A few years ago, my family enacted a rule for Christmas presents. Every gift given must be homemade. I was thrilled about the idea – it promoted creativity and affordability! My excitement waned when I realized that my creative craftiness had a limit.
Knitting was the primary craft I was good at, but I didn’t have enough time to knit every family member a gift. Thinking beyond what I was skilled at, I thought about the areas where I lacked talent including cooking, baking, sewing, drawing, untangling knots and painting. Basically, all the things my sister was, and still is, good at.
The art of baking intrigued me mainly because I was a terrible baker. Growing up, my family didn’t even let me in the kitchen because it seemed like the recipe always took a turn for the worse when I showed up or tried to run the show. At 22 years old, I had finally reached a level of humility where I could quietly admit that I wanted to get better. Again, quietly admit. It’s not like I was shouting it from the rooftops.
My competitive nature spurred me on further by commanding that I needed to get better. Due to my incredible level of self-confidence (read: cockiness + daring sense of adventure), I concluded that the gift of baked goods made by yours truly would be nothing short of amazing.
A sucker for quality time, I wanted to incorporate that with my gift and because I had *never* made a pie before, I ultimately settled on gifting my dad a 12-month certificate to “Pies by Alexis”. With this gift, I, Alexis, would bake a homemade pie once a month for my dad. My hope in gifting such a unique present was two-fold; that I’d improve my baking skills and that I’d establish a monthly get together with my family. A 9 inch pie is a lot of pie for one guy to eat so that’s why the whole family was invited.
In my year of baking pies, I acquired quite a few nuggets of wisdom. I’ve highlighted them for you below.
Never assume the first pie you ever make in your whole will be so good you should make two
I did this. I made two chocolate pies (my dad doesn’t even like chocolate pie!), and it was so terrible that I think my dad threw it away after I left that evening. My mom brought the other one to the hospital break room where even there, it remained uneaten. If you aren’t aware, food in the hospital break room never goes untouched. I’d love to tell you more about what it is like to learn humility.
Ask for help
I fell in love during my year of making pies, and without John, I’m not sure where I would be. I’m grateful for his help and desire to follow the recipe when I, every time, completely derail from the recipe. It’s safe to say that my family and their taste buds are grateful too.
It is usually more expensive than you think it will be
Baking supplies are not always cheap so plan your budget accordingly.
Sometimes the expense is worth it
It’s worth it when you craft a perfect pie crust from scratch and the filling is impeccable. I could care less about the price upon the receipt of copious amounts of affirmation and praise for the pie. (I’m also a sucker for words of affirmation).
You will experience less frustration and better yield with the proper tools
When I first started, I did not have a rolling pin, pastry blender, or mixer. These tools are also commonly referred to as the most BASIC/ESSENTIAL pie baking tools. If you’re wondering how I made pies, it was simply a result of sheer will power and pure pride. When I finally saved up money for the proper tools, I added them in one at a time, and with each addition, my life outlook became increasingly brighter.
Possibly not the most ideal gift to give to someone who is trying to reduce their sugar intake
After that year of pies, my dad asked me to try to make “healthier”, “less sugary” pies. So, know who you’re gifting pies to and what their goals are.
The fancy top crust designs may look very cool, but you’ll likely need to adjust the baking time to make sure the crust is actually baked
Pretty much speaks for itself. Videos like this and this completely captivate me, but I’ve found that the only way some of them actually turn out is if I adjust the baking time and check on the pie often.
Mastering a perfect pie crust is difficult, but not impossible
Making a pie crust is one of those things that people make out to be significantly more challenging than it actually is. Now, I’m not saying it’s as easy as pie, but I am saying that it is incredibly possible. My tried and true recipe is from Veronica’s Cornucopia. However, I do usually adjust it slightly every single time. With baking, you need to listen to the ingredients and the food, follow the recipe loosely, and, mostly, be willing to try. Don’t be afraid to offer yourself grace upon grace along the way!
Your life is not over due to a failed pie crust
I understand as well as anyone the desire to complete a task perfectly, but when you’re starting something new, that is an unrealistic and unfair expectation. I repeat, that is an unrealistic and unfair expectation. It’s more fun when you make space to say “Oops, how much water/baking soda/melted butter was I supposed to add?!”
When you realize that you’ve added too much of one ingredient and find yourself sprawled on the floor calling your mom in the throes of an adult temper tantrum of sorts, try try try to remember that your life is not over. In my experience, *sometimes* the pie crust is still salvageable. Listen to mom, the ingredients, and your gut. Adjust appropriately.
Most of those rules could be applied to life, generally, which is pretty darn cool. For instance, as with most things in life, the first time you attempt something new, it likely will not go perfectly. Pies, trapshooting, and building shelves are all things that did not go perfectly the first time I attempted them. Today, I’m grateful to say that I have at least achieved a foundational understanding of baking a pie.
The simple act of making pies required equal parts bravery and humility. In exchange, I was granted the incredible opportunity to learn about life from something as simple and complicated as baking pies for a year.
Moreover, the homemade pie became a reason for family meals and celebration; it became an experience. It was an experience in creating, to say the least, and a mostly wonderful experience in eating.
What unexpected acts or gifts have granted you the opportunity to learn about life?