14 Pie Tips and Tricks from Grandma’s Kitchen
When it comes to baking, no one does it better than grandmothers. Take a few pie tips and tricks from nanas and start whipping up a pie to serve tonight.
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Work with what’s in season
While you can find most fruits fresh or frozen all year long at your local grocer, there’s nothing better than a strawberry harvested in June at the peak of berry season or an apple plucked off the tree on a cool September afternoon.
Take a tip from Grandma, and use what’s in season for the best pies possible.
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Keep things cold
You know this already, but it never hurts to hear it again: Butter should be cold when making pie pastry (it should be cold for biscuits too). In addition to using cold butter, be sure to use cold water. And it doesn’t hurt to pop your pie plate, pastry blender and mixing bowl in the freezer to chill a bit before working.
Keeping all these things cold will prevent the butter from melting inside the crust so you’ll end up with the flakiest pastry possible.
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Add a touch of tapioca
Because of all the juice, fruit pies can be a bit more challenging to slice. For cleaner cuts, grind up a tablespoon or two of instant tapioca (the kind Grandma would use for pudding) and add it to your pie filling. This will help the juice set up inside so the pie is easier to slice. It’s the secret to this perfect strawberry crumble pie.
Don’t add all your liquid at once
When making pie crust from scratch, it’s important not to add all the cold water into the pastry at once. Instead, start with just a few tablespoons of ice-cold water and add more as needed.
For the flakiest crust, you want to add as little water as possible.
The more fruit, the better
Even if the recipe only calls for four cups of berries, you know that Nana might have thrown in an extra handful or two of fresh berries. That’s because pies just look so tempting when mounded with a generous amount of fruit. And remember, as the fruit inside cooks, it softens and sinks a bit. It’s best to overfill your pie and have it looking deliciously full than underfilling and having it look skimpy.
Don’t overmix the pie crust
You want to handle your pie pastry as little as possible. This will keep the butter (or lard or shortening) from melting and will keep the crust from getting tough. Overworked dough won’t be nearly as flaky or tender.
Instead, use a pastry blender to combine the butter and flour until the butter is about pea-sized. Then stir in just enough water to bring the mix together. Once together, hands off! Pop the pastry in the fridge to chill.
Use a cast-iron skillet
No pie plate, no problem! So many old-fashioned pie recipes, like this chocolate shoofly pie, are right at home when baked in a cast-iron skillet. These pans bake evenly, retain heat and provide a nice deep dish to load up with all the sweetest fillings. Get started with these cast-iron pie recipes, and learn how to take care of Grandma’s pan the right way.
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Keep your oven clean with a baking sheet
When cooking fruit-filled pies, it’s common for some juice to spill out of the pie and drip on the oven floor. Since no one likes to clean the oven more than they absolutely must, pop a baking sheet underneath your pie pan to catch any juice.
You also stabilize your trips to and from the oven by setting your pie pan on a large sheet pan. You don’t want to mar any of the pretty crust you worked so hard to make by grabbing the wrong part of the pie plate with your oven mitt.
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Make your pie shield before the pie is in the oven
To prevent pie crust from getting too brown (or even burnt) while the rest of the pie filling bakes, you’ll need to create a pie shield. Yes, you can purchase silicone shields at cooking stores, but we bet that Gran didn’t have a special gadget when baking up one of her never-fail pies.
Instead, you can make a pie shield like grandmas do: with aluminum foil. Just cut a circle of foil that will fit around the edge of your pie dish and crimp it onto the crust once it is golden brown. The real pro tip here, though, is making this ring of foil before the pie even goes in the oven. You’ll get a better fit and won’t have to struggle making a cover mid-bake.
Make enough pie for everyone
Not all pies need to be made in a nine-inch pie pan. If you’re serving a bigger family (or just want a few leftover slices), don’t forget about slab pies! These old-fashioned pies are made in larger dishes like 13×9 pans or sheet pans and they can yield around 20 servings. We recommend starting with this tempting cherry slab pie with walnut streusel.
Add extra crunch with sugar
Want to add just a bit more texture to your pie? Make a quick egg wash and brush over the top of your pie crust. Then sprinkle coarse or turbinado sugar over the top. When the pie is done baking, you’ll have a wonderfully crisp texture and a bit of sparkle from the sanding sugar.
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Soupy pie is not a failed pie
Sometimes no matter what precautions you take to prevent your fruit fillings from being too liquidy, you end up with a pie that’s not quite set. Don’t sweat it! All the ingredients are still there and are still delicious. Serve scoops of these pies in shallow dishes and top with ice cream. Easy!
Top with fresh whipped cream
After all the work of making a pie from scratch, don’t stumble at the finish line. Be sure to top your pies with homemade whipped cream.
Make pie and make it often
Many of us have fond memories of making and eating pies in Grandma’s kitchen. Keep the spirit alive by making pie at home on a regular basis—not just for Thanksgiving. If you need inspiration, here’s a list of every pie recipe you’ll ever need.