There's a saying the Greeks have for marveling at someone's cooking accomplishment: "Bless your hands." That occurred to me last week as I had the privilege of watching Ruth Hall, above, make pie. She's flouring the canvas cover to her rolling pin, one of the genuinely pro tips that she says really helps roll out crust without adding so much flour. (Here's a gallery of outtakes from Robert Kirkham's photography of our visit.)
The room the 84-year-old great-grandmother works in was the kitchen when the building was a farmhouse - a kitchen where the grandmother of Becker Farms co-owner Mindy Vizcarra used to make pie herself.
There's no equipment here that grandma wouldn't have used. Even the battered scale for weighing flour and fillings is a throwback:
Nothing special in the recipe, Hall is quick to say. What becomes clear from watching her is that the magic is in her hands. With the deftness that comes with making probably a quarter-million pies, Hall makes it look easy.
Be brave, novice pie makers. Hall insists that once you get the basics down practically anyone can do it. Just make sure you follow her admonitions: Just enough cold water to bring the crust together, keep everything cold, don't overwork it, avoid extra flour.
Make some pie, and screw it up. Then make another one. That's the real trick; putting in the time until the crust feels familiar in your hands. The recipe she uses for crust makes enough for three double-crust pies, so there's plenty of raw materials if you follow her admonition to toss the dough if you've re-rolled it twice and can't make it fit. Crisco and flour is relatively cheap.
As I watched, Hall tore a top crust as she unfolded it on a cherry pie.
"That's nothing," Hall said. She dabbed water on one side of the tear so the repair would stick, and stretched the dough a little bit, to create a seam.
Then she smoothed over the seam to stick it together. Pies will leak, which is why you should bake them on a tray, she said. But crust tears are not any reason to throw up your hands and start over.
So be brave, pie rookies. And know that if you give up, Becker Farms (716-772-2211) is taking Thanksgiving and Christmas orders for Mrs. Hall's pies.