Vicki Keller makes pie crust; recipe a family heirloom

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Vicki Keller rolls out crust for her homemade cherry pie.


Scott Sanders | Staff Photographer

Vicki Keller's homemade cherry pie


Scott Sanders | Staff Photographer

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Vicki Keller makes pie crust; recipe a family heirloom

Rhubarb pie is part of the dowery for farm-raised baker

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print story Published: 2/10/2010 12:01 AM

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Before Vicki and Ron Keller got married 26 years ago, he asked the make-or-break question: Can you bake a rhubarb pie?

She could and she did, so she was "in." At least, that's Ron's story.

But Vicki knew she held all the cards in her hands. Born and raised on a Nebraska farm, pie-baking skills were something of an heirloom, passed down from mother to daughter for generations.

"It was my mother's thing and her mother's thing; they made the most delicious pies with melt-in-your-mouth crust," says Vicki, a retiree who taught home economics for 12 years in Naperville Unit Dist. 203, and then joined the staff at historic Naper Settlement for another 15 years.

Pies appeared at every holiday meal and Sunday family get-togethers. Not just one pie mind you, but several varieties.

Vicki's mother used a light touch on her pastry and for instructing her daughter. She never hovered or pointed out mistakes, though it must have been hard to resist.

"She just walked away and let me try it," says Vicki. "That's why I enjoyed teaching home ec; it reminded me of my mom."

From the Keller's Naperville garden Vicki harvests sour cherries and rhubarb, a deep red variety called Valentine, for her best-loved pies. She prepares the fruit as pie filling and freezes it in individual containers, ready to thaw and bake.

But as any pie-lover knows, a flaky, tender crust is the heart and soul of the matter.

Vicki's recipe, made with vegetable shortening, was handed down by her grandmother. Results may vary, she says, depending on the weather. Dry days produce a flakier crust, but ice cold water and a minimum of handling are keys to success.

Vicki's pies have appeared at fundraisers for First Congregational United Church of Christ in Naperville, she shares them with friends and bakes them for company.

Vicki handles the daily cooking, too, relying on straight-forward, homey dishes like meatloaf, beef stew, pork roast and spaghetti. But she's a stickler for variety.

"I like something different every day," says Vicki, who isn't a fan of leftovers. "I'm famous for clipping out recipes."

While some of us, ahem, could eat just pie for dinner and be happy, Vicki serves us some "real food" this week too, in the form of stuffed green peppers. I like her tip for baking them in a bundt pan to keep them upright.

A nice, one-dish meal that leaves plenty of room for pie.

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