Throughout my recent personal Pie Crust Challenge, re-learning to make a great homemade pie crust, I had a special person supporting me from afar. She sent little messages and tweets to encourage my efforts and cheer me on. To have an expert pie maker and teacher step up and take an interest in my lowly pie crust experiments is a true honor and a great kindness. If we are mentioning the word “pie” or “pie crust” here, I simply must introduce you to this extraordinary Person of Pie, Kate McDermott.
Kate and I first met at Camp Blogaway, the original bootcamp for food bloggers, several years ago. Within a few minutes we realized that we share more than just the love of food. Both of us are professional musicians and have taught music to children and adults for many years. In fact, Kate taught piano lessons throughout the years when she was supporting and raising her children, just as I have.
Thinking about music and pie making, it seemed to me that they have much in common. Both are creative and expressive. Both require consistent practice, and improvisation is an important component in producing that special creative genius of artistry. I wondered about how Kate teaches beginning bakers to bake beautiful pies, and Kate was nice enough to send some answers for all of us who are curious about pie pedagogy.
Please visit Kate McDermott’s website http://www.artofthepie.com to learn more!
Mimi: When you are teaching beginning pie makers, what are their biggest challenges and how do you help them overcome those?
Kate McDermott: First time pie makers are actually some of the easiest I work with because they have few, if any, preconceived ideas about how to work with dough. I show them, as I do all workshop participants, what I have learned over my years of pie making, and what works for me. They are thrilled with their results when they see their beautiful pie, with fruit filling bubbling through the vents of a golden brown top or lattice, come out of the oven. And, that it was so easy, too…well, they walk out the door not only with a pie to share, but with the confidence to make another!
Mimi: In your pie workshops, do you find that many of the participants come with misconceptions about pie? If so, what is the biggest one and how do you address it?
Kate: One of the questions I am asked by participants is if they will be able to make a pie just like their grandmother made. I tell them that maybe, but that the pie that they are making will be their own unique pie. Pie making is easy if we realize that there is no right or wrong and are not attached to a specific outcome. It’s being willing to step up to the (pie)plate on the baking counter and try! Sometimes, in fact most times, pies made by the participants in my workshops turn out better than anything they expected it to be. They truly can’t believe that they have made it.
I’ve had my fair share of less than stellar pies over the years, and share stories of my challenges, as well as my successes with students. I mean, it’s great if you can make a perfect pie in class, but it’s important to know how to fix things if something goes awry at home. And, I believe that making mistakes is how we learn! Let’s just call it creativity!
So, when someone comes in at the beginning of class saying how difficult or impossible it is to make dough, by the end of our session together, they usually have done a complete 180 and are ready to go out and teach someone else about the joys of pie making. What could be better than that!
Mimi: Tell me about your new book!
Kate: My first book, Art of the Pie: A Downhome, Practical Guide to Pie Making and Life, is scheduled to come out in the Fall of 2016. Since 2009 editors have been asking me if I would write a book, but truthfully I didn’t feel ready, plus I was so busy teaching that I just didn’t have the time to stop and write. It’s a big commitment of time!
I received an email from an editor at The Countryman Press (W.W. Norton) in the summer of 2015, and to make a long story short, I was invited to visit with them in their offices in New York City when I was teaching in the city last fall. It was pretty exciting to stride down 5th Avenue with such a purpose and into one of those big buildings. The visit went well, a few months later, and with the help of my fabulous literary agent, my proposal was accepted! And I was thrilled when Andrew Scrivani, New York Times food photographer, agreed to do the pictures. I spent one full week in his studio making pies this fall, and he just came to Pie Cottage in September to complete the shoot.
Although I’ve been working on this project for one year now, in some ways I feel that I have been working on it all my life. I’ve been baking since I was very little, and have always loved to teach and this book is a way for me to share how easy it is to make pie with those who aren’t able to come to my workshops. In addition to recipes, there are lots of stories like growing up next door to my dad’s mortuary, the healing power of my grandmother’s Lemon Meringue Pie, and living in a tree house perched on the side of a mountain that was sliding down. I’ve tried to put down in words everything I’ve learned about pie making over the years, but since I keep learning something new every day, I might have to do a second book in order to share even more!
Mimi: When will you do another pie workshop in So. California?
Kate: I love coming to So. California to teach because that’s where I grew up. I try to schedule workshops in the Bay Area, Los Angeles, and my home town of Santa Barbara every Spring. My son, Duncan (also an award winning pie maker!), and Robin (his sweetheart), are my pie camp counselors and accompany me on our Pie a la Road trips whenever possible. Right now we’re also ramping up for Art of the Pie Camp on Whidbey Island, WA which will take place May 18-22.
Learn more about Art of the Pie Camp : www.artofthepie.com
I can hardly wait to get my hands on Kate’s book, and hopefully I’ll make it up to Washington for camp someday too! Thank you, Kate for your inspiration and encouragement! Let’s play piano duets someday!