Two months ago, my dad handed me an old copy of Taste of the South magazine opened to an article entitled “Pie Heaven.” According to the author Betty Terry, Pie Heaven is Jim’s Kountry Pies in Youngsville, La. Anyone who has ever tasted a slice of Jim’s pies would agree. The crust is light and flaky as any good crust should be, but a good crust does not a pie make. Without a flavorful filling, all you have is crust – flour, shortening, eggs, water and vinegar – and that just doesn’t make my mouth water. Jim’s fillings are pure, using simple but quality ingredients. Living in Acadiana, I have had my taste of Jim’s pies. His store is nearby, but like many of his customers, I buy his pies and sweet dough tarts at local farmers’ markets which he frequents.
Although the article gave recipes for several of his pies - Southern Pecan Pie, Kountry Blackberry Pie, Southern Apple Pie, Easy Coconut Pie – my dad had his finger firmly on the blackberry one. Eight weeks ago, we were in the peak of blackberry season and daily I’d go out with a pail and pick any ones that had ripened in the last 24 hours. Then religiously, I’d go home and freeze them for future jam and sweet dough tart making. (The sweet dough tarts deserve a post unto themselves. I use my great-grandmother’s 100 year old recipe.) I could read his thoughts; I had far more blackberries than I’d need for jam or tarts. I had plenty for pie.
But the dough, called Jim’s Majic Pie Dough, intimidated me. I don’t think I’d ever made pie crust from scratch before, and I thought I was too old to start now. Don’t you have to learn this sort of thing from your grandmother when you’re 8-years-old? But I could see the desire in my dad’s eyes and could feel the watering in my mouth. I considered making Jim’s filling and dumping it in a store-bought crust, but that seemed sacrilegious so I filed the article away and vowed, “When I have more time.”
Saturday was that day. Not the day that I had more time, but the day I took out the article and got giddy as I thought, “I’ll surprise my dad for Father’s Day.” So I started with flour and shortening. Combine it, he says, until it looks like coarse cornmeal. Without a pastry blender – never having had a need for one – I dug in with my hands, and this is where my son enters and says, “Mom, what are you making? A mess?” This did not even remotely resemble cornmeal (and I know cornmeal); it was more like a thick paste of flour and shortening, but I persevered and added the egg, water (6 Tablespoons only because it already seemed too wet), vinegar and salt. I covered the bowl and put it in the refrigerator to chill overnight. I’ve learned from my tart making that cold dough is much easier to handle than room temperature dough.
Fast forward to Sunday, Father’s Day:
1. Roll out the dough. (The recipe states that you should be able to make 4 crusts from the recipe. However, I don’t know how Jim does it, but the dough did not give me 4 crusts. I was able to make 2 crusts for my double-crust pie with just a little left over.)
2. I learned that to finish with a shape resembling your pie pan, you should place your rolling pin in the center and roll out in all directions, continuing around until your crust is the approximate size of your pan.
3. It is easier to move the crust from the table to the pan if you fold it in half, lift gently and align the fold with the center of the pan. Unfold crust and press gently into pan, repairing any holes with leftover dough.
4. Mix the filling together. Dump in crust.
5. Cover with top crust and vent. (My vents are uneven, but it gives it that homemade look, doesn’t it?)
6. Bake on the top rack at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.
7. Decrease temperature to 350 degrees, move pie to bottom rack, and bake for an additional 45-50 minutes. (According to Jim, baking on the bottom rack is what bakes the bottom crust. I always wondered why my bottom crust remained doughy!)
8. Let the kids have fun with the leftover dough.
9. Enjoy! As you can see, we broke one of Jim's rules. I could not wait until it cooled completely - so it was only a little runny, but still warm and delicious. This is truly one of the best pies I've ever eaten. The crust was perfectly light and flaky - not even a novice like I could mess it up - and the filling was fresh and flavorful.
Jim Romero's Rules of Pie Baking:
1. Use young crusts for pecan pies and cream pies. Place the freshly made pie dough in a pie pan, punch holes in the bottom of the crust, and freeze it for at least 1 hour before baking.
2. Use day-old crusts for fruit pies. He stores his on the counter overnight; I refrigerated mine because I find the cold dough easier to handle.
3. Never use an egg wash on the crust.
4. Bake pecan pies on the bottom rack.
5. Start fruit pies on the top rack of the oven and finish them to the bottom rack.
6. Rely on your nose and not a timer. When you first notice the aroma of fruit and spices baking, it will be time to reduce the heat and move the pie to the bottom rack.
7. Let the pie cool completely, even overnight.
If you would like to try Jim's pies, but making one yourself is not for you, he does ship! He is open Wednesday and Thursday, 9:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Friday, 9 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. He can be reached at 337-365-7465.
Note: The recipe in Taste of the South for Easy Coconut Pie is NOT Jim's famous and best-selling coconut cream pie. Understandably, he would not share this secret.
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