When you grow up in a household that loves to bake and bakes often, as mine did, you learn to appreciate food. What you seldom actually learn, however, is why the chef of the family doesn’t skimp on certain things. I got a quick- and hard- lesson in the why’s a few years ago.
Cakes are my favorite things to bake. Pies, on the other hand, aren’t one of my favorite things- but are one of my favorites to eat. In 2015, though, as an almost-married woman, I decided it is was unacceptable that I had never made a pie before. And so with Christmas arriving on our doorstep I rolled up my sleeves and determinedly tried my hand at a pie for the first time in my life.
What a truly frustrating little shindig that whole thing turned out to be.
What on Earth possessed me to try my hand at my first pie during Christmas week, I’ll never know. But whatever it was, I tried desperately for hours that night to get a pie crust worth a nickle; I made crusts with everything from Wheat Flour to White Flour, Bread and Cake And even All-Purpose. I tried water, I tried milk, I tried Vodka… All those little tips and tricks for “the perfect pie crust”. Nothing, however, was coming out as it should have.
My own stubbornness wasn’t helping, either; I inherited my Mother’s temper, for sure, but I also inherited her pigheadedness- and as a self proclaimed Kitchen Goddess I refused to buy premade anything for desserts… A premade pie crust? That was completely out of the question for me on general principle. But it was well past 2 am. I still had to deliver a pie to Christmas Dinner at my parents’ house that evening, and there I was still fiddling. When I finally did succeed I collapsed exhausted in bed, covered from head to toe in flour, on the verge of crying myself to sleep, and determined to never make a pie again.
That determination didn’t last long, unfortunately. Hours later when I delivered the final product- misshapen,ugly, and overdone as it was- to my Mother’s doorstep she was having the same problem with her own crusts. Possessed by that unknown thing once again, I rolled up my sleeves and dug my fingers in (as the women of my family tend to do).
My Husband eyed me suspiciously from the corner, waiting for that inevitable flare of temper and the flying of kitchen utensils. And given the mood I had been in last night, I can’t say I blamed him for doing so. But no angry outbursts and flying spoons came, though. Instead I churned out effortlessly perfect crusts, one right after another until they were all finished. They weren’t the best, but they worked.
It wasn’t until much later- after everyone’s stomachs were stuffed, the leftovers had been divided out, and my Husband and I were driving the half hour back to our place- that it hit me: My own mothers’ problems with her crusts came from a place of Holiday Stress. To put it mildly, she has never worked well under pressure and has a temper worse than mine… But she is also one of sometimes extreme brand loyalty; there are simply things in our pantry that, growing up, she would never opt for generic versions of.
That brand loyalty of hers included Butter, Cheese, and yes… Flour.
My Mother-in-Law, on the other hand, prides herself on being what she calls a “Survivalist Chef”- which really amounts to an overabundance of Vegetable Soup, to be honest. Part of that is a penchant for purchasing unnecessary quantities in bulk when on sale. Most of these are items of lesser quality, unfortunately- Flour included.
And so I did what any logical person would do: I marched my little self down to the store, picked up my Mother’s brand of Flour, went home, and tried it all over again. Wouldn’t you be surprised to know that I had much better results that time around? I know I was! And in that moment I learned three very important lessons about the Kitchen and baking:
First, I learned that quality matters- especially if you are baking; even the quality of something as seemingly insignificant as Flour can make the baking of a relatively simple item into the embodiment of living Hell.
Secondly, I realized that, no. Generic and Brand Name are not always created equal. They may swear up and down that it is, and in most cases that might be true, but there really are some things you should ultimately buck up and pay the price for.
And Lastly, I learned that when starting your own Household, always look in Mom’s pantry! If they cook regularly there is more than likely a good reason why certain brands have shown up time and time again. If you value your sanity (and your kitchen utensils) you would do well to discover why these products and companies withstood the test of time.
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