With TLC as an ingredient, a sweetly filled crust makes a special treat for special dad

PLEASING PAPA IS AS EASY AS PIE

June 17, 1992|By Karol V. Menzie | Karol V. Menzie,Staff Writer

Go ahead, ask Dad what he wants as a special treat for Father's Day. But I bet I know what he'll say.

Pie.

Cherry pie. Or apple pie. Or lemon meringue pie. Or chocolate pie. Or peanut butter pie. His favorite, whatever it is.

And probably a la mode.

You have two choices here. You can wimp out and head for the nearest bakery to put in your order.

Or you get out the flour and crank up the oven and dig in.

Actually, there is a third choice. You can start at the grocery, in the dairy case or frozen food case, with a prepared pie crust. Then you can fill in the favored flavor, bake it yourself, and present it hot from the oven.

Any way you present it, pie is special. "For many people, it's seen as a very special treat," says Marlene Johnson, director of product publicity for the Pillsbury Co. "It's seen as a difficult art to make a pie crust, so if you make a pie for someone, that's showing them they're special."

California-based food writer and cookbook author Faye Levy agrees that the art of making pie crust is considered to be arcane, but she thinks that's a misperception. "I think people picture when their mothers and grandmothers used to make pie crust, and it seemed to take a very long time," she says. "But really, it's pretty quick, even by hand -- and it's really quick in the food processor. You know, it just takes a minute to mix the dough."

You can even, she says, use packaged puff pastry. "Then you don't even have to roll it out. It doesn't puff up as much, but it still tastes good."

Ms. Levy, author of "Chocolate Sensations" and "Dessert Inspirations," among other books, prefers single-crust pies, or tarts, made with sweet French pastry and a pastry cream filling under the fruit topping. But a simple tart made of sweet pastry brushed with a little jam or melted preserves, topped with fruit and brushed with more jam, is a treat just about anyone can create, she says.

And if the choice is pie or no pie, Ms. Levy says, a rolled packaged crust is a time-saver that's perfectly fine.

It's true "the art of making a pie crust from scratch is a declining one," says Ms. Johnson of Pillsbury, but "we're seeing a lot of people liking to bake pies."

A lot -- as in seven out of 10 consumers Pillsbury queried claiming to bake pies at home at least nine times a year, mostly for holidays and special occasions. If you figure there are 96 million households in the country, that translates to 650 million pies a year.

And, guess what? Almost all of them are baked for men.

Pie chefs run the gamut: "Everything from 75-year-old grandmothers to young career women," according to Meredith Whiting, a spokesman for Crisco shortening who's with Brown and Whiting Public Relations in Washington.

Since 1986, Crisco has been running a yearly pie contest that draws contestants from all 50 states and results in one grand prize winner chosen from 10 regional winners. Last year there were about 1,500 entries. "We have an increasing number of entries," Ms. Whiting says. "And we have a good number of men."

There were two male winners last year, one from Nevada and one from New York State; the year before, Ms. Whiting said, "There was a guy from Maine who had a blueberry pie, and it was pretty good."

Rising interest in the contest is evident in Maryland: In 1986 the company received 13 entries from folks in the state; last year there were 49.

Even if people don't bake their own pies, they like to eat them: 83 percent of consumers surveyed by Pillsbury said they eat pie.

Most popular flavors, year-round, according to Pillsbury research, are apple, pumpkin, cherry and pecan. Most popular flavors this time of year, spring and early summer, are apple, lemon, peach and lemon meringue.

One explanation for the popularity of pie-making might be that it's so versatile. Almost any fruit or sweet can go into a pie.

"People tell us baking a pie is a form of self-expression," Ms. Johnson says. "As a result, personalization is really important to them."

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