Pie Making Advice From Our Grandmothers

I’d be hard-pressed to name someone who could bake a pie better than my grandmother, and I’m sure it’s the same for many of you too.


Nobody can make pies like our grandmas did with tasty fillings, melt-in-your-mouth flaky pastry, pies baked “just-right”–and they whipped them up effortlessly without glossy french cookbooks or fancy kitchen gadgets. Pie baking was such a routine part of their week that they didn’t need to double check ingredient amounts or temperatures or baking times–they just knew how much of this and how long for that was needed…a failure was a very rare thing in their kitchen.

These quick tip snippets date from the 1930’s, 1940’s and 1950’s and were found in a collection of vintage cookbooks and homemaking articles I’ve collected…maybe these are where grandma picked up some of her baking secrets ;).

  1. Apple pie will have a new flavor if you grate a little orange rind into the sugar and sprinkle over apples in usual way.
  2. For that extra something in your apple pie, sprinkle the sliced apples with a few drops of lemon juice. Dot with butter.
  3. Cream pie or custard will not become watery if milk is scalded before using.
  4. Meringue will always stand up high and perfect if a generous pinch of baking soda is added to beaten egg whites.
  5. If it is a meringue pie you are making…add four or five marshmallows cut into pieces or 1/2 cup miniature ones, to meringue just before spreading. These marshmallows give both flavor and body to the meringue. The latter is important if pie is to stand for sometime before serving (found on 45 Cooking & Baking Tips).
  6. Keep those portions of meringue pie unbroken and fluffy by cutting with a knife dipped in cold water.
  7. Have quick and thrifty cream pies anytime. Use the flavorful packaged pudding powders. Prepare as directed on the package. And you can vary with nuts, coconut, fruits, or by layering or marbling different flavors.
  8. To avoid having soggy biscuits on a meat pie, you can bake the biscuits separately while the pie filling is cooking. Then just a few minutes before the biscuits are completely browned, slide them of onto the filling and complete the cooking (found on 26 Cooking & Baking Tips).
  9. It’s easy to get a flaky upper crust. Just before putting the pie in the oven, brush top crust lightly with cold water. The result will melt in your mouth.
  10. To give a nice, shiny appearance to a top crust, brush before baking with milk or with milk mixed with a little egg.
  11. Egg wash for glazing pastry: yolk of 1 egg and 1/2 cup evaporated milk or sweet cream. Beat the yolk of egg, add the milk or cream to it and use to brush over the surface of pastry, applying it with a soft pastry brush. This mixture can be refrigerated for a few days.
  12. For that taste-tantalizing brown on crusts, brush them lightly with milk just before popping them into the oven. A small pastry brush is a wonderful aid for this.
  13. Don’t risk soggy fruit or pumpkin pies. Just brush the sides and bottom crusts with the beaten white of egg, then sprinkle lightly with flour and add the filling. This prevents juices from soaking through the crust.
  14. To keep juice in the pie, mix the juicy fruit filling with sugar and 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca.
  15. Well-filled custard pies without spilling: Pull rack part way out of oven. Set pastry-lined pie pan on rack. Pour filling in clear to top. When pie’s filled, slide rack back into oven.
  16. Fruit pies can be kept from running over in the oven if you keep on hand a number of strips of clean old muslin about one and one-half inches wide and long enough to more than reach around the pie pan. After pie is in pan, wet strip of material, wring out and wrap around edge of pan, allowing it to stand up about 1/2 inch around the pie. When it’s done baking, peel off muslin while still hot.
  17. The shortening used in pastry may be butter, lard, or a vegetable butter substitute. Butter makes a crisp amber pastry and it is to be preferred to anything else in the making of Puff Paste; lard and butter substitutes make a soft, tender, white pastry. Shortening of any kind should be cut lightly through the flour using a knife for the purpose.
  18. Easy helpful tips that give you the light, flaky crusts you want: Always have shortening very cold before using. Mix crust dough the day before baking and leave in ice-box. Roll pastry lightly, using as little flour as possible. Roll from the center of the dough out and up–not back and forth.
  19. Make unbaked shells the day before filling and baking. The pastry will be more crisp. You can make up 2-crust pies ahead of time and bake them fresh for evening or on next day.
  20. Any pastry dough becomes more tender on standing. This is why dough kept in the refrigerator seems richer than that which is baked immediately.
  21. To make flaky crust, cut the shortening into the flour with knives or a pastry blender. Each lump of shortening should be about the size of a pea. Add ice-cold water to make a stiff dough.
  22. To make crumbly, mealy crust work the shortening into the flour thoroughly. The mixture should look like coarse corn meal (no lumps). Add water (not iced) a tablespoon at a time, using only enough to hold the mixture together. Roll out on a floured board.
  23. In rolling pastry a piece of canvas or a heavy towel rubbed well with flour will do a great deal toward overcoming troublesome sticking. Shake out the cloth after using and fold up for the next time. Wash occasionally.
  24. Lattice tops are messy to make if fruit’s juicy. Weave strips of pastry on waxed paper. Slip hand under paper, aim right, then quickly flip lattice top over onto fruit.
  25. After crimping the edge of the crust, lift the edge of the crust gently all around with your fingers. This keeps the dough from sticking to the dish while baking and makes it easier to take out the pieces of pie.
  26. Ease graham cracker crusts from the pan by dipping the pie pan in hot water before slicing and serving (found on 25 Cooking & Baking Tips).
  27. Cheese, nuts, and other ingredients added to plain pastry make interesting variations.
  28. For cheese crust (especially nice for apple and pumpkin pie), reduce shortening by 1/4 cup and add 1/2 cup grated cheese.
  29. For whole wheat crust (good for apple pie) substitute whole wheat for half the white flour.
  30. Bake all pies in a hot oven. When necessary to cook the filling longer, reduce the heat, but always start with plenty of heat.
  31. To keep “shells” (crusts baked before filling is added) from bulging or shrinking during baking, fit the sheet of dough carefully into the corners of the pan. Do not leave any air spaces between pan and dough. Prick the bottom with a fork.
  32. Fasten the upper and lower edges of two-crust pies together tightly. Brush the lower edge with water. Press the upper edge down with a fork or fold into scallops with the finger tips.
  33. Prick or slash the top crust to allow steam to escape.
  34. Keep pastry mix on hand by mixing dry ingredients and shortening together. Store in bowl or jar until needed.

Crust & Pastry Tips

Everyone wants to make that perfect “melt-in-your-mouth” pastry that the family will brag about. Follow these simple but important rules and a light, tender pastry will result.


Make Delicious Homemade Pies With These Pastry Tips
Make Delicious Homemade Pies With These Pastry Tips
  • Have all ingredients as cold as possible.
  • Measure accurately.
  • Handle mixture lightly and carefully.
  • Use just enough water to bind mixture.
  • Bake at correct temperature.

Good pastry has a blistery, pebbled surface that promises flakiness. It is tender, easily cut with a fork, but not crumbly. The color is golden brown, with a slightly richer brown at the edges. It is always rolled fairly thin so that the entire crust (bottom as well as rim) will be crisp and fragile.

Kinds of Pastry:

Pastry may be divided into two general classes:

  • Pastry–used for pies, tarts, etc.
  • Puff Pastry–used for patty shells, fancy pastries, etc.

To Bake Pastry:

Baking makes pastry flaky and tender and develops a rich golden brown color all over. Bake it at a high temperature to cook the pastry quickly so that the particles of fat surrounded by layers of dough will be melted quickly without mixing into the dough. A low temperature produces an oily and crumbly crust. If a filling is used, the temperature is reduced after first 10 minutes of baking so that filling may cook without burning the pastry.

To Bake Puff Pastry:

The oven should be hot enough to make the pastry rise quickly. Layers of cold air have been incorporated into the crust and the heat of the oven is necessary to expand this cold air quickly, thus making the crust light. When pastry is fully risen, the temperature is reduced for the remainder of the baking time. If the oven is too hot the top of the pastry will become scorched before the pastry has risen to its full height; if it is not hot enough, the pastry will become heavy and sodden.

Temperature Guide For Baking Pastry:

  • Double Crust Fruit Pies: Bake in a hot oven (450°F.) for 10 minutes, then lower heat to 350°F. for remaining time, until filling is cooked.
  • Pie Shell Filled With An Uncooked Filling: Unbaked pie shells filled with mixtures of milk and eggs (custard and pumpkin pies) should be baked in a hot oven (450°F.) for 10 minutes, then in a moderate oven (325°F.) for remaining time.
  • Baked Single Pie Shell or Tart Shells: Bake in a hot oven (450°F.) 10 to 12 minutes or until pastry is golden brown.
  • Puff Pastry: Bake in a very hot oven (450°F. to 500°F.) for 10 minute or until pastry has risen to full height. Then lower heat to 350°F. for remaining time.

Causes of Pastry Shrinking In Pan:

  • Too much handling
  • Pastry stretched tightly in pan
  • Dough stored too long in refrigerator
  • Too slow an oven
  • Unbalanced recipe

Source: A Guide To Good Cooking (Five Roses)

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    • Cheap Like Me

    Great tips! My grandmothers actually never made pie, that I can remember. They were more into casserole-type desserts and bar cookies. I, on the other hand, love pie, so I am always looking to soak up someone else’s timeless pastry wisdom.

    • Storie Howser

    Thanks so much for all the tips! I love to make pies, especially in the fall and winter and am thankful for this sight.

    • Susan

    Terrific My mom made the best apple and pumpkin pies. You have reminded me of these.

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