The connections of life

How I learned to make a pie crust:

8 years ago, Gail and I were out in Walnut Creek,  looking for a driving school to sign Toby up so he could get his learners permit.  I saw a sign for a new art gallery, and we stopped.

There we met Meredith, the owner.

Later, Meredith introduced us to the Ruth Bancroft Garden.

The Garden introduced us to Becky Rice.

Becky introduced us to John Harrington, then she married him.

Six months ago, Becky had a baby, Daphne.

Last week, we went over to visit them, and take a few baby photos.

Daphne Harrington

Daphne Harrington

Becky is from a little burg in Georgia; she was talking about shelling pecans with her mom, and ended up giving me a bag of great home grown pecans.

“Great”, I though, “I’ll make a pecan pie”.

Then I realized: I don’t know how to make a pecan pie.  Sure, I could Google a recipe and buy a pie crust, but that’s not really doing it the right way. I want to know how to make a crust from scratch and make it good.

Playing cards the next afternoon, I noticed Nancy Munson.  You’d think a great baker would be built like the Pillsbury Doughboy, but appearances can be deceiving.  Nancy, all trim 96 pounds of her, is the best baker in the county.  She could teach me how to make a pie crust.

So I bribed her.  I said I’d make a leg of lamb for her and her husband if she’d show me how to bake a pecan pie.  Lucky me, she said yes.  Promptly at 6, team Munson showed up with two shopping bags of stuff for the making of pie:

Starting supplies

Starting supplies.  Nancy carries her own mixer.


More necessities of baking

More necessities of baking.


The key to all of this is the crust, of course, and that’s what I wanted to learn.  Nothing mechanical here–Nancy starts with 1 1/2 cups of flour, 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 a cup of Crisco.  Not lard, not butter, just pure vegetable Crisco.  Listen to the master and learn.  She cuts the Crisco into the flour with a pastry cutter, not a Cuisinart.  Adds the water  and works it all as little as possible.

Rolling out the dough between sheet of waxed paper.

Rolling out the dough between sheet of waxed paper.


The dough is quickly rolled out and put in the pan, then left to rest a bit while she made the filling.

The filling is comprised of a cup of dark brown sugar, a cup of light Karo syrup, a dash of salt, 1/3 cup of melted butter, 1 teaspoon of vanilla and 3 beaten eggs.  Mix it all together, put it in the pie pan and add a cup or so of pecans until it looks right.

On pie, ready for the oven.

On pie, ready for the oven.


Forty five minutes at 350, and you get this:

The perfect pecan pie

The perfect pecan pie


You are supposed to let a pie cool.  That wasn’t going to happen–the pie went in and 10 minutes later the lamb leg came out, so we sat down to eat.  I got the pie out and on the window sill for just a few minutes, but once we finished the meal nobody could wait, and we dug into the still warm, sweet, sticky, savory, delicious pecan pie.  The filling doesn’t really set until it cools, but we didn’t mind.  Here’s what it looked like 20 minutes later:

Nancy's personal Pi plate

Nancy’s personal Pi plate


Now I know how to make crust like an expert, although I expect I need practice.  There are some pies in my future, I should think.

The string of events in life that led from Toby’s learners permit to Nancy’s pecan pie would certainly be impossible to predict or foresee.  Just another little curiosity as we pass through.


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