Kate McDermott is a Northwest treasure.
She’s an acclaimed pie maker, baking teacher and soon-to-be published author. And after spending a day in the warmth of “Pie Cottage,” her Port Angeles home, I can tell you there is more to Kate’s wisdom than how to make a perfect artisanal pie crust. I have been eagerly looking for an opportunity to take a class at Pie Cottage since meeting Kate a few years ago. So, I was delighted when she invited me to document the making of a very unique pie.
“If you know something, share it,” is Kate’s motto and way of life. Her love of pie came from her childhood next door neighbor who taught her to bake “with a coffee cup and spoons from the drawer.”
Today, Kate shares the same neighborly lessons with students at her home and across the country, all eager to learn that making pie is as easy as the saying claims. Her popular hands-on classes have empowered skittish home bakers and famous foodies alike to embrace the art of the pie.
Kate also knows a great deal about shellfish, which is why author Darrin Nordahl reached out to Kate for help researching the geoduck chapter of his upcoming book, “Eating Cascadia,” due out next spring. Formerly in marketing for Taylor Shellfish, Kate can speak with authority on geoduck, from growing to cooking. Darrin asked to visit Pie Cottage to watch Kate prepare her signature dough and learn how to turn this peculiar native shellfish into a succulent savory pie that exemplifies Pacific Northwest cuisine.
Kate calls her recipe “great big clam pie.” Knowing the mention of geoduck is sure to raise eyebrows, she introduces it with two questions; “Do you like clam chowder? Do you like pot pie?” If you say yes, she is confident you will love this recipe, which is ultimately a clam chowder pot pie. And to make this spectacular pie, you have to start with the crust.
Kate’s advice to all pie makers is to approach the process with a warm heart and cool hands.
“Before getting your hands in the dough,” she encourages, “take a moment to ask, ‘Who is this for and what am I doing.’”
On that day, we dedicated the pie to Kate’s beloved and too-soon-departed friend Jenny.
Kate scooped flour with a cherished coffee cup, added a bit of salt, then cut slabs of butter and leaf lard, measuring first by eye before confirming the portions with a kitchen scale. (They were within a gram. Kate’s eye is that good.) The mixture of butter and lard is Kate’s preferred method for a universally great pie crust. All butter, she says, makes for a tougher crust which can be good for some recipes; while all lard is too “lardy.”
Kate cut the fat into the flour mixture until the pieces ranged in size from crumbs to “peas to almonds with a few walnut halves” here and there. When deciding how long to spend on this step, “stop before you think you are done,” Kate advises.
To turn the pebbly mixture into dough, Kate used icy cold water. Though there are measurements provided in all of Kate’s recipes, she encourages bakers to relax and let the dough lead.
“The goal is to make sure the water has visited every part of the bowl,” she said.
Let the dough come together; if it needs more water, add a bit more.
Once the dough was formed, she gave it a few extra folds before splitting it into two hemispheres. The centers, Darrin observed, “look like a fine charcuterie” with speckles and lumps of yellow butter and milky white lard encased in velvety smooth dough. Kate patted the dough into two thick rounds she calls “chubby discs” then covered them tightly with plastic wrap before setting them in the refrigerator to rest for at least an hour.
While the dough recovered from its workout, Kate introduced Darrin and me to a live Dabob Bay geoduck, generously provided by Taylor Shellfish. The geoduck’s iconic wrinkled neck protruded absurdly from its disproportionately small shell. The way it explored its surroundings was strikingly similar to the movements of an elephant’s trunk.
Though geoduck are perhaps the most comical members of the shellfish world, there was nothing funny about the reverent way Kate handled the creature. Mindful of what was about to happen, Kate paused to thank the geoduck before sliding it into a pot of boiling water. Seconds later she plucked it from the pot and dropped it into a bowl of ice water to stop any further cooking.
The shell came away easily and the guts were removed with a few quick knife strokes. A firm tug was all that was needed for the outer membrane to come away from the neck. Kate shaved off a few pieces for Darrin and me to try sashimi (raw) style. I was surprised to find the flavor was light and fresh, not at all fishy, with only a slight briny taste from living in salt water. It had a slight crunch more reminiscent of cucumber than seafood.
At this point, the geoduck lay on the cutting board looking very much like a breast of chicken. Once chopped, it was ready to use any way one might use a bucket of clams. However, unlike the tedious work of shelling clams, this single geoduck had enough meat for an entire pie.
The remaining filling was nearly identical to what goes into pot pie. Strips of bacon sizzled in a cast iron skillet while Kate diced potatoes, onion, and celery. “I am a child of the 60s,” she said, referring to the Simon and Garfunkel song while mincing sprigs of parsley, thyme, and freshly picked rosemary. “I have to use these.”
At Kate’s invitation, Darrin and I sampled the partially cooked filling. In its semi-cooked state, all the flavors stood out on their own but nothing was dominating. Though the potatoes were still crunchy, Darrin and I had a hard time putting down our tasting spoons to let the mixture cool enough to fill the crusts.
Watching Kate roll pie crust was a masterclass unto itself. I was mesmerized by the cool, confident way she approached the dough. She moved her rolling pin in long, even motions. She knew exactly how much pressure was needed to relax the dough into a velvety panel as thick as “the glass of a mason jar.”
Her rolled crust was smooth and elastic. She moved the panel with ease as though it were a piece of canvas. Darrin and I each took a turn picking up the dough and flipping it over on the counter. It was sturdy, not at all fragile like many of the pie crusts I have made in my kitchen.
Using the pie dishes as a guide, she cut circles of dough to fit into individually sized pie dishes. When one of the bottom crusts tore, she used it as an opportunity to emphasize the forgiving nature of dough. “What goes on between you and the pie stays between you and the pie. (If the dough rips) just patch it.”
The single serving pot pies went in the oven to bake while the three of us settled in to talk about shellfish ecology and Washington’s other native ingredients, like huckleberries. After about an hour of teasing us with their mouthwatering aroma our “great big clam pies” were perfectly golden and ready to eat. A simple salad and crisp white wine completed our midday feast.
The tender pastry crackled under our forks. I noticed the beautiful flaky layers created by the folds Kate put into the dough. There was a bit of everything in each bite — tender herb-infused potatoes, subtly sweet geoduck, salty bacon, and bits of buttery pie crust. I relished every mouthful willing more room into my stomach not wanting to miss a single flavorful bite.
A week later I set out to put Kate’s lessons into action.
I sliced apples then set to work replicating Kate’s supple crust. Staring into my mixing bowl, fretting I might not get everything exactly right, I recalled another pearl of wisdom Kate shared in her kitchen: “I don’t think there is any failure. Of course you won’t make pie like your grandmother, you will make your pie.”
Rose McAvoy is a food columnist for The Herald..
Kate McDermott’s cookbook, “Art of the Pie: A Practical Guide to Homemade Crusts, Fillings, and Life” will be published in October. Find her online at www.artofthepie.com.
Darrin Nordahl wrote “Eating Appalachia: Rediscovering regional American flavors” and his next book, “Eating Cascadia,” is due in spring 2017. Find him online at www.darrinnordahl.com.
Geoduck deep dish pie
Acclaimed pie baker, Kate McDermott, says that geoduck pie is one of the best savory pies she has ever made. This simple to make pie is always greeted with oohs, ahs and yums.
For one 9 inch to 10 inch deep dish pie pan
- 1 double crust pie dough recipe (use your favorite recipe or the Art of the Pie recipe)
- 1.5 to 2.5 pound geoduck
- 1 onion, chopped
- 5 red potatoes
- 4 cloves garlic, chopped fine
- 2 stalks celery, chopped
- 1 handful of Italian flat-leaf parsley, chopped
- 3 Tablespoons good quality olive oil
- 8 pieces of bacon
- 1/2 teaspoon sage
- 1/2 teaspoon rosemary
- 1 teaspoon thyme
- 1 to 2 tablespoons Mama Lil’s Peppers or other pickled Hungarian peppers, (optional)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- A few shavings of black truffle, (optional)
- 1 egg yolk plus 2 teaspoons water
Prepare the geoduck meat
Boil a big pot of water. With tongs, quickly submerge the entire geoduck, shell and all, in the boiling water. After ten seconds remove the geoduck with tongs.
With a sharp knife, quickly make a cut along the inside of each shell to remove the meat. Make an additional cut along the middle of the body and remove and discard everything inside. Remove the siphon casing on the long neck of the geoduck. Rinse the body and siphon meat well in very cold water.
Slice and chop the mantle and siphon meat much as you would for stir fry or small pieces of meat for stew.
Make the filling
Chop onions, garlic, celery, parsley and saute in olive oil over medium low heat.
In another pan cook bacon over medium heat.
Drain on paper towels and then chop into 1 inch size pieces and add to onion mixture.
Add the herbs, geoduck and optional peppers. Cook slowly for a few minutes.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Add the optional truffle shavings.
Set aside to cool.
Construct the pie
Roll out a pie dough and place in pie pan.
Pour in the cooled filling.
Roll out the top crust and place over the filling.
Crimp edges and cut a few vents on top of the pie.
Fork beat egg yolk and water together in small bowl and brush over the top of the pie.
Place pie on center rack of oven that has been preheated to 425F and bake for 20 minutes.
Turn oven down to 375F and bake for an additional 30-35 minutes until you see some steam coming out of the vents and the top of the pie is golden.
Cool for 10 minutes and serve.
Recipe created for Taylor Shellfish Farms by Kate McDermott, Art of the Pie. Used with permission of the author.
This recipe as well as many other sweet and savory pies will appear in the forthcoming memoir “Art of the Pie: A Practical Guide to Homemade Crusts, Fillings, and Life” out October 2016 from The Countryman Press/W.W. Norton.