The Crust

Okay, so I promised pie crust!

The hallmark of a chuckwagon cook is to be “fast and nasty.”  Don’t take the word ‘nasty’ literally.  Nowhere is fast more important than in pie crust and biscuit making.  

All the ingredients must be cold, and must be kept cold until they go into the oven (dutch or kitchen).  My mom had cold hands (warm heart!) so she worked the shortening with her fingertips.  My mom-in-law and Aunt Betty used a pair of butter knives, and Carlos’ grandma used a dough cutter, so their hands wouldn’t warm up the shortening.  You see, the thing that makes the dough flaky is the thin small plates of unmelted shortening that evaporate and leave air pockets between the cooked dough.  

To make one pie crust, heat the oven to 400°F (that’s at least 10 coals under and 14 over the lid on a dutch oven).  Then pour a cup of cold unsifted flour in the cold crock and add a teaspoon of sugar and a fourth of a teaspoon of salt and stir them together.  Mix in a third of a cup of shortening (cold Crisco or cold leaf lard) and cut it in, until no piece of dough is larger than a pea.  It’ll look a little like cornmeal.  Then add about 3½ to 4 tablespoons of ice water and cut it in with a fork, until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl.  Dump the dough ball out onto a lightly floured board, mash it down and flip it.  Then use a rolling pin to flatten it out to a disc larger than your pie pan (probably about 13 inches).

Roll the dough up on the rolling pin, and unroll it onto the pie pan, and work it down into the pan.  Cut off the extra, and pinch the rim (you can fold some of the overlap over the edge to add thickness).  The pinching makes the dough stick to the pan, and will become your trademark.  Mom used a thumb and two fingers.  Bake it at 350°F (turn the oven down from 400°F) for 15-20 minutes, until it turns golden and the smell is good, not burned!

Put whatever you want in it.  Some things bake in the crust, others get put in an already baked crust.  It depends.  Remember, keep it cold and work fast!

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