Fifteen years ago, Karen Edelman baked her first apple pie. It was a lattice-crusted beauty, oozing with Granny Smiths, cinnamon, sour cream and brown sugar, decorated with pastry cut into maple leaves.
Over the years, more and more friends came by to watch her bake and request a pie for their own family’s Thanksgiving. Karen’s pies became so popular that she was overwhelmed. So she invited her friends over to learn to make their own pies. Pie Day, as it is now known, was born.
“I figured once they knew how to make it themselves, I would be back to just making my own. Nice plan, but I totally missed the point.” Her friends liked the experience of baking pies together, the marathon of peeling and coring apples and all. They asked to come back again the next year because they had so much fun. Karen’s goal of getting people into their own kitchens never happened, but a wonderful tradition came to be.
These days, Karen takes the most pleasure in having self-proclaimed “kitchen phobics” come to Pie Day. These novices are used to bringing wine – not a culinary work of art – to special dinners like Thanksgiving. “Seeing the amazement on their faces when the pie comes out of the oven, perfectly constructed and made with love, that to me is priceless,” she said.
To introduce this tradition to others, The Buzz Magazines recently invited local residents to join Karen in the kitchen for a special session of Pie Day. Four pairs of women gathered to make Karen’s apple pie. Each pair was made of two friends – one who already knew how to bake and one who didn’t.
One of the bakers was entertainer-extraordinaire Susan Whitney, who loves to prepare food for others. She doesn’t do anything simply, and instead draws wows even when bringing snacks to her children’s sports games. Instead of the standard bags of goldfish, Susan once served players root beer floats from a table decorated with an old-fashioned straw dispenser.
Susan’s Pie Day partner was Kasey Kelso, who, as the sign in her home reads, “has a kitchen because it came with the house.” Kasey was a bit hesitant about Pie Day and doubted her ability to create an elaborate dessert. But the two divided up tasks and created picture-perfect Thanksgiving pies.
Susan assumed the role of mentor and Kasey that of attentive listener. “How do you know when the dough is ready?” Kasey asked. Susan leaned in and said, “When it sort of sticks together.” They took turns rolling and stretching the dough to make the crust.
When it was time to assemble the pie, the ladies realized they had forgotten to save enough pastry dough for a top crust. Kasey looked a little panicked, but Susan smiled and suggested a little improvisation. She calmly pinched off some of the excess bottom crust and rolled it into something that would work for the top. All was well, and the baking continued.
Kasey confessed to cooking almost nothing at home. And when she does cook dinner, it gets less than great reviews. “Just last night, I made vegetarian bolognese sauce over fettuccine, and no one would eat it,” she said. “My daughter looked at it and opted instead to pour some Ragu sauce over the pasta.”
When Kasey came home from Pie Day with her creation, her husband, Jarrett, declared it the “best thing ever.” Her son, Jackson, was also impressed and later said, “I was surprised, because she usually only makes macaroni and cheese.” As for Kasey, she enjoyed making the pie, but doesn’t see a love of baking in her future. “I wouldn’t have as much fun by myself, but it’s definitely something I would do again with friends,” she said.
Friends for 20 years, Denise Traylor Whetsell and Kathleen Hartgrove also had a great time baking pies together. Denise loves to cook, and while Kathleen isn’t opposed to the idea, her husband usually takes over in the kitchen. “I have no need to cook,” said Kathleen, laughing. When Ron enters the kitchen, Kathleen becomes the sous chef and helps with washing and chopping vegetables.
On Pie Day, Kathleen and Denise spent the day as they have spent many others – laughing and enjoying each other’s company. There were moments of quiet, however, when Kathleen concentrated on placing the apples in perfect symmetry. At the end of the day, their favorite part was reminiscing about good times together.
Denise developed a love of baking from her grandmother. “I spent a lot of time baking cakes with her when I was a child,” she said. Denise’s cooking got more advanced with time, and now she regularly turns out impressive meals. Several years ago, Denise, Kathleen and a group of friends went camping, and everyone was responsible for fixing a meal. After meals of traditional camping food, it became Denise’s turn to cook. When she presented her dinner, Kathleen and the others were speechless. The campers dined on grilled swordfish with three-colored tomatillo sauce and balsamic dressing.
While Kathleen doesn’t do lots of cooking, she is capable. Each year, she and her husband, along with Denise and her husband, get together with friends for a Christmas dinner-party feast. “I definitely work hard on that dinner. It’s a big deal and fun to impress the others,” Kathleen said.
Neighbors Laura Mendoza and Yvette McMahan have a unique cooking and eating relationship. Laura bakes, and Yvette gladly accepts the leftovers. “I don’t bake,” said Yvette. “Why would I when Laura lives right across the street?” Laura constantly experiments with different recipes and sends something over to Yvette’s family at least once a week. “My kids are spoiled and only want Laura’s cakes,” Yvette said.
This baking duo enjoyed success with the apple pie they made at Pie Day. Laura taught Yvette why the top crust is important. “It covers the apples and steams them.”
“I bake two or three times a week,” said Laura. Her interest in baking comes from having a father with an intense sweet tooth.
She baked him many cakes, and he offered feedback on how to improve the next one. But a baking failure is what inspired Laura to learn more. “I made a two-layer cake, and it imploded,” she said. Laura was so frustrated at the cake’s collapse that she vowed to never have a failed cake experience again. Then she enrolled in a cake-decorating class.
Hundreds of cakes later, Laura still enjoys baking, not only because she shares her father’s sweet tooth, but because it’s a way to share time and love with her family. “Some of our best times are eating things I’ve made in the kitchen. Food makes memories,” she says.
Yvette cooks dinner but doesn’t enjoy baking. Preparing for Pie Day, however, ended up being fun. She and Laura got together the night before to make the pastry dough in advance. “We made it from scratch while we drank wine. It was great!” said Yvette. This apple pie was the first successful one Yvette had ever made.
Food has formed a bond between friends Sarah Simon and Michele Luke. Their husbands enjoy fishing together and frequently come home with massive amounts of fish. Sarah and Michele have to figure out what to do with it. Michele has been an avid cook for years and sees the fishing trips as a way to experiment with different recipes. “I love to create sauces.
There are so many different ways to serve fish,” she said.
But baking is a different story. Sarah refers to herself as a “new baker” as she has been at it only for about six months. With young children at home, she rarely had time to experiment in the kitchen, but now they’re all in school, and baking has become a new hobby. At Pie Day, Sarah was intrigued by all the gadgets in the kitchen. The apple corer/peeler/slicer was especially impressive, even though she cut one of her fingers figuring out how it works.
Friend Michele wants her children to be involved in her tradition of baking. “I’ve started some holiday food traditions with my own family, like a wonderful pecan praline pumpkin pie,” Michele said.
After sharing Pie Day with Sarah, the two friends plan to get together before Thanksgiving for their own version of the day. “We will definitely bake together for the holiday,” says Michele. “We’ll let the kids run around and play while we’re in the kitchen.”
After all eight women finished preparing their pies and put them in the ovens, a sense of relief spread across the room. As the pies baked, the smell of cinnamon filled the air, and the bakers took turns peeking in the ovens, admiring their bubbling apples and browning crusts. When the pies came out of the ovens, there was pride (and some astonishment) at what they had created.
Everyone left Pie Day with a dessert for their families. They also left with memories of baking alongside a friend. And that is what Pie Day, when it comes down to it, is all about.
Sour Cream Apple Pie
Recipe by Karen Edelman
2 1⁄2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
5 tablespoons granulated sugar
3⁄4 teaspoon salt
3⁄4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 tablespoons well-chilled unsalted butter
6 tablespoons well-chilled shortening
4 to 6 tablespoons well-chilled apple juice
Mix the flour, sugar, salt and cinnamon into a mixing bowl. Cut in the butter and shortening with a pastry cutter or fork until mixture resembles rolled oats.
Moisten mixture with just enough apple juice to toss the ingredients lightly with a fork to permit the dough to be formed into a ball. Wrap the dough ball with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours (dough can be made a day in advance and rolled into crusts later).
Cut off 1⁄3 of the dough, rewrap and place in the refrigerator. Roll out the other two thirds between 2 sheets of wax paper (or a well-floured surface). Roll the dough into a circle large enough to fit your pie pan. Spray the pie pan with cooking spray and carefully lay the pastry dough into the pan. Trim the overhang or crimp the pastry edges decoratively. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
3 large Granny Smith apples
3 large Honey Crisp apples
1 cup sour cream
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1⁄3 cup granulated sugar
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon good quality vanilla extract
3 tablespoons unbleached flour
Peel, core and thinly slice the apples. Put them in a large mixing bowl and set aside. Whisk together the sour cream, eggs, sugar, salt, vanilla and flour in a mixing bowl. Discard any apple juice that has collected in the bottom of the bowl with the apple slices. Pour the sour cream/egg mixture into the bowl with the apples and toss well by hand to coat thoroughly. Spoon the filling into the crust, filling it as much as possible. Drizzle any filling left over on top.
3 tablespoons brown sugar, light or dark
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup pecan pieces
Mix everything and sprinkle the topping evenly over the apple filling.
Note: Nuts are optional.
Assembling the Top Crust:
Roll out the remaining pastry on a well-floured surface (or in between sheets of wax paper) to form a 12-inch circle, or larger. Cut the circle into 1⁄2 inch strips. Arrange the strips in a lattice design over the apple filling and topping. It is easiest to lay the strips in one direction first (horizontally), then in the other direction (laterally) to create a lattice. Trim the ends of the strips and crimp into the pie pastry edge. Using a pastry brush, brush the crust strips and edges with a little egg wash (1 egg mixed with a little water).
Set the pie on the middle oven rack. Bake at 350 degrees for 60-65 minutes. If the top of the pastry becomes brown, cover loosely with foil. Pie is done when the juices are bubbling and apples are tender. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Editor’s note: We hope this story inspires your own Pie Day. If it does, take some pictures and send them, along with your contact information, to info@the buzzmagazines.com.