Kate McDermott has been teaching for more than 50 years.


First it was music, as a piano teacher, then as a mom and home-school teacher for her children, and now as a pie instructor.


Over the past decade, the author of "Art of the Pie: A Practical Guide to Homemade Crusts, Fillings, and Life" and the new "Pie Camp: The Skills You Need to Make Any Pie You Want" (Countryman, $35) has taught more than 4,000 students how to make pie during hands-on classes around the country, including several stops in Austin.


But thanks to the pandemic, she teaches classes these days from her "pie cottage" on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington, and it’s taking her back to her home-schooling days.


"Well, we did a lot of unschooling, actually," she says in a recent Zoom interview from her cozy kitchen. "We learned sums by playing cribbage, fractions by baking, reading by picking up magazines and writing for the dinner menu that night. My son, Duncan, would help me cook, and then we’d clean up the dishes, and that was domestic engineering."


McDermott says that using this method of identifying what he was interested in and then finding ways to make that educational has proved invaluable for Duncan, who is now a jack-of-all-trades who completely renovated a house next to hers. (Her daughter, Sara, died four years ago.)


"He still continues to learn," McDermott says, and so does she, especially during a year like this one.


The quarantine is giving us the chance to think of our time at home as "life camp," she says. What are the parts of life at home that you want to learn more about? Hobbies, handicrafts, home improvement, self-improvement?


Becoming an active student rather than a passive one is crucial, McDermott says.


McDermott put on her student cap earlier this year when her classes went virtual.


She had to set up a video studio in her kitchen so she could connect with students all over the country, and she says her camps have become so much more enriching now that she’s reaching people directly in their homes.


As this pandemic continues, pick a few things you want to learn more about and spend some time each week thinking like a student who is unschooling at home.


"Instead of thinking about what you can’t have, let’s think about what you can have," she says. "In my best moments, I like to think about this time as helping me strip away things that are the trappings of what is not necessary."


"Maybe what I need is to take a deep breath and think about what I’m thankful for."


At the start of every pie camp, McDermott has to take an inventory of the space so that the class can thrive. The class is focused on a single pie, not all of the pies.


"People are saying, ‘We love these virtual classes because we are in our own kitchens, using our own ovens, our own equipment,’ " she says. With students cooking at different altitudes across the country, she has been able to troubleshoot, in live time with the whole class, how to adjust for those differences.


These small variations end up helping the whole class have a better understanding of how and why the ingredients and factors such as heat and humidity work together in the way they do.


She’s been able to teach more people online than she could have taught in person, some as far away as the Middle East.


One of the biggest lessons she teaches her students is to have a good attitude.


"One of the problems people always have is the crust. They say, ‘I’m afraid of the dough,’ " she says. "You’re always going to succeed at what you believe, so if you’ve given the dough its marching orders that it’s always going to fall apart, it knows exactly what to do to please you."


If you’re just starting out with pies, she suggests playing around with "pie-lets," or smaller pies, which are slightly easier to roll out than the full-sized pie. Focusing on small pies could be particularly helpful if you’re planning a smaller Thanksgiving dinner or making one for yourself for the first time.


One recipe of pie dough will make about four smaller pies, which you can fill with smaller quantities of filling to create variety. You can freeze these small pies before baking, and then you’ll have a stash of minipies ready to bake when you’re craving one.


The smaller pies also allow for experimentation with lattice art, the fancifully braided or woven patterns that have become even more elaborate thanks to creative bakers who are pushing the art form on Instagram.


Thanksgiving in general is an opportunity for us to expand beyond re-creating the dinner that we’ve always had into what we want it to be on the day, she says.


This season can be particularly difficult if we can’t spend it with the people we love, but sometimes we can invite them into our kitchens by cooking with a utensil or tool that they gave us or that makes us think of them.


McDermott has more than 100 pie pans in her house, and each time she uses one, it’s a way to honor the person she got it from. "I think of that person when I pull it out to bake," she says. "It’s a dedication to them.


"As we are still in this pandemic, it’s important to find things that can still connect us. Even if you are baking alone, there are still ways to share it."


All year, McDermott has been dropping off pies at her 94-year-old neighbor’s house as a way to say, "I am here, and I know you are here."


"Pie can say so many things," she says. "There’s just something special about it."


Pie tips from Kate McDermott


• Press-in crumb crusts are the easiest, so if you’re a newbie, start there. For roll-out dough, keep the fat chilled before using. If you’re using your hands to "smoosh" that fat into the flour, as she writes, work quickly and don’t worry about the flour and fat pieces being even. It should have lumps and varying sized pebbles of fat still in it.


• To ensure she has enough ice cold water when making pie, McDermott always fills a glass of ice water before she starts. After measuring out the water for the crust, she makes "pie makers lemonade" with a spoonful of sugar and a squeeze of lemon to sip on while she works.


• Choosing the right rolling pin for you "can feel a bit like receiving a wand in Harry Potter," she writes. Pick up and hold a variety of pins and see which one feels right to you.


• McDermott prefers to roll out pie dough on a pastry cloth, a tightly woven piece of cotton that prevents the pie crust from sticking to the countertop.


• Use some kind of an egg wash for the top of the pie to give the crust a good color. An egg white with water, an egg yolk with milk, egg white only, egg yolk with water — each gives a slightly different look.


• Make sure your towel or potholders aren’t wet (or that your hands aren’t wet) when moving a hot pie pan. The water quickly transfers the heat to your hands, increasing the chances that you’ll burn yourself or drop the pie.


• Clean as you go. McDermott suggests three minicleans while you’re making and assembling the pie — after making the dough, after making the filling and then after constructing the pie — so that you don’t end up with a disaster zone in the kitchen. If you really hate doing dishes, get a digital scale and start measuring ingredients by weight.


Muffin Tin Pies


These little pies can be baked open-faced, have a lattice with strips cut from leftover dough, have dough shapes cut out using a cookie cutter, or have a crumble topping. One little pie makes a serving for two ... or one. An ice cream trigger scoop can be used to add just the right amount of filling into each of our dough-filled muffin tins.


You can top these with a crisp or crumble topping. The difference is that a crisp topping includes oats and optional nuts, and a crumble topping is made without oats. To make it, mix 1/2 cup packed brown sugar, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/2 cup flour, 1 teaspoon ground ginger or cinnamon, 8 tablespoons chilled butter, 1 1/2 cups old-fashioned roller oats (optional) and 1/2 cup chopped nuts, if desired, in a food processor or in a bowl with a fork.


— Kate McDermott


1/2 recipe Roll-Out Dough (see below)


1 recipe Basic Pie-Let Fruit Filling (see below) or other filling of choice, cooled


Sugar, for sprinkling the top of the crust


For the egg wash:


1 egg white plus 2 teaspoons water, fork beaten


Butter six cups and the top of a regular-size muffin tin.


Roll out the dough to about 12 inches in diameter. Cut into 4-inch rounds and save the trimmings for the tops.


Fill the cup of each buttered muffin tin with one 4-inch round. Overlap the dough as needed. It’s OK if they don’t look perfect. Fill with 1/3 cup filling.


Roll out the the scraps of dough. Cut in 1/4-inch wide strips and weave a mini lattice top, or cut shapes with a cookie cutter and place on top of the filling.


Place the muffin tin in the fridge to chill while you heat the oven to 400 degrees. Before baking, brush the tops with an egg wash, and lightly sprinkle with sugar.


Bake for about 30 minutes, or until you see bubbling and the tops are a golden brown.


Remove the muffin tin from the oven and place on a rack to cool.


When cool enough to touch, loosen the edges of each minipie with a knife and gently lift out from the muffin tin. Serve warm or at room temperature.


— From "Pie Camp: The Skills You Need to Make Any Pie You Want" by Kate McDermott (Countryman, $35)


Roll-Out Dough


This recipe is the tried and true flaky pie dough that I have taught at Pie Camps since 2008. It can be made either by hand or in a food processor and is generously sized for one 9-inch deep-dish double-crust pie. It uses a total of 1 cup fat, the choices of which are: butter, which gives a crust flaky layers and wonderful flavor; leaf lard, which adds flake and crispness; and vegetable shortening, which makes a very tender crust with a greasy flavor and mouthfeel. My favorite dough uses a combination of half butter, half leaf lard. This combination gives both crisp, flaky layers and the flavor of butter. If making by hand, we will smoosh the fat into the flour with our fingers. In a food processor, we will combine the flour and fat using a metal blade and quick pulses. Choose the fat(s) and technique that you like, and then follow the directions below.


— Kate McDermott


2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, unbleached, plus more for rolling out dough


1 cup chilled fat of your choice, cut into tablespoon-size pieces


1 tablespoon granulated sugar (optional)


1/2 teaspoon salt


1/2 cup ice water plus 1 to 2 tablespoons more as needed


Make sure all the ingredients are chilled. To make by hand: Put all the ingredients but the ice water in a large bowl.


With clean hands, quickly smoosh the mixture together, or use a single blade mezzaluna or pastry blender with an up and down motion, until the ingredients look like cracker crumbs with lumps the size of peas and almonds. These lumps will make your crust flaky. Don’t coat all the flour with fat. You should still see some white floury places in the bowl when you are finished. Work quickly so that the dough still feels chilly when you are done.


Sprinkle 5 to 6 tablespoons of the ice water over the mixture, fluffing and tossing lightly with a fork as you do.


Sprinkle over more water as needed, a tablespoon at a time, and fluff with a fork after each addition until it holds together. When the dough looks shaggy in the bowl, you are getting close. Give some of your dough a firm handshake and see if it holds together. If it does, go on to the next step. If it doesn’t, add a bit more water if needed for the dough to come together. The dough should feel moist without feeling tacky.


If using a food processor, put the ingredients except for the ice water in the bowl of the processor with a metal blade. Pulse 15 times to combine. Use short pulses. Add 3 tablespoons of the water. Pulse 10 times. Add 3 more tablespoons of the water. Pulse five times. Turn the dough into a medium bowl, add the remaining water 1 tablespoon at a time and continue with recipe.


Form and pat the dough into a big ball. If it feels a little dry on the outside, dip your fingers into some ice water and pat them on the outside of the dough in a few places. Don’t get it so wet that it is sticky. The dough should feel like cool clay and firm yet pliable as when patting a baby’s bottom.


Divide the dough in half and make two chubby discs about 5 inches across. Wrap the discs separately in plastic wrap and chill for a minimum of 20 minutes and up to three days. Makes enough dough for one 9-inch pie with a top and bottom crust.


— From "Pie Camp: The Skills You Need to Make Any Pie You Want" by Kate McDermott (Countryman, $35)


Basic Pie-Let Fruit Filling


Pie-let fillings are a great way to use up small amounts of fruit. This basic filling is a version of our master recipe for fruit pie, but scaled down to fill one 5 1/2-inch pie pan. Always use the most flavorful fruit available. Peaches and cherries, apples, ginger and pears. All good options.


— Kate McDermott


1 1/2 cups fruit


2 to 3 tablespoons granulated sugar, depending on sweetness of fruit


A tiny pinch of salt


Seasoning of choice (for example, a pinch of nutmeg, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, or 1/4 teaspoon cardamom, or a combination)


A tiny squeeze of fresh lemon juice


1 teaspoon fruit liqueur of choice (optional)


1 teaspoon quick-cooking tapioca


Place the fruit, sugar, salt, seasoning, lemon juice, optional liqueur and tapioca in a small to medium bowl and mix lightly until the fruit is well coated.


Adjust the sweetener and seasoning to your taste. When it makes you want to have a second taste, it is ready to fill the pie-let. Makes 1 1/2 cups filling.


— From "Pie Camp: The Skills You Need to Make Any Pie You Want" by Kate McDermott (Countryman, $35)


Whipped Cream


I find that one-half to three-quarters of this recipe is enough to pipe around the edge of a regular-sized pie. This recipe makes a generous 2 cups, but for smaller amounts, reduce the amounts by one-quarter or one-half.


— Kate McDermott


2 tablespoons to 3/8 cup granulated sugar or confectioners’ sugar


1/2 teaspoon cornstarch (if using granulated sugar)


1 cup heavy whipping cream, well chilled


Chill a medium-size deep bowl and electric mixer beaters in the freezer.


If using granulated sugar, mix it with the cornstarch in a small bowl to combine, and set aside. If using confectioners’ sugar, take a fork and break up any clumps, or sift through a small sieve strainer into a bowl.


Pour the whipping cream in the chilled bowl.


Mix the cream with an electric mixer on low for a minute. Increase to medium and mix for another minute. You’ll see lots of bubbles on top.


Increase the speed to high and rain (sprinkle) in the sugar, a tablespoon at a time. Continue whipping for another 2 to 3 minutes until soft peaks form.


Add the flavor extract and mix a few seconds more to combine. Makes 2 cups whipped cream.


— From "Pie Camp: The Skills You Need to Make Any Pie You Want" by Kate McDermott (Countryman, $35)


Canning Lid Pies


Another variation on the pie-let theme, and a fun way to use up dough scraps and extra filling, too, are these little pies that use a canning jar ring for a mold. Dough is fitted inside the ring, blind baked, cooled, and filled with an already-cooked stove top filling, or with ice cream and various toppings to create tiny ice cream pies.


Use 3 1/2-inch wide-mouth canning jar rings, and you won’t need the flat lid that fits inside of it. Place the rings on a sheet pan or cookie tin covered with parchment or a sheet pan liner. Roll out any dough scraps and cut into 5 1/2-inch circles. Lay one circle of dough inside each canning jar lid. Fold the extra dough over into the inside of the pie dough. Press gently around the rim and raise the dough so it is a bit higher than the rim of the ring. Place in the fridge for about 10 to 15 minutes so the dough can chill back down. Poke the bottom of the dough with a fork and bake at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.


Fill with leftover fruit or cream filling and top with Chantilly Cream. If you are going to bake these mini canning lid pies, perhaps with a pumpkin pie, pecan pie or fruit filling, bake at 375 degrees for 40 minutes after you’ve added the filling.