I got my pie crust recipe from my mom. Her instructions are handwritten and say "Mamie's Pie Crust" across the top. I didn't know who "Mamie" was so I asked my mom. Here's our conversation:
MOM: Oh, remember when I taught at that [one-room] school out by Roman's Lake?
MOM: Before I was married [pre-1948] that school that was up on that hill? on that dirt road?
ME: No. I don't even know where Roman's Lake is. [I think it's a fictitious lake or the site of a dried up lake--I've heard of it, but only in stories pre-color t.v. It could be real, but my family makes references to now-nonexistent locations often.]
MOM: Well, the second year I taught there [probably at age 18], I stayed with an old woman named Mamie way at the end of that dirt road. She was a weird old lady, but she could cook.
My mom is in her 80s, so I'm going to assume Mamie isn't around anymore, and I won't have a weird old lady coming after me because I gave away her secret pie crust recipe. The ingredients are simple and probably the same ingredients everyone else uses:
3 Cups Flour
a Little Salt
1 Cup Lard (I use original Crisco in the blue can)
1/2 Cup Cold Water
"A Little Salt" to me means two or three good shakes from my salt shaker. By, the way, how cool is my Margaritaville salt shaker?
Here are all the dry ingredients together. I have never used lard like the recipe calls for. If you actually want to use it, by all means try it. I'm sure that's what Mamie used.
This is a pastry blender. Martha Stewart would tell you its the proper tool to use when mixing your pie crust. It cuts through the ingredients without mashing them together.
This is what I use:
This is a huge no-no in making any kind of pastry. The number one rule in making pie crusts or other pastries is to keep the mixture cool, so the shortening doesn't melt. Your hands are warm, so you shouldn't use them. You should use a chilled pastry blender. My mom taught me to make pie crusts using my hand as a mixer, and that's all I can use. I'm confident that's how Mamie did it too. In an effort not to break the rules as flagrantly, when I wash my hands before sticking them in the crust mixture, I rinse them in cold water, so they're as cool as possible. My mom didn't teach me this. Maybe that's why my crusts are better than hers.
The number two rule in making pie crusts is don't overwork the dough. You're not kneading it. You're combining it. I use my fingers to kind of sift the ingredients together, not the flat of my hand. As soon as the ingredients are all mixed, the dough will be crumbly. I can tell when it's ready by feel, and that's why I like to use my hands to mix it. Here's a picture of the dry ingredients all mixed:
When the crust is at this crumbly stage, add the 1/2 cup cold water. I make a small container of ice water, let it get really cold, then take my water from that. Mix the water in gradually, at least in two parts. Mixing again with my hand, or using a pastry blender if you're a purist, as soon as the dough will form into a ball like this:
It's done. Do not overwork the dough. If you overwork it, the crust will be tough instead of flaky. Divide the crust and put half of it in the refrigerator to keep cool until you're ready for it.
Roll out the bottom crust.
Use flour to keep your crust from sticking to your flat surface and your rolling pin, but wipe off as much as possible. You only need a thin layer to keep it from sticking. Your crust can be thin or thick and still be flaky, as long as the shortening hasn't melted into the other ingredients.
Here's my bottom crust and with cherry pie filling. I leave the edges long until I add the top crust. A little water around the edges will help seal the top and bottom crusts together. Also, if your crust cracks or you need to patch it, use a little water on your fingertips to fuse it together.
Here's the pie ready for the oven. I used a fork to poke holes in the top crust to let out steam. I also sprinkled sugar on the top crust.
Here's the finished, baked pie: