Courtesy of Ellen Melson, Sloans Creek Farm
Photo by Lily Yandell
I have been using my great grandmother’s pie crust recipe ever since I can remember. She was a tiny woman, so short she had to use a booster when she drove a car, and she still had to look through the steering wheel to see. When my older sister and I would stay with her, she always had an old stool she used in the kitchen to cook, and she always had a pie.
She was a diabetic, but she had a sweet tooth, and refused to believe that something so good could cause any harm. She made pies so often that after she died, my mom found the fixtures of her wedding ring packed with dried pie crust. I have a lot of good memories of her, but she wasn’t the type of great grandmother to let us help with the cooking–she wanted things done her way and that was that. This may be the reason that I have never been able to get her pie crust quite right. My version just never seemed to have the flaky texture of hers or just the right taste. For this reason, I began looking for another recipe but eventually fell back on Grandmother’s. Still, I was never completely satisfied, but it was the best I had found—until a few months ago.
My sister’s friend Grace Gallagher was over to stay for the weekend, and I happened to be making a pie. She mentioned that her grandmother had taught her to make pie crust with curdled milk rather than water. This is a simple process: ½ tablespoon of vinegar is added to ½ cup of milk and allowed to sit a few minutes. I tried this in place of the water in Grandmother’s recipe and presto—it worked! This has made all the difference.
The flavor is improved, and the texture is fabulous. So thanks to both of the grandmothers, to whom I can attribute this recipe.
Makes two 10-inch crusts or three 8 to 9-inch crusts
3 cups flour
1 cup butter (It isn’t the same without real butter)
2 tablespoons sugar (reduce to 2 teaspoons for savory pies)
1 teaspoon salt
½ tablespoon white wine vinegar (but plain old vinegar will do)
½ cup milk
In a large bowl, mix the vinegar and milk and let sit for a few minutes while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. (I usually prepare a few tablespoons extra, in case I need a little more moisture.)
In a larger bowl, mix the our, sugar, and salt. Cut in the butter with a pastry cutter until it resembles small, coarse peas.
Slowly add the curdled milk until the correct consistency is reached–just moist enough to work the crust into a ball. Don’t overdo the moisture or your crust will be tough. There will probably be a few crumbles, but these will start to stick as you roll it out. Work the crust quickly. The heat of your hands will melt the butter and reduce the crust’s flakiness
Tip: Ellen loves to cook with raw Jersey milk from her own cows. When she has time to make it, she uses her own butter too. “It really makes a difference,” says Ellen.
Ellen Melson and her husband Nathan own Sloans Creek Farm in Dodd City. Their meats are available at Local Yocal in McKinney and online at sloanscreekfarm.com.