Nancie McDermott's (Thailand 1975-78) Pies Aren't Perfect

By ANDREA WEIGL – McClatchy Newspapers

Nancie McDermott wants you to bake pies. But she doesn’t insist on a homemade pie crust. Her recipes don’t assume you own a Kitchen Aid standing mixer. Your pies do not have to turn out as pretty as the pictures in her latest cookbook, “Southern Pies: A Gracious Plenty of Pie Recipes from Lemon Chess to Chocolate Pecan.”

“I would like to be the enemy of perfectionism,” McDermott says. “There’s so much of that in food.”

Rather, she says, “let the beautiful thing inspire you, not intimidate you.”

This is the 10th book from McDermott, of Chapel Hill, N.C., whose previous books include “Southern Cakes” and “Real Thai,” along with a series of cookbooks with quick-and-easy recipes.

McDermott said being a Peace Corps volunteer led her to become a food writer.

Raised in High Point, N.C., McDermott graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, wanting anything but an ordinary life. So she volunteered for the Peace Corps and was sent to Thailand. She loved to eat the Thai food and would later regret not learning how to cook it. After three years, she returned to North Carolina, got her teaching certificate and ended up teaching English and social studies in High Point.

She longed to cook the food she had eaten in Thailand. There were no nearby Thai restaurants at the time, but there was an Asian grocery store in Greensboro. With the help of a few cookbooks, McDermott figured out how to make chicken coconut soup and other Thai specialties.

By 1981, McDermott was ready for a change. “I wasn’t meeting any boys,” she says, laughing.

So she moved to New York, where she met her future husband while standing in line for a movie. Living with friends, working for a caterer, McDermott says she had Chinatown and Thai restaurants to further her Thai cooking education.

In the mid-1980s, her husband’s graduate work took them to Southern California, where she was a short drive away from Orange County’s Little Saigon. There were Thai restaurants, cafes and Asian grocery stores with not only dried but also fresh ingredients.

She started teaching at cooking schools all over Southern California. After taking a food writing class, she started writing for newspapers and magazines.

“Real Thai,” her book devoted to the country cooking of Thailand, was published in 1992 and is still in print. She followed that book with seven others devoted to Asian cooking, from curries to stir fries.

In 1999, McDermott and her family moved back to North Carolina. Since returning, she has turned her love of Southern desserts into a pair of cookbooks. As we head into holiday baking season, she hopes home cooks will not be intimidated by the food world’s focus on perfection but rather get in the kitchen and start baking. With apologies to the sneaker company, McDermott’s attitude is this: Just do it.



3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup very cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
6 to 8 tablespoons ice water
1 1/2 teaspoon white vinegar


Author Nancie McDermott credits cooking instructor Sandra Gutierrez, former food editor for The Cary (N.C.) News, with this recipe. From McDermott’s “Southern Pies: A Gracious Plenty of Pie Recipes from Lemon Chess to Chocolate Pecan” (Chronicle Books, 2010).

COMBINE flour and salt in a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Pulse for 10 seconds. Add butter cubes and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse sand with some small lumps, 30 to 40 seconds.

ADD 4 tablespoons of ice water and vinegar and pulse 5 to 7 times, until dough just barely holds together. Add another tablespoon or two of water if needed just to bring the ingredients together. Turn out onto plastic wrap, and pat dough into three separate disks; refrigerate them for at least 1 hour. Set disks out at room temperature for 10 minutes before rolling.

ROLL out one of the dough disks on a lightly floured surface to a circle about 1/8 inch thick and 10 inches wide. Carefully transfer it into a 9-inch pie plate. Press dough gently into pan and trim away any excess dough, leaving about 1/2 inch beyond the edge of the pie pan. Fold edges up and over, and then crimp the edges decoratively. Or press the back of a fork into the pastry rim, working around the pie to make a flat edge marked with the tines of a fork. If not filling the crust soon, refrigerate it until needed.

Yield: 3 9-inch crusts



3 9-inch single pie crusts or store-bought pie crusts
2 1/4 pounds cooking apples, such as Granny Smith, Jonathan, Rome Beauty or Empire
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/3 cup butter
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour


From Nancie McDermott’s “Southern Pies: A Gracious Plenty of Pie Recipes from Lemon Chess to Chocolate Pecan” (Chronicle Books, 2010).

HEAT oven to 375 degrees. Roll out a third of pie dough into a 10-inch circle. Line a 9-inch deep-dish pie pan with one crust, leaving 1/2-inch overhang.

PEEL apples, core them and cut them into slices 1/2 inch thick. (Youâ€TMll have about 5 cups.) In a large saucepan, combine apples, sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Toss to combine evenly. Add butter and water, and bring to a gentle boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to maintain a gentle simmer, and cook until apples are tender, about 20 minutes. Stir in flour and cook 10 minutes more, stirring now and then.

POUR half apple mixture into pie crust. Roll half of remaining dough into a 9-inch circle and place it over apple filling in pan. Place pie in the center rack of the oven. Bake until pastry is golden brown and the apple filling is bubbling, about 20 minutes.

POUR remaining apple mixture into crust, covering cooked pastry. Using back of a spoon, dab a little water on the strip of pie crust covering rim of the pie pan. Roll the remaining dough into a 10-inch circle, and place it carefully over the apple filling. Trim away extra pastry extending beyond the rim of the pie pan.

SEAL top crust by using the back of a fork to press the top and bottom crusts together, working your way around the rim by pressing the tines of a fork into the pastry edge. Use a sharp knife to cut about eight slits into the top crusts, spacing them evenly so that steam can escape and the filling can bubble as it cooks.

RETURN pie to the oven and bake until the pastry is golden brown and the filling is fragrant, about 20 to 25 minutes.

PLACE pie on cooling rack or a folded kitchen towel and let cool for 15 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Yield: 8 servings

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