Erin Jeanne McDowell: The Pie Maestro

This year has done unthinkable things to me. I missed New York mentally. I still do. But I began thinking about all the places I missed and how could I recreate those specific desserts at home. An American Pie and Banana Cream Pudding aren’t available here. So I had to find a way to curb those cravings. The cravings were crazy!

Four years ago, I quit sugar (using the word ‘quitting’ in a loose way, but there was a time I had sugar several times a day every single day till I was 25). I started eating less processed off the shelf desserts / cakes and treated myself less when outside. I haven’t touched a coca cola in five years. I still skip a few days before having a dessert and anything I make at home uses less than half the recommended sugar that the recipe advises to use. So far it has gone well. However, what I miss about New York is the APPLE PIE. No one does pie the way they do in America.

I struggled to find it in London in lockdown and so I decided to venture out and start digging recipes. I was exposed to a crazy and inspiring world of pie. On Food 52 I found myself addicted to Erin talking about the types of crust you could make and how you could perfect it day by day.

She has changed the pie game for me and I had to interview her. Luckily, her book is coming out: The Book on Pie and I can’t wait to get my hands on it:

Why do you love pie so much?
People in my family love to eat pie, and we would often veer significantly off course on a road trip just to secure a solid slice. I baked my first pies with my grandma when I was about 14 years old – and I fell in love. They are the first baked good I learned to make using muscle memory rather than a recipe. They’ve held a special place in my heart ever since. 

Your earliest memory of pie?
Driving 45 minutes out of our way to go to a diner in Illinois who supposedly had amazing pie. I had coconut cream. 

What inspired you to write the book? 

I actually wrote a pitch for a pie book back in 2015 when my first book was signed by my publisher. Back then, they were concerned a single subject book wasn’t the best way for an author to debut. My first book is about general baking tips and tricks. But I always hoped a pie book was in the cards. After my 2018 pie spread in the New York Times, my publisher was excited by what was possible with pie! I wrote the proposal that same week.

What is the best pie you’ve tried at a bakery/ Any recommendations for those visiting the US?

Sweet Potato at Back in the Day Bakery -Savannah Georgia Salted Maple Pie Sister Pie – Detroit. I haven’t physically tried but very intrigued by the pies at Crust by Mack in Baltimore. 

I live in London and feel there is a stark difference in pie here to the ones in the US. Would you agree?

Yes “American” style pies generally boast a flakier crust than UK style pies. While savory pies are definitely a thing, there are generally more dessert pies than savory pies in the states as well. 

What inspires you on a daily basis?

My family is a huge source of inspiration for my recipes. I’m one of my only family members that lives a ways away from “home” in Kansas where I grew up – and thinking of memories or specific people is a constant source of recipe inspo for me! 

Your advice to those starting something of their own?

Be true to yourself. There’s a lot of people, a lot of writing, a lot of recipes, a lot of food out there. The only thing you can do is bring yourself to it – that’s one thing no one else can do! 

Your all time favourite pie?
Double crust Concord Grape! Juicy, sour – the perfect fruit pie! 

What is the first recipe we should try from your book?

Beginners will appreciate that every recipe is ranked with a difficulty ranking – so starting with any recipe marked “easy” is a great place to start. Some of my favorite pies include the “my favorite apple pie” the “sugar pie” and the “peanut butter cream pie with raspberry meringue”.

I can’t wait to read Erin’s book. The Book on Pie

I also interviewed Arnold Wilkerson of The Little Pie Company.

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