My friend Ada tried with all of her patience to teach me to knit, but I could never get my brain to coordinate with the needles between my fingers. Ada finally gave up trying to teach me and instead knitted me three Afghans over the years. The first, crafted of orange and olive green yarns (a hint to its age), continues to be my favorite. I have tossed this thing over my legs on many a cold, winter night and thrown it in the washing machine more times than I can count. Still, it holds its shape and barely looks used. The other two, one a soft blue and the other a creamy pink, though more subdued in color are just as substantial and durable after much use.
When Ada passed away this past October 25, my Afghans became irreplaceable. Now when I wrap up in one, it is like snuggling in the warmth of her friendship.
Mom Loretta, Grandmother Grace and Aunt Roberta, all gone now except in my memories, tried to teach me the fine art of rolling out a piecrust. But try as I might, I could never get one to roll out without cracking open around the edges, sticking to the rolling pin or clinging to the counter no matter how much flour I threw about. I tried all of the tricks, vinegar, refrigerating the dough for given amounts of time and turning the dough ball at intervals as I rolled. Loretta, Grace and Roberta made the task look easy, but no mater how often I watched, listened and tried to mimic the process, nothing worked. The result, after making many attempts at rolling out and putting the dough back into a ball, was a piecrust so tough it came out more resin than flaky.
The day following the first Halloween after I married, my late husband, Lonnie Gray, requested that I make a pumpkin pie from the kid’s jack-o-lantern. In response, I informed him that if he really craved pie, he should learn to bake one since I refused to endure that kind of anguish. I then took myself off to work and put all thoughts of pie out of my mind.
That evening when I came home two of the most beautiful pumpkin pies I ever saw sat on the kitchen table. “You baked these?” I asked. He simply smiled and let the question hang. I strongly suspected that he bribed his mother, my dear mother-in-law Bonnie Gray, into baking the pies, but I just acted impressed and said: “Wow, your job from now on.”
Those were the last pies made in our house until I discovered already rolled out piecrusts in the freezer and refrigerator departments at my local grocery store. When I had family or company to feed, the frozen piecrusts worked well for making whole pies. As a single person, however, having entire pies at one’s disposal is not a good idea unless you want to balloon to an outrageous weight.
Still, one of my favorite desserts is a piece of warm apple pie with a scoop of ice cream on the side. The answer to having your pie without needing to eat the whole thing comes in the form of what I call mini-moon pies that I make by cutting circles from already rolled out refrigerated piecrust dough. There are several brands on the market and you can easily get sixteen mini moon pies from four nine-inch refrigerated piecrusts. Of course, you can also make and roll your own piecrust if you feel compelled to suffer. I never do.
Mini-moon apple pies
Ingredients for filling:
2 ½ pounds Granny Smith apples
Juice and zest of one lemon
¾ Cup light brown sugar
3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
½ Teaspoon Apple Pie spice (available from Penzey’s Spice) Note: the original recipe called for cinnamon
3 Tablespoons Dr. McGillicuddy’s Intense Apple Pie Liqueur Note: the original recipe called for Calvados (apple brandy)
1. Peel, core and chop apples. Toss with lemon juice.
2. Combine brown sugar, spice, flour and spice and add to apples.
3. Cook over medium heat until apples begin to soften and sauce thickens, 25-30 minutes.
4. Add zest and liqueur and cook 1-2 minutes longer. Cool filling before making dumplings.
Note: Recipe loosely based on “My Mom’s Pie” found in Great Good Food by Julee Rosso.
Bring two boxes (four 9-inch refrigerated piecrusts to room temperature but leave wrapped until ready to cut. Using a 5-inch circle (I use a plastic lid), cut the rolled piecrust into 16 circles. Wrap these to prevent them from drying out.
Whisk together one egg and ¼ cup of water to make a wash to use as a sealant.
Place 2 -3 Tablespoons of the filling in the center of the circle then fold over, coat the edge with the egg wash and, using a fork, seal the entire edge. Cut three slots in the top of each to release steam while baking.
Place pies on cookie sheet covered with parchment paper and bake in a 400°F oven until crust is golden and filling is bubbly, 15-20 minutes.
Remove pies to a wire rack and cool. Place rack on a cookie sheet and place in the freezer for 2 hours. Remove frozen pies from the freezer and place in labeled and dated freezer bag before returning to freezer. Allow individual pies to thaw in the refrigerator. To warm, place thawed pie in the microwave for 30-40 seconds. Serve with your favorite vanilla ice cream and enjoy.