Story and photos by Adrienne McGee Sterrett
Stephenie Fuerstenau’s husband, Charles, likes to joke.
“I always like to say that there’s only two kinds of pie I like: Hot and cold,” he said, grinning as he eyed the pies his wife had baked earlier that day.
Their two daughters — Evelyn and Lois — inched a little closer, too. Third daughter Margaret is too young to know what she’s missing, for now.
Fuerstenau has been baking pies from a young age, learning at her mother’s side. She remembers being fascinated by the process — the big bowl coming out of the cupboard, her mother’s “secret pie crust recipe,” the tradition.
“It’s kind of just like a thing in our family. My mom always made pie,” she explained.
Her mother, Carolyn Culp, gave her a recipe card with that “secret” recipe on it when she married.
“It meant a lot to my mom to pass that off,” she said. “She always used to say her pie crust recipe was our dowry when we got married. … We got a lot of girls to marry off, and that’ll be their dowry, too.”
Fuerstenau took first place in the Johnny Appleseed Metropolitan Park District’s Apple Pie Baking Contest last fall. Ahead of time, she made an agreement with her mother that she wouldn’t enter the “secret” family crust recipe.
“We were pretty surprised when our pie won. It was pretty exciting,” she said. Even if daughter Evelyn, who helped make it, was disappointed they couldn’t eat it as soon as it came out of the oven.
Fuerstenau is from Delphos, and she and her husband met and dated in high school. He is from Nome, Alaska, and is now a pastor with the United Methodist Church. That finds them in Harrod these days. While they both work full time, Fuerstenau still makes time to bake on the regular. She and her mother have friendly competitions, and her workplace and the church reap the reward.
“My thing, really, is peach pie. So when it’s that season, when peaches are ripe, I just make peach pie constantly,” she said.
And it’s always fruit pies for her. She doesn’t care for cream pies.
“Pie is so simple,” she said. “The ingredients are so simple. So just taking peaches and making something so wonderful and so beautiful is exciting.
“I think it really is an art. It’s not like you’re just whipping a cake together,” she said. “My favorite part is doing the edges of the crust. When you’re pinching it together, it’s your fingerprints. Every pie is different because of your fingers.”
Fuerstenau encourages others to make what they love to eat, starting with a basic recipe and making tweaks over time. She has done as much with pie crust over the years but has returned to her family recipe.
“I always tell people it’s just flour and sugar. You can do it,” she said. “Pie doesn’t have to be perfect. Just try it.”
• Use cold ingredients. Store the shortening in the refrigerator. When the dough is together, put it back in the refrigerator at least six hours or overnight. She thinks this makes the crust flaky.
• When baking apple pie, use three or four varieties of apples for flavor contrast. Slice them thin so you get a good bite of everything.
• Slow down. Take time to enjoy the process. Bring the bowl up to your nose to smell the cinnamon and sugar once you’ve mixed it.
• Taste the fruit first to see how much sugar it needs.
• Try to source homegrown fruit instead of buying at the grocery store. Homegrown or farmers market fruit is ripe and flavorful.
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup chilled Crisco
4-8 tablespoons cold water
3 cups apples, peeled, cored, sliced
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons milk
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup flour
1 cup brown sugar
For the crust: Blend flour and salt and then cut in shortening. Stir in just enough water to form the dough. Chill at least 30 minutes and then roll out dough for pie.
For the filling: Mix apples, flour, sugar, milk and spices together and place in unbaked pie shell.
For the topping: Cut the butter into the flour and sugar with a pastry blender until crumbles form. Place on top of the pie filling. Bake at 375 for 40-50 minutes.
Tip: Use the left over pie crust scraps to make cinnamon rolls and place these on top of the pie as well. Roll out the remainder of the dough, sprinkle with brown sugar and cinnamon. Roll into a log and slice thinly to make cinnamon rolls.