One of the skills necessary for a cook in a Hunting Camp or Trail-riding Camp is knowing how to bake a pie. For some reason it is an expectation of many guests that they will be treated to a homemade pie experience at least once on their trip. At least that is what I discovered once I graduated from horse wrangling to camp cook. When I was just the wrangler, I didn’t hear about the need to have a pie at the end of the day, but as soon as I was the cook – my goodness! The expectations were there and not only from the guests but from the outfitters. It was even in some of my job interviews, right next to making fresh bread.
Pies intimidate me. Something about rolling out the crust and about how everyone has an opinion on how that crust should be. Everyone seems to have that magical memory of their Grandma’s lemon meringue or their mother’s apple – it’s just darn big shoes to fill!
But I love pie! Especially the eating part and since most guys won’t tackle the project it was often left up to me.
So midway through my first season working as a wrangler for an outfit in the Yukon, I was run over by a horse when jingling in the herd. I had stopped to remove some hobbles from a young mare, when she got impatient and kneed me in the side of the jaw, knocked me over, and then jumped over me to catch up with the herd. By the evening my jaw was swollen and I had a blinding headache. I begged off going out in the morning and had my first day “off” in months. By afternoon my headache had dwindled and I had blown through the only paperbacks in camp and I was bored. I got a craving and digging through the barrel of supplies and found a Tenderflake package of lard. It had a recipe on the back for Flakey Pie Crust and I dug through more of our food stores and found I had just enough of everything to make a pie! Whoohoo!
I didn’t have the best of equipment to work with. A pot instead of a mixing bowl and a fork instead of a pastry cutter, but I managed to form a ball of pie dough. And then I realized I had no way to roll out the dough into a circle. I hunted around and the best I could come up with was a pickle jar. It was bulky and awkward but a pie crust I rolled out and then I placed it in the tin pie dish and started on the second round. The apples I cut apart with my pocket knife and threw brown sugar and cinnamon and flour on them and dumped them in the prepared pie dish and covered it with the top crust. Now the hard part was all we had was a wood stove with a small “oven” on one side. It took a lot of turning and adjusting put eventually I pulled out a slightly unevenly-browned apple pie that filled the one-roomed pine cabin with it’s magical scent. And it tasted so good! Don’t worry I did wait for the guys before trying out a piece. I didn’t think it would look so good if a slice was missing when I served it, though I did debate just eating the whole thing and then hiding the evidence. Good thing my mom trained me to be a better person than that.
Fast forward a few years and I was cooking full time and pies were an expectation not just a good surprise. I still had to be resourceful in many of my camps and often turned to a wine bottle for a rolling pin and never used a pastry cutter until just a few years ago when I got looking in a catalog and decided to splurge on one. I got adept at producing golden brown crusts from a wood cookstove oven. One of the outfitters I worked for was Celiac and he would tell me often how he missed having pie. So I learned to produce a gluten-free pie crust that I started serving regularly for all his hunting camps because it was just too much work to make both kinds of pie crusts. I never had a hunter complain and in fact most of them seemed to prefer the gluten-free pies I made, though they are so much work and very finicky that I have never used them since I left that camp.
However with all that experience pies can still kick my butt. I heard my husband commenting on how his grandma made this wonderful lemon meringue pie and I set out to prove that I could make one for him. I used a Betty Crocker recipe and made it from scratch and it was such a flop! The filling wouldn’t hold up. I didn’t hear the end of it until I was at his grandma’s for a Sunday Dinner and I asked how she made her lemon meringue pie that everyone raved about.
“It’s a family secret.” She said and I nodded my head, totally understanding one cook keeping her magic to herself, and then she leaned in close, “I make it from a box.”
Ah ha! The secret to lemon meringue pie success.
And now I’ve perfected the perfect pie at least to my own taste buds, but I may not let the secret out the door . . .
Pie Made in the Bush Recipe
Chop an armful of large piece kindling. Build up the fire in the wood stove. As it burns, start the pie crust.
In a large mixing bowl (or pot) mix together 5.5 cups of flour, 2 tsp of salt and 1 lb. of lard using a fork, cut the lard until the mixture is crumbly and the lard is distributed like little peas throughout the flour. Break 1 egg in a one cup measuring cup (or coffee cup) and add 2 Tbsp of vinegar beat. Then add cold water to the 1 cup line and beat again.
Pour the water mixture over the flour mixture and stir with fork. Mix it up until it forms a ball. Separate into 6 balls. (1 ball=1crust)
Sprinkle table or counter surface liberally with flour and roll out dough with a floured rolling pin (wine bottle, pickle jar or other round glass jar). Add more flour if necessary and place dough in pie plate, add filling, dotting with butter and cover with the top crust. Crimp edges. Cut vents to allow steam to escape. Brush crust with egg white.
Check fire and make sure it has a good base of coals, add more sticks and place pie in oven box. Check often to rotate so pie will brown evenly. When you see the filling bubbling in the vents and the pie aroma is strong pull out of oven in approximately 50 mins to an hour. (If you have an oven temperature gage, it is handy to use and you want the temperature to hover around 350F, though having it close to 450F at the beginning is okay as long as it doesn’t last more than 10 mins)