There is a story that has become legend in my family over the years. The year was 1970. My parents were newly married and sharing an apartment not far from where my Dad had his first (and turns out only, he would retire some 35 years later) job teaching sociology at the local university. I was just a twinkle in my Dad’s eye at this point. It was a hot summer. A neighbor brought over a container of apricots to share with the new kids in the building. My Mom turned them into a from-scratch pie. Dad, who previously had favored chocolate pie, never looked back. Perhaps the memory has grown sweeter over the years, but to hear him tell it today it was close to the best thing he’s ever eaten. Apricot pie has been his favorite ever since.
This story and the aftermath had both good and bad repercussions for me. On the bad side is that I’m not personally that fond of apricot pie. It’s usually a little on the tart side. Really I’m not that big on pie in general, yet growing up with him it was on the menu a fair amount. On the good side, it’s an easy gift to give to a guy who can be hard to buy for. His other favorite things are tropical fish and train books. Since he seemingly has every one of those ever written, those can be kind of hard to pick out. A fresh apricot pie is always a hit. On the bad side, apricots have a short season and can be hard to find. Once my mom and I attempted to fool him by subbing in peaches. Afterwards he claimed he could tell but said he didn’t want to hurt our feelings. We didn’t try to fool him again just in case. When I visited my grandmother when I was in college, she showed me how to rehydrate dried apricots, which is a clever trick but time consuming and on the expensive side. Also on the bad side, pie is not exactly healthful, at least prepared the traditional way as my Mom was doing it.
There were many happy pie eating days. Then everything changed. In 2003, my Dad was on his way to the bookstore (for more train books, go figure), when he started having chest pains. He took a detour and drove himself to the hospital instead. After making a wrong turn and walking into an administrative area of the hospital and having a volunteer tell him he couldn’t take a shortcut down a hallway, he returned to his parked car and drove himself back around to the emergency department where they diagnosed his major heart attack and placed two stents to reopen his clogged arteries. Realizing just how close a close call he had had, he got super serious about changing his diet. He became fanatical about exercising and has been a regular at the gym ever since. It is really inspiring, and he deserves a lot of credit. Overall though the diet changes seemed to be harder for him than the exercising. While he was more philosophical than I thought he should be about the hospital mix up, it didn’t take him long to start bemoaning the loss of his favorite pie or of pie in general.
As the timing went, it just so happened Jason and I were dealing with the aftermath of Max’s anaphylactic reaction to dairy and diagnosis with multiple food allergies at about this same time. (See Our Journey.) I am ashamed to say I wasn’t all that sympathetic to my Dad. I had a hard time seeing beyond my own struggle right then. It seemed to me, my giving up dairy, egg, wheat, soy, peanuts/tree nuts and seafood to be able to continue to nurse Max was a much more restrictive diet than what he was facing, although looking back on it I think it was the realization of the permanence of it for him which made it more difficult. Luckily for him, my Mom was more sympathetic. She did some research and eventually landed on a crust recipe from the American Heart Association. It was not exactly low fat, but it replaced lard or Crisco used in traditional recipes with canola oil and water which meant it at least featured the good fats instead of the bad ones. Much to his delight, she promptly started making pies again. The bonus good news there was once Max outgrew his thankfully short-lived wheat allergy, pie became one dessert everyone could enjoy.
The rather serious wrinkle I found with this new crust recipe was I could never get it to work well. At one point, I became convinced that Mom must be holding out on me. I was sure that she must be adding some fourth ingredient beyond flour, oil and water to her crust because when I made it is almost always resulted in a gloppy, gooey mess. Sure with enough coaxing I could eventually work with it long enough to get something to present to my Dad, but it was never easy. To his credit, my Dad always appreciated my efforts. Then again since my Mom taught me to bake when I was a teenager, he has always been careful to play us against each other — stoking the competitive fires and trying to get more baked goods out of the bargain. I am sure it worked some of the time. I was ready to give up on this pie crust though. I even went so far to have my Mom make it in front of me one day. Then she watched me make it again. She said I used too much flour, and I know now (being one myself) that moms are always right. Still when I got home reducing the flour didn’t seem to make any difference at all.
Since I was still struggling and since Dad gift-giving holidays kept coming up, I began to ask my friends for help. They had various suggestion. Several said the dough needs to be super cold (that does help some). Another suggested I roll the dough out between wax paper. That didn’t seem to help with the pie, but it was and is a great tip for making egg-free sugar cookies. Then just recently I wanted to make a pie crust on a day I knew my Mom was off at one of her Red Hat club meetings. I decided to google the recipe instead of waiting to call mom for it or, you know, looking in my recipe file. A revelation: milk. The recipes, and there were several with the AHA seal, all had a fourth ingredient: milk. Some of them also said not to bother rolling out the crust but just to press it directly into the pie plate. I can’t tell you the validation I felt. A fourth ingredient. You press not roll. Yippee!
So once I came back down from that high, I realized I did have a new problem. Max couldn’t eat a pie with dairy. Would soy milk work just as well? I gave it a try. It still wasn’t easy, but it did work much better. I half-rolled it out, half pressed it. Just knowing that others had found it difficult to roll out gave me new found confidence and determination. I have let the kids start helping me with making the crust again. They love using the rolling pin. I was reluctant to include them when I knew rolling out was going to be a struggle, but somehow now I don’t mind so much. We don’t just stick to apricot. Sometimes they eat more of the crust then we use in the pie. I still don’t know how my Mom manages, but with my new recipe and an early apricot crop, I can tell you already what my Dad is getting from us this Father’s Day.
Heart-Healthy Dairy-Free Pie Crust
One 9-inch pie crust
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt (optional, I leave out for my Dad)
1/2 cup canola oil
2 tablespoons cold soy milk
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Sift the flour and salt into a mixing bowl. In a small cup, whisk together the oil and milk and pour over the flour mixture. Using a fork, mix until completely dampened. Press the dough evenly into a 9-inch pie plate, then up the sides and over the rim. To use as a baked shell, prick the surface of the dough with a fork several times and bake for 12 to 15 minutes; cool and fill per recipe. To use as an unbaked shell, fill with the desired pie filling and bake according to specific recipe.