Have any of you all ever watched The Next Food Network Star? It’s a show where contestants compete to become “the next Food Network star,” in case you couldn’t tell from the title. I have watched every season, because I’ve watched every season of every cooking show (my interests are pretty narrow). There was one contestant, Rodney Henry, who was really into pies and his catchphrase was “It’s pie style, Jack!” Now, after I bake any pie I shout, “It’s pie style, Jack!” In fact, while writing this paragraph I’ve already shouted, “It’s pie style, Jack!”
What’s pie style? Who’s Jack? Who cares. I’m gonna be shouting it all week because the greatest pie holiday is just around the corner!
I’m sure for most people, Thanksgiving is all about the turkey, but for me, it’s always been about pie. I’ve been obsessed with pie long before I ever ate one because of the phrase, “American as apple pie.” When I was a kid, I thought of myself as a full-blooded American. I mean, I was/am, but even today many people look at me as American adjacent, a hyphenated American. Eight-year-old me didn’t understand the complications of being a non-white American. Instead, I wanted to prove to all those doubters that I was American as apple pie by becoming the best pie baker.
My first mission in life, before I dreamt about opening a restaurant or writing a cookbook, was to become a pie master. My parents didn’t bake because ovens weren’t a common appliance in Bangladesh when they were growing up. So I was all on my own, in a time without YouTube videos, online recipes, or even the internet (Gasp! I am older than I look thanks to those brown people genes).
I remember agonizing over cookbooks trying to understand what the hell it meant to cut butter into flour, a lot like how Dan Levy’s character on Schitt’s Creek, David Rose, struggled to fold the cheese. (Except my sweater was not as fuzzy or fashionable.) I tried the frozen and shredded butter technique, recipes with Crisco or lard, food processor and stand mixer methods. You’ll probably hate to hear this, but making the best pie just took time and experience. There’s no magical recipe that’ll solve your pie woes—any recipe is good if you make it good.
These are my favorite pie recipes. And if they don’t work for you, I hope you try again instead of ditching them. Back in the day (relax, old lady), I didn’t have unlimited recipes to choose from, so I’d make the same ones over and over again until I figured out how to make them just right. Now, I can confidently say that I’m an excellent pie baker. Do people think I’m a Real American now? Probably not everyone, but who cares? That’s pie style, Jack!
This is my FAVORITE apple pie recipe of all time! I recommend following it to the letter. Don’t be tempted to swap the tapioca starch for cornstarch, reduce the quantity of sugar, or macerate the apples in a bowl rather than in a zipper-lock bag. Be sure to use American-style butter and low-protein flour, like Gold Medal. That’s the deal with Stella recipes: You must do exactly as she says or don’t even bother making it. But for that obedience, this recipe will reward you with the platonic ideal of apple pie.
Bet you did see this one coming, eh? Why mess with a classic, I think this pecan pie recipe is perfect—except, I add 1 teaspoon of kosher salt—besides that, it’s sticky, crunchy, glossy, and everything I want from pecan pie. I’ve made this pie every Thanksgiving for the last 25 years and don’t plan to ever stop.
In the winter, I miss fruit pies. Sure, there are apples and pears, but it’ll be months before fresh blueberries, rhubarb, and currants come back. This pie perks me right up with its sunny fresh lemon flavor in a bleak sea of winter squash. You can find the original version of this recipe in Edna Lewis’ and Scott Peacock’s cookbook, The Gift of Southern Cooking.
See ya next time!