Life and pie lessons with Kate McDermott

My husband is an excellent cook, and when we were first dating, I was very nervous about making a meal for him.

The first time I cooked for him was a dinner at my apartment. As part of the meal, I wanted to make him an apple pie, which is his favorite dessert.

I didn’t have a lot of time to cook the entire dinner so I bought a frozen pie crust from the grocery store, and I consulted a recipe I had found on the Internet.

I had never made a pie before, but I baked cakes and cookies frequently so I was confident that I would succeed.

Ah, hubris.

When the came out of the oven, it was literally a hot mess. It was both undercooked and burnt. The middle of the pie was pale, while the edges were charred. I think the pie felt bad for itself because it appeared to be weeping. Apple filling streamed from random cracks. Not in an ooey-gooey-that-looks-good manner, but in a runny nose kind of way.

I looked at it dismayed and told my man, “You don’t have to eat it.”

He wouldn’t let me throw the pie in the garbage. Instead, he cut a generous slice, put a forkful in his mouth and swallowed (with more than a little difficulty).

“Well,” he said after a long drink of water. “Parts of it are delicious.”

I think that’s the moment I realized that I should probably marry him.

I did marry him, and I managed to make some decent–even tasty–pies for my husband, but my confidence had been thoroughly shaken. I made low-risk pies that required no or minimal baking with ready-made pie crust.

I was thoroughly intimidated by the idea of making a pie entirely from scratch. However, I still wanted to do it. When I heard a few months ago that the Cornish College of the Arts was offering a one-day pie making workshop called, “The (He)Art of the Pie” I resolved to sign up.

Something kept me from actually registering. One day I was chatting with a friend on Twitter, and I mentioned that I was considering taking a pie class with a woman named Kate McDermott.

After she saw McDermott’s name, my friend insisted that I take the class. Then another person who follows me on Twitter saw our conversation and also recommended McDermott.

I had heard of McDermott and had a vague idea that she was something of a pie guru, but I didn’t really know anything about her. I decided that she was someone I needed to meet. And I signed up for her class.

The class was six hours long and started at the University District Farmers Market so we could get pointers on shopping for pie ingredients. I joined my classmates at the appointed meeting place, and there was Kate McDermott.

She looked like someone’s favorite aunt. McDermott was an older woman with a friendly face framed by glasses and chin-length brown hair. It was a warm summer day, and she wore a tank top, a long, patterned peasant skirt and a floppy sun hat.

McDermott took the class on a short turn through the farmers market, where it appeared that everyone knew her. She had a pie plate with her and showed us a foolproof way to measure the amount of fruit you need for your pie. Just keep putting fruit in the plate until it’s full!

Her easy and common sense approach to making pie calmed me. I was very nervous about making the pie crust. I’ve never been able to roll out a decent crust. My crusts tend to crack and look more like Australia than a circle.

As my classmates and I rolled out our dough, McDermott walked around saying soothing things like:

“Your dough wants to please you.”

“Don’t show your dough your fear.”

and

“There’s nothing you can’t fix in your dough. Just pass the danger.”

My bottom crust was pretty decent, but I’m glad that McDermott showed us how to patch holes in our dough, because I had to do a lot of that for my top crust. But it was okay.

As McDermott says, “It’s just pie.”

I learned many things in class. Keep your flour for pie making in the freezer. Use leaf lard for super flakey crust. Put more than one fruit or flavor in your pie to keep it from tasting too monochromatic.

The most important realization came a few days later.

I was remembering a conversation I had with McDermott during one of our breaks. She said in addition to being a pie maker, she is a practitioner of kindness.

I think this is what makes her so good at making pies. And this is why I had always failed.

I could never relax and enjoy the process. I constantly worried about disappointing others. I didn’t trust my instincts.

What I learned from Kate McDermott is that good things are created when you are kind to others–and even better things come when you are kind to yourself.


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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Life and pie lessons with Kate McDermott

  1. What a great post, Madeline! Funny and poignant and instructive and hunger-inducing. I wanna go bake me some pie!

  2. Thank you for this beautiful remembrance of our Cornish workshop. I hope you will make many pies. All my berry best, Kate

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