Home on the Range
July 5, 2009
It was a perfect season. The Shamrocks won every game. And every playoff game. Until the championship game, which they lost.
The season was short, and sweet.
On spring afternoons, 13 boys and one wiry girl practiced pitch and hit and run. They knelt: elbow on knee, chin on fist, eyes on Coach.
On summer evenings, 14 sets of parents practiced "Good eye" and "Good try" and "Good game." After which the players broke out the high-fives and chips.
My Shamrock wore his grass-stained white pants and sweat-stained green jersey, even to practice. He struck out. He dropped the ball. He stood shoulder to shoulder with Coach, eyes on the dirt. Go at your own pace, Coach said. Don't rush.
My player took to arriving early. He insisted on staying late. Once he missed an out, and thinking the game lost, crumbled into tears. Keep a positive attitude, Coach said. Stay strong. He never crossed home plate. But in the semifinals he hit a double that drove in two runs.
Afterward, there was a party. With chips and burgers and hide-and-seek. Coach declared my Shamrock most improved.
Then he served pie. One blueberry, one mixed berry and one apple, with a baseball carved into the crust. A crust so tender it verged on crumble, so strong it served up neat. In short: perfect.
Late at night, after my Shamrock fell asleep, I practiced crust. Coach's recipe wasn't complicated. But it called for patience. Go at your own pace, I recited. Keep a positive attitude. In the morning, I served warm mixed berry pie to my player. Who declared it most improved.
Perfect pie pastry
Wraps 1 double-crust pie or 16 hand pies
2 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
11 tablespoons butter, chilled, in pieces
7 tablespoons shortening
1 to 5 tablespoons ice water
Cut: Measure flour, salt and sugar into a food processor; pulse a few times. Tumble in butter slices. Pulse in 1-second bursts; stop when mixture turns yellow and grainy. Add shortening. Pulse a few more times, just until clumps form.
Fold: Turn mixture into a bowl. Press a few clumps together; dough may well be moist enough to shape. If not, drizzle with 1 tablespoon ice water; fold in with a rubber spatula. Fold in more water as needed.
Rest: Pat dough into two 1-inch thick disks. Wrap each in wax paper; refrigerate ½ hour.
Roll: Use with your favorite pie recipe. Or make hand pies: Lightly flour 1 dough disk and roll ¼-inch thick. Cut out 16 3-inch circles (rerolling once). Set circles on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Dot each with 1 teaspoon jam. Roll remaining dough and cut circles to top pies. Press edges to seal. Poke with a fork to vent.
Bake: Slide hand pies into a 350-degree oven and bake golden brown, 17 minutes. Serve warm.
Provenance: Simplified from a recipe begged off Coach Douglas Bannick, who painstakingly adapted it from a 1994 issue of Cook's Illustrated.