First, I grew up in the South, and that inescapable fact dictates much of my relationship to food. As kids, my grandmother took us out to our great-uncle's farm to pick beans. We always had a pantry full of canned green beans and black-eyed peas—all home-canned. And pie. My mom's chocolate meringue for special occasions. Sweet potato pie for breakfast at Granny's. Chess pies in Crisco crusts from the North Carolina great-grandmother. Potlucks and church dinners full of other people's apple, lemon meringue, pecan pie, or even store-bought coconut cream. And there was the mystique around bakers who made their own crusts or beautiful whipped meringues.
The joke in my family is that we get together at meals to talk about past meals and what we should eat at the next meal. We're a food family. And as a kid, in a food family, you find yourself in the kitchen. Cooking and baking was something I just always did. (Being a young man with kitchen-skills comes with certain advantages, too.) Eventually, I went to NECI for a baking and pastry degree. I learned to laminate viennoiserie doughs, build the classic European cakes, layer fillings for French pastries. But not much about pie. Pie was the backwater American-cousin, freshly arrived on the Continent. I fell for bread, though, and now spend most of my days developing gluten and keeping yeast and sourdough cultures nice and warm—the polar opposite of what you want for a good pie crust.
So as my pastry skills rusted over, my pie baking suffered. Meringues wept or shrank. Crusts slumped. Fillings ran or set to the point of rubber. I settled into a few reliable recipes and rarely ventured out of that comfort zone.
After yet another meringue decided slide off it's chocolate filling, I decided to practice pie on a regular basis, taking notes, do research, approaching it as a skill to learn. And, I might as well explore new pies—Shaker lemon, buttermilk, shoo fly, steak and kidney, pinto bean, mock apple.
So the goals are simple: A pie a week for a year. Generalize techniques and methods. Figure out what works. And staying true to the rustic, straightforwardness of a grandmother’s from-scratch pie (see: The Rules). Success or failure gets posted, and nothing fancier than Swiss meringue.