I just got back from an unbelievable trip out west to visit my aunt and uncle’s cabin in Jackson, Wyoming. It’s like no place I’ve ever been – the stark contrast of the Teton Mountains against the valley plains makes for an incredible 360 degree view. It was sensory overload from the minute we got there – the green alpine meadows next to crystal clear aqua lakes lined with wildflowers in what seemed to be every hue. On top of that, the sumptuous smells of the vast sage fields, the ancient pine forests and the crisp fresh air was intoxicating.
I could never quite catch my breath, maybe because of the altitude change or maybe because of the intense hikes we took every day, but definitely because I was just in awe of the natural beauty surrounding me. The fresh air, the beautiful scenery, the tantalizing smells, it truly is heaven on earth, and was a desperately needed vacation for this here New Yorker.
What made the trip even better is my uncle’s incredible knowledge of the area; it was like having our own personal tour guide. My uncle first came to Wyoming in the 70s as a teenager, where he spent three weeks on his friend’s family’s dude ranch. He spent every day riding horses, exploring Grand Teton National Park, and falling in love with what truly is the most beautiful place on earth. Getting hooked at an early age, he has been coming back to Jackson every summer for the past 10 or so years, and his knowledge of the area can top that of any park ranger. He knows everything from the geology of the rocks and how the Teton mountains were formed, to recognizing bear tracks and scat (I never thought poop would be so cool, ew!) to giving us a tour of the oldest dude ranch and the remains of gorgeous log cabins along the Snake River. His knowledge is broad and his enthusiasm is contagious – before I knew it I was being drawn in, and now I’m totally hooked.
In the span of just four short days, we hiked over 20 miles up more than 2,000 feet of vertical incline, saw more wildlife than I could have imagined (we’re talking antelope, elk, mule deer, bears!, eagles, bison, hummingbirds, hawks, the list goes on). During the day we scrambled over boulder fields caused by massive avalanches and at night gazed at the stars, mapping out the Milky Way, satellites and shooting stars (f you live in New York, you’ll understand how incredible this is). We hiked along the Snake River at the sight of the Bar BC, the first dude ranch in Wyoming where the elite like Ernest Hemingway came to ride by day and party by night. And to top that all off, we ate, really, really well.
You can imagine that after a 14 mile hike you’d get really, really hungry. And my goodness we did. Fortunately everyone at the house enjoyed cooking, and so every night, we sat down to a delicious dinner. And what dinner is complete without a sweet, buttery dessert, am I right? My aunt had picked up an entire flat of strawberries on her way into Jackson, and we happened to find rhubarb in the grocery store, so I had to make strawberry rhubarb pie. I was missing the usual tools I use to make pastry dough (food processor, pastry cutter, rolling pin), but while on vacation, you have to improvise. I made the dough by hand, and rolled it out using an empty wine bottle. The results were better than any dough I’ve ever made, and the only thing I changed about the recipe was substituting a food processor for a little manual labor. Maybe because we had worked up an appetite from the great outdoors, and maybe because pie dough just needs a little love to give back that tenderness.
The Best All Butter Pie Crust
Adapted from Bon Appétite
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar (exclude for savory recipes)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, kept very cold, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
- Approximately 6 tablespoons ice water (varies significantly)
Mix flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Add butter, and with your hands, pinch the butter pieces together with the flour until butter is cut down to the size of peas and evenly distributed into the flour. It does not need to be completely uniform, it is far better to underwork than overwork. (This step can alternatively be done in a food processor – but I have had mixed results on this. In the bowl of an electric food processor, pulse the flour, sugar and salt in a food processor. Add the butter, and pulse until mixture resembles coarse corn meal. Pour the butter mixture into a large bowl and continue with next steps).
Add the ice water to the butter mixture a couple tablespoons at a time, and work in with your hands until dough comes together. If the mixture is still too dry, add more ice water, 1 teaspoon at a time and knead lightly with your hands until the dough comes together in one mound and no dry flour remains. Make sure not to over saturate as this will cause the dough to lose tenderness.
Divide the dough into two mounds and flatten into discs. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or over night.
To roll the dough out, I prefer to place the dough on a flat surface, in between two pieces of plastic wrap, and roll out with a rolling pin until dough is 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. (You can also place the dough on a floured surface, and flour your rolling pin, but adding more flour will increase the gluten levels of the dough and could increase toughness). Fold the dough in half, and then half again to transfer to your pie plate. Add the filling and bake according to recipe instructions.