Eyes on the pies
On a recent Thursday morning, the Rev. Jack Nordick had the items necessary to make his prize-winning apple pie – from the apples to the utensils to his “secret” ingredient.
Nordick, who serves both St. Clotilde in Green Valley and St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Cottonwood, has received national recognition for his recipe Grandma’s Apple Pie in the past by winning first place in Reader’s Digest “Best Apple Pie in America,” and throughout the years, he has developed his own pie recipes, made pies for others and has showed his skills to students.
And it all started with a basic recipe passed down throughout the years in his family.
Nordick had put the apple pie recipe into a church cookbook. He said his aunt had asked him how he got grandma’s apple pie recipe as she never wrote anything down.
“I watched my mother make the pie enough,” he said.
About a decade ago, Reader’s Digest was doing an issue, “The Best of Everything in America.”
“And one of the things they asked for was the best apple pie in America,” Nordick said.
So he sent in his recipe, and very quickly, the magazine called and asked for specifics, such as measurements.
“And I say, ‘I never measured, and my mother never measured and my grandma never measured,'” Nordick said.
The recipe has morphed into a contemporary version with measurements, Nordick said, which he has in a binder of recipes he titled “Let’s Cook With Jack.”
As he starts off the crust for an apple pie, Nordick puts in 2-2/3 cups of flour.
“The secret is the mixing,” he said about doing a pie crust.
Nordick said he’s done presentations on making an apple pie for 4-H clubs and home economics classes.
He added the butter-flavored Crisco, saying that he just blends together the ingredients with a fork.
A decent cook, Nordick said, also needs good utensils. He has large spatulas for moving the pie crusts into the pie pan. He also uses a pastry cloth to roll out the crust.
“It makes it so much easier to roll out the crust,” he said.
Nordick realized he needs a little more flour because the lumps are too big. He said to blend together the shortening and the flour until it looks like the texture of cornmeal. Too much shortening, the crust will not hold together, he said, and too much flour, it will be like shoe leather.
When he works with 4-H kids, he tells them they can’t have any “white spots” left in their crust.
“It takes a good amount of work to make a pie crust the way you want it,” he said.
Nordick said one of his first memories of cooking was when his sister started learning by using The Farmer magazine. He recalled a recipe for Toad in the Hole and No-Fail Brownies.
“I don’t remember anyone eating them,” Nordick said about the brownies.
Throughout the years, Nordick has also developed a few pie recipes of his own. One such recipe he calls Asphalt Pie, which is half French silk and half cooked dates. The dates completely disappear, he said, and he has had people guess that what they are tasting is coconut.
“That’s one of the top guesses,” he said.
He also has a recipe for Country Gentleman Pecan Pie, which uses honey and maple syrup. Nordick’s latest effort is to find the best key lime pie. The best still is starting from scratch with Carnation’s evaporated milk and the key limes.
“It took 50 of those to make pie,” he said. “(It was) a lot of squeezing.”
Pies have also been used in history to make something useful with leftovers, Nordick said, like venison pie. Another favorite of his is a mincemeat pie, where he boils a hunk of beef in apple cider for half a day and uses suet, raisins, apples and other ingredients. It’s a pie his mother made quite a bit, Nordick said.
“I can’t get other people to eat it,” he said.
Taking a chunk of dough the size of a tennis ball, Nordick rolled out the crust with a jar, rolling along the edges and not just back and forth.
He then took the spatula to place the bottom crust into the pie pan. He sprinkled Minute tapioca onto the crust before adding cinnamon, nutmeg, butter and the apples. Nordick said he mixes up the kinds of apples he uses in a pie, which includes Granny Smith, Braeburn, Fuji, Jazz and Honeycrisp.
“I do not like applesauce pie,” he said.
You want the apples heaped up pretty high when making a pie, Nordick said as he continued to cut up more apples. After he finished with the filling, he went to roll out the top crust. He said he tries to make the top crust a little smaller than the other crust. He crimped around the edges and then cut vents on the top.
“I make apple leaves,” Nordick said about his signature design to the crust.
Nordick’s apple pie recipe submission was tested by the Culinary Institute of America in New York, he said. Nordick said the secret ingredient to the recipe was his mother’s contribution – three tablespoons of frozen orange juice concentrate.
Some of the best recipes he’s found, Nordick said, come from cookbooks that came from farm auctions.
As for his pie creations, Nordick said some come from his imagination.
“If you never have a failure, you aren’t really trying,” Nordick said.
And he does have a favorite kind of pie.
“My personal favorite pie is lemon meringue,” he said. Nordick said his mother liked blueberry pie.