had absolutely nothing to do with pie and everything to do with me.

I love giving. No, really, I try to live my life with an open heart and give more than I take. But sometimes I feel that even though what I give comes from my heart, it’s wrapped inside digital 1’s and 0’s, delivered from a computer or measured in megapixels, bits, and blogging templates. I sometimes hide behind it, for reasons I cannot explain. Maybe my pie dream was life’s way of telling me to step away from the computer, to wander away from wifi, and share with my hands and my heart.

And maybe it was to learn about myself.

I sent out a quick tweet looking for pie guidance. Friends responded, all pointing to the one and only Kate McDermott from The Art Of Pie, Pie Maker and Teacher who is “Making the world a better place, one pie at a time.” Well hello there, Understatement. What Kate is doing may appear to be pie making on the buttery, flaky surface, but underneath there’s love, compassion, acceptance, and peace swirling around that sweet, fruit filling.

And oh how I needed it.

We arrived at our pie class after a quick sunny drive from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara. Kate splits time between Washington and California, making my pie pilgrimage that much easier. When Kate greeted us at the door it was as I had known her for years, but having plenty of mutual friends tends to do that. In a sense I already knew her and her pies from spending time on her website, but what can’t be translated easily on the internet is heart, spirit, and kindness. Look them up in a dictionary and I’m pretty sure you’ll see photos of Kate.

Adam brought along our required pie making tools, I brought along nervousness, apprehension and doubt. How will I make a pie with a master? Will she be like Lita Nillen, my 5th grade piano teacher whose favorite word was “NO!” which she uttered every time I played the wrong note, which was all too often? Will she be all smiles until I flub something up? More importantly, why was I so concerned, working myself up so much that I almost wanted to leave before I even arrived?

Why?

Before I had a chance to even think about it, Kate looked deep into my eyes and I immediately felt comfortable. Hey, I might be ok and learn something instead of relying on my usual toolkit of bad jokes, self-deprecation and humor.

I’ve made it this far, pie don’t fail me now.

A few hours of mixing, of squeezing butter and lard and flour made me feel at home. My questions were taken to heart, always answered with an explanation that combined love, humor, insight and science. No question was trivial, no concern deemed too silly. I ticked off my mental checklist of questions and realized something strange happens: when you are close friends with chefs, bakers, stylists and famous people like this you sometimes keep things to yourself for fear of nagging your best buds about shop talk. Wait, am I the only one that does this? Please tell me I’m not.

But of course I should know better. Food people are some of the most generous people on the planet. Kate exemplifies this.

A few hours of baking, laughing and some teary-eyed moments revealed pies that sang from the heavens, of angelic fillings and perfect crusts that proved why pies exist: to feed and bring people together. It’s not convenience food, it’s not meant to eat in your car or by yourself. It’s meant to share, to connect, to love, and I will forever thank Kate for helping me see this.

 

 

So what exactly did I learn about pies and myself in my time with Kate? Lest I ever forget some of the most important lessons I’m sharing them here. If you came looking for pie tips, tricks and recipes, well, you’re going to have meet Kate. I insist. But should you decide to take Kate’s class, you might find that the lessons learned aren’t so much about pie as much as they are about you. For that I’m eternally grateful.

When making pie, all ingredients must be chilled. Including you.
Science says that keeping the bowl, the fats and even your flour cold yield the best results. Science also says keeping yourself cool, relaxed and chilled makes everything better. And this was Kate’s #1 Rule and perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned. I’m hoping to incorporate more Chilled Matt in everything I do. I’m sure my body and spirit will thank me.

Put an intention in the bowl. Put an intention is everything you do.
I watched Kate put happy thoughts and an intention into her mixing bowl. It gave everything meaning and purpose and I have no doubt it makes everything taste sweeter. Imagine if we all did everything with some lovin’ and happy thoughts behind it? Imagine if we made every simple act count? I’m sure it requires thought but I can’t think of a single act that could make life sweeter than that.

Worrying about cracks in your dough before you even make a pie is senseless.
Boy, am I guilty of this. I always call this the “what-ifs” as in “what if this photo doesn’t turn out the way I need it to” or “what if I’m late and ruin the surprise” or, well, you know where I’m going with this. Worry and concern in front of a situation that might not yield worry and concern is just futile. Don’t do it. Enjoy each moment and hope for the best. Because… (see next rule)

Just Make Pie.
I could think of a million reasons to not make pie: Would it be good enough? Would my crust be a soggy mess? Or I could just get in the damn kitchen and do it. And this is what Kate means when she says this. Why make it difficult? Just make pie. Do it. It’s only pie.

You’re making the pie. It’s not the other way around.
I witnessed Kate slap dough onto the counter, lovingly yet forcefully pat it into place, and mend gaps and cracks in crusts during the class. She was in charge of her pie, no matter what it was trying to do. There’s a very important lesson to be learned here: a myriad of ingredients, processes, steps and science could be seen as daunting if you let it take over. Just like life. You’re in charge of your own destiny. Plain and simple.

Adjust Your Attitude First, Recipe Second.
I had minor freakouts over textures and shapes and worried they weren’t turning out properly. Kate sensed my nervousness and simply asked me to readjust my outlook. And you know what? A deep breath, a mental repositioning and nice words of encouragement were all I needed to continue or fix something. Had I not listened I would have tried to fix what was inside the bowl without ever looking at what was wrong outside of it.

Irregularity, differences, odd shapes, sizes and varieties all make a single pie taste great.
I was shocked when I asked Kate which apples make a great pie. I was equally shocked when I asked what sizes fit well into pies. “All of them!” she replied, stating that soggy pieces, firm pieces, tart pieces and sweet pieces all have a place together under the crust. They all help to make one delicious pie. And it gave me pause; there’s room for everyone and everything in this world, no matter how different we are. That’s some heavy, tasty stuff, isn’t it?

Words of gratitude, appreciation and love for the one and only Kate McDermott. Thank you for sharing so much with us and with the world. You made it one of the best days of my life and I’m well on my way to learning the gift of pie. And world, if you have a chance to learn with Kate, please do. Follow her on twitter here. Her website is The Art Of Pie.

Comments

  1. says

    Pie is my favorite thing to make. I am always surprised by what I assume to be the “irrational fear” they create in others.

    Your post was lovely and inspired me to run right over and put my name on the waiting list for one of her classes since I am lucky enough to live within an hour of Seattle.

    Great pictures as always. Thanks for sharing.

  2. says

    Matt, you made us laugh so hard with your comment “…you’re making the pie, it’s not the other way around…!” Refreshing to know others have gone through this experience as well, be it with pies or other culinary trials. Enjoyed your post and tips, thank you for sharing.

  3. says

    Hi Susan- Just saw your comment on Matt’s blog here about the pie class he had with me. After 2.5 yrs of working on this pie crust, I found out I needed to be gf. I wanted to be able to eat pie again myself (who wouldn’t!) so I spent another year working on a gf crust. I now teach this class as well. Good luck on making yours. I would love to hear about your gf pie explorations! Be Happy, Make Pie!

  4. Debbie Turner says

    I’m so glad I stumbled upon this blog. A community of pie enthusiasts! HALLELUJAH!! Matt, like you, I try to give more than I take…but not when it comes to pie. My grandma was an expert at pie-baking and she gave me some great pointers when I was a young. She would lather her dough with a homemade glaze (coconut oil and almond extract base, with some special ingredients that to this day I don’t understand how she figured out how to mix together) and it makes the most incredible crust when oven-baked. Out of this world good. I’ve used that recipe for decades and am entering one of her special pies in the Real Women of Philadelphia cooking contest in a few weeks (don’t tell Paula Deen it’s my grandma’s recipe!!)… everyone wish me luck! Praise pies!

  5. says

    These pies truly are a work of art. Almost too beautiful to eat! My neighbor is a champion at pie-baking. I have to tell her about your website.

  6. says

    Those pies look phenomenal! I occasionally buy supermarket pie for ~£1, but they’re nowhere near as good as home made ones. My mum makes an amazing rhubarb pie, I’d love a slice right now!

  7. Brooke@foodwoolf says

    I love you, your heart, your words, and your insights. Thank you for sharing what you learned about yourself–you give me insights I can apply to myself. Now. To. Make. Pie!!!
    Xoxoxo

  8. says

    Great post! I too have shied away from pie in the past, leaning towards crumbles and buckles, but I’d love to learn to make a real pie… maybe this is my year!

  9. says

    Matt,
    Nice work. Pie is a very dear subject to my heart (and stomach). My grandmother taught me how to make pies when I was in college–my roommates loved her for that! The subject of pie does raise the debate a writer friend (Wayne Geyer) and I have had for years … “Cake or Pie?” I think it goes without saying which side I defend. :)
    – Kyle
    ps. I sure could use a slice of rhubarb pie with a scoop of Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla right about now.

  10. Lorane says

    You have helped ease my pie fears!! lol it is comforting to know that someone else worried like I did about pies.

  11. says

    I, too, have decided to become a pie-maker. Piepiepiepiepie, indeed. I’m excited to get started and your post gives me some hope it won’t be a disaster. I will print out your tips and post them on the fridge!

  12. Sue says

    Your pie looks so yummy! I have been making pies for years and never thought anything of it and now I realize how amazing I am! :) I just remembered how as a newlywed I attended a family function of my new in laws and my father in law tasted one of my pies and told his wife they were the best she ever made. Much to her disgust lol.

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