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Sunday, January 25, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 21.0° F  Partly Cloudy
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Summertime is pie time
Bake it sweet or savory, and save us a piece

Next week I'll be doing two of my favorite things: serving pie and eating pie. Door County cherry pie, lemon blueberry tart, spinach Gruyère quiche, Moroccan chicken phyllo pie -- these are a few of the sweet and savory choices I and other volunteers will plate up at this year's Pie Palooza, a benefit brunch scheduled for Sunday, July 15.

The event is well-timed, for what with blueberries, raspberries and cherries ripening under the summer sun - not to mention tart-worthy vegetables galore - July might rightfully be called the Season of Pie.

But I've actually had pie on the brain for the last couple of years, ever since I began writing Cafe Wisconsin Cookbook, a collection of recipes and stories from small-town diners that was published last month by University of Wisconsin Press. Co-authored by folklorist Joanne Raetz Stuttgen (who also wrote the travel guide Cafe Wisconsin), the book had us on what I call the pie-and-mashed-potato circuit, knocking on diner doors and begging some of the state's best cafe cooks to reveal their home-cookin' secrets.

The following is an excerpt about - what else? - pie.

Talk About Crust

There are as many ways to prepare pie crusts as there are fillings to put in them, [and] the truth is, no single recipe can relay the way to a perfect crust. You'll need some good advice from experts and the hands-on experience of personal practice. Here's a few tips from seasoned bakers around the state. The practice part is up to you.

"The best pie crust is made with lard, but the problem I've had is with its consistency. Really hot summer days, humid days, dry, cold - it all plays out with the pie crust. I make my crust with flour, salt, ice water and a high-quality shortening similar to Crisco. We wear disposable gloves because the oils from your hands make the crust real tough. The less you play with the dough, the better it is."

- Joan Farrell, OJ's Midtown Restaurant, Gillett

"Blend together with a fork one cup flour, 1/2 cup Crisco, 1/4 cup ice water, dash of salt. Sprinkle pie crusts with powdered sugar. Bake at 350 degrees 8 to 10 minutes. This is from Our Savior's Lutheran Church Cookbook from Whitehall, Wis."

- Sherry Rawson, CJ's Cafe, Blair

"I cut shortening and salt into flour with a food processor. I fill a large tub with this pie crust mix and add ice water to about two cups to make one crust. Keep the dough cold and don't overhandle it. Keep a light hand on the rolling pin."

- Mary Davis, M&M Cafe, Monticello

"We bake in quantity and use a large mixer to make the dough. We use butter-flavor Crisco because it has the most consistency; lard tends to be inconsistent in fat content. We mix together the Crisco, water and salt, and always add the flour last - and we always short it, then add more slowly until it's moist to the point of being tacky and has just the right feel. Feel comes from experience. Don't overmix or overwork the dough or it will get tough. Don't be afraid. Making pie crust is fun. Make enough to play and experiment for a couple of days."

- Jerry Bechard, Norske Nook, Osseo

"Rendered lard makes such a flaky crust, and, of course, it's what grandmas have been using for years.....We mix the lard, vinegar, salt and water, then add the flour. We get right in the bowl with our hands and mix it literally with our fingers. (We wear gloves.) People tell us, 'This pie tastes just like Grandma's - even Great-Grandma's now.' You have to go back just about that far to find crust made from rendered lard anymore."

- Rosemary Clarke, Rudy's Diner, Brillion

"Pillsbury makes a good one."

- Missy Ramsdell, Little Babe's Cafe, Mukwonago

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