Cookbook review: Irresistible pastry, imperfections and all

‘Pie is Messy: Recipes from the Pie Hole’ by Rebecca Grasley with Willy Blackmore (Ten Speed, $28)
"Pie is Messy: Recipes from the Pie Hole" by Rebecca Grasley with Willy Blackmore (Ten Speed, $28)

Credit: Handout

Combined ShapeCaption
"Pie is Messy: Recipes from the Pie Hole" by Rebecca Grasley with Willy Blackmore (Ten Speed, $28)

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Rebecca Grasley began baking with her two children when they were toddlers in the 1970s, in the tiny northeast Pennsylvania town of Nescopeck where making pie wasn’t merely a hobby, “it was a fabric of life.”

In the opening pages of “Pie is Messy: Recipes from the Pie Hole” (Ten Speed, $28), she describes how, while they helped her cut shortening into flour, she would tell her children of her dream of opening a small pie shop with a couch, a coffee pot and a few pies they’d baked together the night before.

After moving with the kids to New Jersey, she took a job in a factory and then became a nurse. Grasley brought pies to every event, and became known in her adopted community as the “Pie Lady.” Years later at a Thanksgiving gathering, while feasting on her pies, her extended family urged her to pursue that long-ago pie shop dream.

Her son Matthew, who’d moved to the West Coast, introduced her to Sean Brennan, who was in the restaurant business. Grasley and Brennan opened the Pie Hole in Los Angeles’ Arts District where, even among the stylish loft spaces, they found an eager market for her homey offerings.

“Pie is messy‘’ became the shop’s motto, conveying the idea that it’s OK “if a slice of blueberry pie is oozing filling out of the sides rather than sitting on the plate like a perfect, pert triangle.”

This laid-back approach applies to the recipes within her book of the same name — both “old school” (Blue Ribbon Apple Pie, Shoofly Pie) and “new school” (Strawberry-Black Sesame Panna Cotta Pie, Salted Caramel Pecan Pie). I followed her grandmother Moe’s “starfish pattern” method for rolling pie crust to make Pear, Cranberry, and Ginger Pie.

Being rusty with the rolling pin, I prepared myself, as she advised, to embrace the outcome, flaws and all. What emerged from my oven was as close to pie-making perfection as I’d ever come.

Susan Puckett is a cookbook author and former food editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow her at

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