Anyone tethered to a social media feed knows that the once humble pie has evolved into an art form within our popular culture. Long before the maiden flight of four and twenty black birds from the confines of a double-crusted pastry, pie has provided both sustenance and entertainment. Throughout history, images of sweet and savory pies remind us that pie has always provided the baker with a blank pastry canvas clamoring for expression. In the event I ever become sidetracked by a little something called Life, instagram is there to remind me on a daily (if not hourly) basis that I should #upmyholidaypiegame. This does not mean a woven lattice, or a three-stranded braid, or a casual fruit appliqué. Ditto for a heartfelt but simplistic birthday or holiday greeting fashioned out of run-of-the-mill alphabet cutters. So long, simple crimp and paring knife steam vents. Hello, Pie Art.
Although Pie Art is nothing new, as December 31st slinks in, year in review postings remind me of the dazzling creations by bakers from all over the world. I would be remiss in not applauding the extraordinary work of gifted artists who constantly amaze and inspire, creating intricate designs from everyday pie dough. (I’m looking at you jojoromancer, batterednbaked, thepieous,
piesandprejudicebaker, to name just a few.) Having enjoyed taking a turn at this art form, I can assure you, the end result seldom indicates how painstaking it is to execute these pie works with precision. They also remind me how very far we have strayed from humble pie.
Today, rolling pins contribute mere pastry locomotion. Once beloved pie birds have had their wings clipped, their feathers ruffled. A classic double crust pie is old school. Top crusts are now as magnificent and exacting as intricate portraitures, as detailed as any slide projected during an art history exam. Inching their way across flour-dusted countertops are fine bladed matte knives and razor sharp aspic cutters. Pate brisée has become the medium that serves as both canvas and appliqué. We cut and chill, egg wash and apply, holding our breath as the pie bakes to see if the ‘after’ sufficiently resembles the ‘before.’
What did we do before #pieart and #imsomartha? We were #notsomartha. We were colonists who tucked savory fillings between two crusts as a way of preserving food during long winters. We were farmers overrun with bumper crops or thrifty bakers forced to improvise using cupboard staples during lean months. We were clever enough and crafty enough to rummage through kitchen drawers, embellishing the edges of piecrusts using everyday forks, spoons, and pie wheels. We vented pies allowing steam to escape using funnels or ceramic birds. Sometimes we re-rolled scraps of pie dough and hand-cut seasonal decorations as a way of jazzing up a dowdy crust. We relied on egg wash and sugar to provide a little shine, a hint of sparkle.
Today we flock like pie birds, fixated on the artistry. I struggle to understand how a fruit filling that stretches across a nine-inch pie plate can juggle both the beauty and the bake. Pies need sufficient oven time, allowing fruits to thicken and bubble. I focus on the filling but at a cost; the perfection that is captured through the lens of so many artist/bakers often eludes me.
The pie artistry flooding social media is an integral part of today’s popular culture. The truth is that no matter how often I am reminded to up my pie game, I will continue to focus on the integrity of the pie as a whole. When you make peace with the fact that you are #sonotmartha, you can worry about other things. You can worry about how the pie will taste, or if you have crafted a pie with the appropriate ratio of fruit to crust. You can focus on the drama of the pie as you retrieve it bubbling hot out of the oven, the center and the edges seemingly breathing. Dangerously juggling the hot pie, inundated with the unmistakable fragrance of fruit and butter, you realize it’s more important to avoid burning yourself than reaching for your camera. Which is why some of us will never #bemartha.
Professional Pie-isms & Seasonal Sarcasm