Chris, left and Violet, right
I think of Violet as my loving friend Chris’s mom because that’s who she was to me. Of course Violet was VIOLET. And if you lived in Atwood, Kansas (population 1,222), you knew who that was. You knew her rather well indeed if you happened to be a member of Atwood United Methodist Church where she directed the choir, organized many church suppers, and was the leader of the Altar Guild for oh-so-many years.
Chris was –and is–the pastor and head of staff at Prospect Park United Methodist Church in Minneapolis, where I happily once served as choir director. She ended up– working hard together will do this– as one of my nearest and dearest. To say we have a lot in common doesn’t begin to say who we are together. Believers, worship planners, music lovers, foodies, singers, adorers of humor and beautifully-crafted words, and sometimes all of them at once. Our husbands are good friends, too. We clicked from the day I auditioned for my job, but of course there were ups. There were downs. Moments of difficulty surfaced as only they would between two strong women engaged in learning how to worship God together. (To say nothing of worshiping with others.) But we moved forward together, learning and loving.
As life turned and a move from Minnesota back to Colorado loomed, I struggled with leaving many people–Chris and our merry band among them. I worried friendships would wane and ached physically at the thought of leaving my job behind. I miss my job still, but needn’t have worried about Chris or the choir. In the five years since I left, we’ve been back together on a few occasions and it’s as if we’ve never been apart. The choir has blossomed happily under the direction of Chris’s husband Dave and is up to incredible things these days.
I sometimes look back at those years together and roar. You know how it is: at lunch we’d talk food. We’d go over dieting. Liquor. Desserts. Dinner. Men. Lectionary texts. Liturgy. Old jobs. Bad bosses. Kids. What else? Occasionally pie would come up. You know me and pie. We’re like this: (Insert first two fingers stuck together!)
above: Violet’s Pie
Chris once or twice mentioned her own pie crust with apparent passion. While it sounded interesting, I was a tad skeptical. I might be somewhat snooty on this point. I mean, I’m attached to my all-butter pie crust, which is actually pâte brisée.
Unblogged berry tart using pâte sucrée for the crust
I’m proud of it all. I sort of wear my pie-making like a badge. God help me. I know pride’s a sin!
But I listened. Wondered about a dough with vinegar. A dough made with…vegetable oil? Turned out that Chris’s pie dough recipe came from her mom..
above: violet photo courtesy Cassie Nelson Lawless (violets transplanted to Colorado from Cassie’s mom’s yard in Iowa)
..and this is where I heard first about Violet and began to put them all together in my mind: Chris, Violet…pie dough.
In recent years, vodka has been a go-to ingredient for pie dough. Why not vinegar? In fact, when I ran my pie baking back to the very beginning…perhaps the first couple of years…I knew I had made Betty Crocker pie dough with oil. It was the easiest, and definitely cheapest. Cheaper was pretty central to my existence in those days and my guess is that Violet’s sweet crust began somewhere focused on those two things: ease and cold hard cash. I mean, why try anything else when what you had was tasty, simple, and didn’t break the bank? Butter was not easy to cut into flour and besides, it was for Sundays, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Time was always of the essence–especially if you had five kids, a husband, a choir to direct, and still needed time for painting, gardening, and bridge playing, as did Violet. You’re beginning to get a picture of this woman.
When I asked Chris what kinds of pies her mom made, she said, “She made pie with whatever was available.” That made good sense to me. My mom was the same way. You used what you had. If a neighbor had an extra few peaches off her tree that were about to go bad and brought them over, you made peach pie. Winter time? Apple, if you had saved a bushel last fall. Raisin, if you were out. Raisin, by the way, was also called funeral pie as raisins were always available.
In Atwood, apples were an easy-accessible crop and Violet paired them with anything else she could get her hands on. But if mulberries were in season and she could find some, mulberry pie it was… As it was a rare treat, her family probably waited drooling for that to come out of the oven. Read up on Mulberry Pie here.
I recall mentioning and wondering about pear pie–something I occasionally make. I also combine pear with other fall fruits for a Thanksgiving treat. (See below.) Chris didn’t remember pear pie, but allowed that was because she didn’t think her mom had had a pear tree and hence, no pear pie. I grew up with one in the back yard and that tells that story, doesn’t it?
Violet at 97 with Chris in the Atwood kitchen
One day, I asked Chris to write this pie dough recipe down and she promised she would. Turns out that one of the next times that Chris visited her mom, they documented the pie baking process:
And it was a beautiful thing as only a little family baking session could be. Violet. Chris. Pie. Did my friend David Nyberg take the photos? I’m sure he had a piece, too.
Somehow I didn’t get the photos right away. Chris got busy, I moved…. In the intervening time–just a breath of fresh air as it goes—Violet crossed the river. Dave and I attended the funeral at the Methodist church in Atwood. I know she now bakes pies in an oven that’s always the perfect temperature set up in a room forever cool enough for baking. The coffee is fresh and really hot all of the time–ready for whenever she cuts fresh pieces for the choir that has no lack of tenors. Mulberries are plentiful and ripe year-round in heaven, you know, and they’re available for picking and pie baking just before her favorite foursome sits down to an afternoon-long bridge game. Someone actually has a final bid of 7 spades and they’re off with cards flying….
Chris sent these photos last fall along with the recipe and I dallied and dillied…dickered about what to do with them. My first thought was a Thanksgiving or Christmas pie post, but the time never appeared ripe; I had no approach. Nothing felt right. Soon the year turned and as spring approached I wondered about a Mother’s Day post for Violet’s Pie and so it is.
Aside: I couldn’t make sense of the recipe at first and had to question Chris. What was I to think about a listed dough ingredient of 1 cup of vinegar? The emails flew back and forth and it turned out there was a typo. When she corrected it, the recipe read 1 CAP of vinegar instead of the original 1 CUP! (Phew.) She meant the cap on the vinegar bottle Violet used. Then I began to wonder about how big that CAP full of vinegar might be. I’m working on that today and you’ll see what I decided below.
Next Sunday is Mother’s Day. Maybe you’ll bake a pie in honor of any great mom you know.
If you do, try this one with Violet’s pie crust. That is you’re lucky enough to have both rhubarb and blueberries around the house to make what Dave aptly named “Bluebarb Pie”. AND if you’re blessed enough to enjoy this luscious and tender, crispy-crumbly-flakey dough that will happily hold it all together:
BLUEBARB PIE with VIOLET’S CRUST
makes a 9-inch pie (not deep dish) Serves 6-8
Below my recipe I include Chris’s written instructions for Violet’s dough in bold print just for your info and smiles… Of course if you have your own favorite dough and process, go for it. I don’t think Violet would mind. As long as you sing while you bake…
A. MAKE AND REFRIGERATE VIOLET’S PIE DOUGH:
- 3/4 cup vegetable oil
- 1/4 cup milk (can use evaporated milk)
- 2 teaspoons plain white vinegar–otherwise know as “1 cap” of vinegar
- 2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
- 3/4 teaspoon salt–Alyce’s addition
In a large measuring cup, whisk together the wet ingredients: oil, milk, and vinegar only until you see very large bubbles. (Mine weren’t very big, but it still worked.) Set aside.
Sift the flour and salt into a medium bowl. Make a well in the center of the flour and pour in the liquid ingredients. Stir gently and quickly with a wooden spoon until just combined; do not beat.
Turn dough out onto counter or board and with floured hands gently form into a ball. Divide evenly into two pieces. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes. *See BAKER’S NOTE below for alternative chilling method.
B. WHILE THE DOUGH CHILLS, MAKE THE FILLING/ROLL OUT DOUGH AND FILL:
- 4 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
- 3 tablespoons (1/4 cup) white unbleached, all-purpose flour plus an extra teaspoon for bottom of pie
- 2/3 cup granulated sugar, plus a little extra for dusting top of pie before baking
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 large stalks of rhubarb, sliced thinly
- 2 tablespoons cold butter, cut into tiny pieces-to be placed on top of the filling before the second crust is added
1. Stir together gently blueberries, sugar, flour, salt. Set aside briefly while you roll out the dough. The sliced rhubarb will go in by itself before the blueberry filling.
2. Roll out one piece of the chilled dough between two sheets of waxed paper on a lightly damp counter. Turn over, roll once on the opposite side and remove the top sheet of paper. Turn over again, flipping gently, and place in the pie plate; remove the second piece of paper. This is a tender dough; you may need to patch a place or two. Trim excess dough so that crust hangs over about 1/4 inch past the pie plate. Dust bottom of pie crust with the additional 1 teaspoon of flour. Add sliced rhubarb evenly into the bottom of the pie shell. Spoon blueberry mixture on top and smooth evenly. Dot with diced butter evenly. Set aside.
3. Roll second piece of chilled dough as above, this time flipping gently to place crust squarely on top of the filling in the pie plate. Trim edges of dough just a bit larger than the bottom crust. Seal (pinch together) and crimp with fingers or with tines of a table fork.
4. Sprinkle the top crust evenly with the reserved sugar. Extra dough can be cut into strips, fried in a little hot oil, and sprinkled with lots of cinnamon sugar for Pie Dough Cookies.
BAKER’S NOTE (Easier rolling): You can also roll out the dough while it’s soft before it’s refrigerated. After rolling out, put each piece in a pie plate and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes or wrap each in a big sheet of plastic wrap and refrigerate up to overnight–which might mean you’ll need to let it warm up a few minutes on the counter before filling and crimping. You can also freeze this dough, well-wrapped–for up to 2 months.
C. BAKE THE PIE AND SERVE:
5. Place the filled pie on a baking sheet and put the baking sheet on the center rack of the preheated oven (425F). Bake 15 minutes.
6. Lower temperature to 375 degrees F. Bake until pie is bubbling through slits and golden on top–30 minutes or so.
7. Remove from oven to cooling rack and cool nearly completely–at least two hours– before cutting or you’ll have a weeping mess.
STORAGE: Store a fruit pie in cool weather 2-3 days, well-wrapped, on the counter. Refrigerate in hot/humid weather right after cooling completely. Pie keeps well-wrapped in the refrigerator 4-5 days. Freeze, well and tightly wrapped, 6-8 months. To thaw: remove from freezer, let sit several hours wrapped before unwrapping and cutting to serve.
Chris’ version of the pie dough recipe:
I read your invitation to put my mom’s pie crust on your blog.
I’m attaching a walk through of the crust in photos.
2 C all purpose flour sifted into bowl
Combine before adding:
3/4 C vegetable oil
1/4 C milk (in this case evaporated from a can)
1 capful of clear vinegar or lemon juice (in this case plain white vinegar)
The trick is mixing the liquid only to huge bubbles.
Mixing into the flour quickly, gently, lightly.
Split for two crusts and refrigerate to cold – if you have time.
Roll out between two sheets of waxed paper, working as little as possible.
Loosen both sheets of paper. Remove one. Use the other to handle the other crust, positioning it and then peeling away paper.
That’s pretty much it. It’s all about seeing her do it.
Below: Violet (far right) with daughter Chris (center) and granddaughter Bailey (left) with us at lunch one day