By Mary Ellen Psaltis
The sturdy cherry tree that grew in the back yard of the house where I grew up produced perfect pie cherries. My mom had an agreement with the birds. They got to eat all the cherries on the upper half and we got to pick the ones on the lower half. She made pies with those memorable cherries even though pitting them was slow and messy.
It’s hard to compete with fanciful childhood memories polished by the passing of time, but I am absolutely sure mom’s pies were beyond excellent: flakey golden crusts encasing sweet cherry syrup popping with just-picked fruit. I have found a way to relive these ‘pie-lights’ with the help of Amy Pavletich.
She knows it takes both science and art to create and bake a pie that tastes as good as it looks. You can have your favorite recipe, but the elements are always a touch different: what variety of apples are you using? Are the berries juicier than usual? What’s the humidity today and the air temperature? Are you going to use tapioca or cornstarch?
Local resident Amy Pavletich resolves these dilemmas every week as the pie baker for Swing Wine Bar and Café, Lots of practice and the willingness to be creative have honed her prize-winning pie baking talents.
By day Pavletich can be found at the Olympia Timberland Regional Library working as an Assistant Circulation Supervisor, but on off-hours, she’s blending, rolling and baking amazing pies. For the past year at Swing, Pavletich has been using various fruits and nuts, including lots of berries from Johnson Berry Farm and from Spooner’s to make pies that often include two fruits.
She says, “I tried everything.” Successful parings have included peach and rhubarb, peach and cherry, and pear cranberry.
Baking since “I was really little,” and being involved with 4-H, Pavletich feels at home in the kitchen and expresses her kind nature through pies instead of lots of words. Encouraged by family, friends and co-workers, Pavletich kept baking. By 2009 she had numerous first place awards from local and regional events like the Puyallup Fair and the Capital Playhouse Pie in the Sky. She was pleased with her successes and kept baking.
After talking with Pavletich, I am convinced that if a person wants to end up with pies that look as good as they taste – that is to say – lovely browned crusts with filling that is neither too dry or too runny and has balanced sweetness – that person needs to practice. Regardless of the recipe, it is essential to understand the way the dough feels and the way the fruit looks. Pavletich knows.
Here are a few of the pie strategies that work for her:
It is OK to handle the crust (some say if you handle it too much it gets tough) but she works hers until it is smooth.
Ice or boiling water?
She uses cold water neither freezing nor boiling. Pavletich says she adds enough water so that the dough is not crumbly. Some cooks say don’t add too much water, but Pavletich adds more than you might think.
Rolling it out:
- Go ahead and liberally flour your rolling surface. Don’t worry that you have too much.
- Do let the dough rest after you blend it but before you roll it out.
- Pavletich uses a hand held pastry blender rather than a food processor.
- Say, “Yes,” to Crisco.
- Use tapioca most often for your thickener.
- Limit the use of cornstarch as it adds a store bought flavor she dislikes.
- Be willing to experiment and combine fruits. They often compliment each other.
Try cooking at a lower temperature for a longer time. This allows the bottom crust to cook (not to remain soggy) and also keep the top from browning too quickly.
Resist cutting the pie until it’s totally cooled. Then use a sharp knife to cut all the way across the pan. Cut the whole pie at one time.
Leftovers (if you have any):
Be sure the pie is all the way cool, wrap in plastic and store in the refrigerator.
“People feel special when you make a pie for them,” Pavletich explained to me. I sure did as I bit into a freshly made raspberry/blackberry winner. The sweetness of summer melted in my mouth, the flavors of both berries delighted me. I didn’t end up with a hunk of dry crust at the end. The whole piece seemed to disappear before my eyes. I guess I ate the whole piece. Now I don’t have to wait for my mom to satisfy my pie fantasies. I have Amy.
Eat Well Be Well.