Pie a la Road Adventure with Kate McDermott

This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series Baking

Strawberry-Rhubarb pie in red pie plate in front of bright tulips

Have you ever dreamed of baking perfect pies that come out of the oven golden brown, bubbling and filling the house with the aromas only home baking can bring? Does the prospect of having to be absolutely perfect with your measurements keep you from baking? Do you wish you could have a seasoned professional teach you all her tricks? Then you need to take one of Kate McDermott’s pie making classes.

Kate lives in the Seattle area in a haven called Pie Cottage. She teaches across the nation and in Europe and is in high demand wherever she goes. Her classes usually fill up within hours of registration opening and there has never been anyone who wasn’t delighted after spending the day learning from her. Kate also offers Pie Camps, a 5-day pie extravaganza where you get a full immersion course in everything pie.

Kate McDermott, beautiful smile, apron on and ready to make pies

Our fearless leader, the inimitable Kate McDermott

Kate and I met in a perfect example of kismet; totally randomly and yet somehow predestined. I had just joined the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) and was headed to Portland, Oregon for my first conference. I’ve been doing trade shows and conferences for years and am normally quite confident and calm, but this time I wouldn’t know a soul and it terrified me. Over the years I have learned that when something scares me to my core, it is exactly what I should be doing.

At the Newcomer’s luncheon, I chose a seat at one of the tables and was getting settled in when a lovely lady asked if the seat next to me was open. She had a smile that welcomed everyone, with twinkling blue eyes and a grace born of many years of being comfortable in her own skin. This was Kate. She and I struck up a conversation and there was an instant connection – like we had known each other for years. That affection has grown over the years and we are thrilled each time we get to see one another, usually at food conferences around the country.

Making cinnamon-sugar bites to nibble on during class

Making cinnamon-sugar bites to nibble during class

A couple of months ago Kate told me that she was going to be touring California teaching pie classes. I immediately asked her if she was planning on any classes in the Bay Area. She was and they were all booked already, but she was willing to add one if I could pull it together. That’s all it took – I’ve been dreaming of taking one of Kate’s classes for years and I was finally going to be able to!

A flurry of emails started flying as I contacted an old high school friend of mine who I knew loved cooking and baking. She immediately said yes, she would be happy to host a class in her home. Thank you Debi Koenig for your kind hospitality and generosity. A few more logistic emails and we were locked. Yea!

Cinnamon-sugar bites for nibbling during pie class with Kate McDermott

Then the day arrived. I was photographing the class, trying to capture as much as I could of the magic that only Kate can bring to her craft. Her son Duncan and his girlfriend Robin were with her to help with the setup and clean up, organization, and assisting during the classes. Incredibly hard working with quiet natures, they allow Kate to focus on what she does best – teach.

Workstations all set up and ready for pie making to begin!

Workstations all set up and ready for pie making to begin!

Kate begins her classes by putting people at ease, explain the basics of pie making and taking the mystery out of the process. Pie dough is made with just four simple ingredients – flour, fat, salt and water. Putting them together is easy when you understand what to look for, can feel when the dough needs more water, and when you have a pro standing at your elbow guiding each step of the way. Suddenly the crust that has always fought you is pliable and perfect. The lattice that has eluded you for years is logical. Cutting the dough in half and seeing the striations of butter is a thing of beauty.

Strawberry-Rhubarb pie hot and bubbling from the oven

Strawberry-Rhubarb pie hot and bubbling from the oven

The students ranged from confident bakers who had made pies before and were looking to improve their skills, to rank beginners, nervous and unsure that they would be able to make anything resembling a real pie. I watched as Kate, in her loving, kind, and gentle manner take each step of the process, breaking it down into easy to understand elements and demonstrating each step so we knew what it should look and feel like.

Kate and her son Duncan enjoying the class questions

Kate and her son Duncan enjoying the class questions

Kate’s format is to demonstrate one skill and then have everyone do it for themselves. Then, while the dough is resting in the refrigerator, she demonstrates the next step, slowing down so everyone can see what she is doing. When she was demonstrating rolling out the dough, always from the center out, never back and forth, her hands confidently directing the rolling pin, we all knew we could repeat that. We were mesmerized at how simple she made it look and how quickly it came together under her knowing and capable hands.

Kate's capable hands trimming the edge of pie dough

As the day progressed I watched as each person’s confidence grew with each step they mastered. A bit nervous in the beginning, they soon were fast friends, sharing laughs and stories as they measured ingredients, cut butter and lard into the flour, rolled out the dough, wove lattice top crusts, and crimped the edges. During the class she repeatedly had everyone recite the measurements for the dough out loud, reinforcing the formula and cementing it in our brains. Rule One: Chill. We can all make pie without a recipe now. It is her pie mantra and it works!

While the pies baked (a feat monitored closely by Duncan and Robin, no easy task), we sat down to relax, celebrate the successful making our own pies, and eating the pie Kate had baked in the morning. Comfortably chatting with each other, I watched the group that had arrived as strangers become friends. That is the miracle that Kate creates with each class.

An old-fashioned vegetable chopper works best to cut the butter into the flour

An old-fashioned vegetable chopper works best to cut the butter into the flour

A few final photographs of the finished pies, a graduation photo with all the students proudly displaying their gorgeous baked pies, and everyone went home to show their families what they had accomplished. I know this feeling well and it was wonderful to watch it on their faces.

Happiness and confidence after making her first pie!

Happiness and confidence after making her first pie!

Multiple times during the day Kate brought tears to my eyes – it was like being back in the kitchen with my grandmother Mimi, standing at her elbow as she guided my tiny hands with her large, rough, yet incredibly gentle ones. The phrases Kate uses, her ease with measuring (no carefully scooped and scraped measuring cups here … if one tablespoon was a little full, make the next one a little less), the way she explains each step, her sureness and confidence all made me long for the warmth of my childhood kitchen.

Hands flying as everyone makes their perfect pies

Hands flying as everyone makes their perfect pies

Oh how I wish I had had more time with Mimi, but she died when I was just 10, barely beginning to cook and bake. But she had already instilled in me the confidence that anything was possible, that there were only a few ingredients that needed to be carefully measured (baking powder, baking soda, and yeast), and everything else was by feel.

Kate has the grace, ease, and confidence of someone who has honed her craft with years of practice, combined with the ability to communicate her experience in ways that everyone can understand.

The hands of a master pie maker

The hands of a master pie maker

Please go to Kate’s website, Art of the Pie, and subscribe so you can find out when her next classes are going to happen. A day in the kitchen with Kate is worth any expense and hassle of traveling. If you want her to come to your area and teach, and have enough people to fill the classes, let her know – perhaps you can make that dream a reality! I am hoping to spend a few days at Pie Cottage, in the kitchen with Kate, doing what we both love most, baking.

I love Kate. There is no kinder, more gentle, or generous soul on the earth. She exudes love, kindness and happiness and brings it out in everyone she meets. Please, do yourself a huge favor and find a way to spend time with this incredible woman. You will walk away changed forever and carrying a pie that you made with your own hands!

The graduating class of Kate McDermott's pie class - all smiles and delicious pies

The graduating class of Danville, CA – all smiles and delicious pies!

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