Some new traditions developed when we lived on the farm. The year was 1976, John and I were in year 7 of wedded bliss. Shannon was in kindergarten and Joshua had just turned 1. Of all the places we ever rented before buying a home, the 2 story farm house was one of the nicest. But also one of the most isolated. Hubs was working in Cedar Rapids which was about 40 miles away. This farm was several miles outside of Cascade, Iowa. In sticksville.
|Shannon 7, Joshua 2 on the farm, 1977…|
The farm house sat next to a smaller place (for the farmers hired hand), both houses surrounded by fields, a grove of fruit trees and swine. Lots of swine. And let’s not forget a nice herd of cattle and feral cats. All new to this townie. The pitiful driveway was so long and curvy, I could not see the gravel road from the house. About the loneliest I’ve ever been. Both our families lived 350 miles away. I would not have made a good pioneer woman, although I probably learned more during the 2 years on the farm than I have since. About lots of things.
|My Dad, teasing Joshua, 2 in 1977 on the farm…|
We were close to destitute, the commute was killing us in more ways than the cost of gas, keeping our junker car running and John being gone 12 hours a day. I had no car so I was literally stuck. When I think about that now I almost panic. What would I’ve done had Shannon gotten sick at school? Couldn’t even go pick her up. I did have a couple good friends but they lived about 20 miles away. Dang. Heh, we were young and dumb.
I pushed Josh in his stroller everyday as we walked Shannon to the road to catch the school bus. I wore out 2 umbrella strollers because the drive way was one pothole after another and jutted with rocks the size of baseballs. If Joshua was napping when the bus was due my heart would start racing. I’d wait until the last second possible, slip out of the house, jog along the edge of the driveway getting smacked by cornstalks, but the terrain was more even. Encouraged Shannon to book it back to the house with me before some un-named, un-seen ne’er-do-well turned me in for leaving my child unattended.
It was at the farm where I really learned to cook and bake. There was nothing else to do with all my time besides the copious number of letters I wrote. For 2 years I never bought a loaf of bread. Yeast was my best friend. Cinnamon and caramel rolls, hamburger buns and dinner rolls were made as easily as a box of mac & cheese. I soon realized the more often you make something, the better you become at that task. I could ‘feel’ if the dough needed another half cup of flour by the texture. Of course there were consequences with this new found talent. Hubs and I each gained 20 pounds during our 2 year carb-fest. Homemade bread with butter, now there’s a meal in itself. When you add goulash, pot roast, spaghetti, well it wasn’t hard to see where exactly those extra calories were coming from. But my desire and dedication to become a better baker and cook became important to me as a woman, wife and mom. Huh. Strange days.
So while I was becoming an expert in the world of yeast breads, gorgeous fruit was ripening before my eyes in our tree grove. I asked Bob (the sadistic farmer who owned a thousand acres) if I could pick some apples? He said sure (he was nicer to me than he was to his wife, Mary Ann. Actually Bob was nicer to everyone than he was to her, and he really wasn’t very nice at all). Anyway, there were several varieties of apple trees, and I tried them all, my sights set on becoming a good pie baker.
Of all the apple trees, one really stood out. Wooing me like Adam & Eve in the garden of Eden. I can’t say for sure if it was a Granny Smith but it was a large, tart green apple. After I made the first pie, I realized it wasn’t quite sweet enough, so I increased the sugar amount by a quarter cup. Yes, that’s the ticket. My pie crusts however took a bit more time to perfect. Crusts were kinda tricky for me. Not enough flour on the counter and they’d stick, too much and they didn’t fold easily and would crack trying to slide it on the pie plate. We ate our way through some mighty unattractive pies 40 years ago. But like feeling the texture of bread dough, my hands knew when the texture was right for pie dough too. That last tablespoon of water might be too much one day or not quite enough the next. Fickle stuff. But I continued to bake and learn.
I remember discovering sometimes a brand name makes a difference. Back then, I don’t recall a lot of different brands, or very many of their own ‘store brand’ products in stores. I know there was Spry and Crisco for shortening, and you could buy lard, but that just sounded gross. (There are women who swear by using lard in their pie crusts, including my sister, but I never jumped on that bandwagon). I tried a couple different brands and was convinced Crisco made the best pie crusts, still feel that way today. Though to be brutally honest, I’m loathe to try something new this late in the game. I just stick with Crisco.
My Mom was a good cook and baker, though didn’t bake too often. She excelled with candies, Fudge, Penuche and Divinity. Also a 7-minute cake frosting which very much resembles divinity, (which I’ve always been hesitant to try). After Mom made a pie, she gathered up the leftover crusts bits. When rolling out a crust you make it a couple inches bigger than your pie pan, then trim it after it’s in the plate, leaving enough extra to fold under the plate edge and crimp (yes, with a fork). Thus you end up with quotation mark shaped pieces ranging from small scraps to some several inches in length. After the pie was out of the oven, Mom would takes these leftover dough bits, dab a bit of milk on them, then sprinkle sugar, and cinnamon on top and bake them. Almost better than the pie. For real.
|Penuche, some kind of wonderful. Too sweet? Nah…|
After I mastered decent pie crusts, I made all these tiny scraps exactly the same way Mom did. And my kids loved them. (Me too). That all changed when Shannon had Landon 17 years ago, though it took me a couple of years to figure it out. Landon (Drew to the rest of the world) has some allergies, so finding foods, especially treats became a challenge. One I embraced seriously. Always on the lookout for different ways to fix the foods he could have. And take care of his sweet tooth with something other than chocolate.
When Landon was still in preschool, Shannon would come to our house for a weekend of pie making during the fall. With 2 of us tackling peeling and pie crusting duties, it didn’t take long before we had a couple dozen cooling on the counters. The amount of leftover scraps (I find you can’t keep re-rolling pie crust dough-it gets tough, even though I’m a pretty good judge of pinching off just enough for tops and bottoms) was staggering. By this time the boys were grown and out on their own, so the fun of making all this extra sugary pie crusts was a moot point. And neither Hubs nor I needed more carbs when we were grazing through good sized pie wedges like we were prepping for a pie eating contest as serious contenders.
|Above the pie are the scraps I used to dink with…|
Since Ariana and Landon were along for the weekend, I decided to make some sweet crusts for them. Oh-oh. Looks like Landon had found something good, sweet and right up his alley. He loved them. Ate them as fast as he could until they were gone. Then asked for more. Instead of dabbing milk on top though, I switched to water. I dab milk all over my top pie crust, then sprinkle the top with sugar. As it bakes, the crust gets a bit shiny, crusty and sweet. I don’t know why I do this, just always have. Maybe Mom made pies this way. I think most people use an egg wash. I never jumped on that bandwagon either. Egg wash sounds gross.
That was the beginning. What had I started? Indeed. That little boy was possessed with pie crusts. Still is. Used to be the first thing he’d say as he walked in the house. “Got any pie crusts grandma?” But now he’s gotten sneaky about it. Because he had a little sister named Peyton who also likes pie crusts. And he doesn’t care to share. I supposed he feels somewhat entitled. Peyton loves chocolate. I usually make her a batch of fudge when they came for a visit. According to Landon, the pie crusts were just supposed to belong to him. It wasn’t like he had a dozen treat choices with which to indulge.
|Kind of looks like Michigan…|
When they were kids, I thought Josh and Adam ranked near the top in their uncanny abilities to hide stuff-right out in the open. Most often the items in need of being stowed away from their brother’s view and memory were leftover food. I know, they were just a couple of nuts! The lengths they would go to, the time, and thought process. Masterminds-both of them. Spaghetti was the top vote getter. Their favorite supper and ANY LEFTOVER was well worth dying for. Ok, that’s maybe a stretch but they made hiding that leftover their main goal in life-to keep said leftover out of the mouth of their brother. Countless times when they were growing up I’d find a container, green with mold because they had hidden it so well, then promptly forgotten about it. That part wasn’t a priority though, as long as their brother didn’t get to eat it. I swear as God is my witness this is the gospel truth.
It’s no longer efficient or worthwhile to continue to use pie crust scraps. Whenever I’m making scratch pies, I simply dedicate the equivalent of 3 9” crusts for Landon’s treats. Roll out the crust in a large rectangle as if I was making a slab pie for a party of 50. Fold it, slide it on parchment paper and onto my biggest cookie sheet. Dab on the water, sugar, cinnamon, more sugar, then cut it in bar size pieces. Bake it for 15 minutes or so, let it cool and start filling his container.
Landon has taken hiding pie crusts to a whole ‘nother level, which is kind of odd because in truth he’s the only one who feels their life is not complete without cinnamon-sugar pie crusts. He might just be bordering on paranoia. If the family is here for a holiday, he rarely asks about crusts anymore. The sports jock saunters in and immediately heads downstairs to check out the freezers, if he doesn’t spot the 9 x 13 rectangular old Tupperware container on the counter. Landon then makes it his mission to ensure not one other person in this house gets nary a whiff of pie crusts. Landon’s hidden the container under beds, in cars, shoe boxes, outside, behind pillows on beds. He’s quite inventive. Every few minutes he’ll just appear, walking through a room, sporting a dusting of cinnamon and sugar. Chewing, smug and contented. Goofball kid, always playing his crazy gram…