By Gretchen Murray
Special to the Record-Eagle
TRAVERSE CITY — Joe Meredith is a guy's kind of guy. He loves to hunt, fish, travel, and enjoys what he calls his vagabond lifestyle to the fullest.
When Meredith's not busy hiking and fly fishing in New Zealand or backpacking through the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Yosemite National Park, or frequenting local trout streams, camping and kayaking across Michigan, the Vietnam War-era helicopter pilot can often be found in the kitchen of his Traverse City home — baking pies.
In fact, he's known for his pies. So when it comes to family occasions, office get-togethers or holiday parties, Meredith is the hands-down go-to pie guy.
Meredith credits his mother, the late Leota Meredith, for passing on her baking skills to him.
"I was divorced shortly after I returned from Vietnam in 1972, and as a single guy, I'd often bring blueberries to my mom and ask her to bake me a pie," Meredith said. "Mom said if I was going to be single, I should learn to make my own blueberry pie."
After years of perfecting his skills, he's passing them on, first to his two daughters.
"One is a lawyer and one is a military officer so they don't have too much time for baking," Meredith said.
Now he's teaching his grandson and granddaughter.
Meredith prefers fruit pies and often uses Ida Reds for his apple pies, though he thinks green ones hold their shape the best.
"When I can get Rhode Island Greens, I use those. I think they're the premier apples in America for making apple pie," he said.
Meredith uses a standard vegetable shortening crust recipe, but swears that a tablespoon of white vinegar added to the pie dough is the secret to a flaky crust.
Blueberry remains one of his favorites. While on a late summer trek through the Upper Peninsula, Meredith came across a blueberry patch and returned with 31 quarts of wild blueberries — a freezer full for current and future pies.
"As a finishing touch, mom always cut a heart out of the extra pie dough and put it in the middle of the pie," Meredith said. "When I bake a pie, I use a cookie cutter cutout of a fish. My granddaughter uses a butterfly. We each have our own signature shapes."
Now retired from the military and a private business, Meredith finds great satisfaction in his job as the veterans service officer for Grand Traverse and Leelanau counties. He loves everything about the outdoors and gets out in Michigan's woods and waters as often as he can, enjoying his friends, family — and pie.
"Life is good."
Joe's Pie Crust
2 c. all-purpose flour
1 c. shortening (such as Crisco)
¼ t. salt
⅓ c. cold water or milk
1 T. white vinegar
Mix flour and shortening together with a pastry blender. Add salt, then sprinkle cold water or milk on dough mixture and blend. Then add vinegar and mix to form dough. Roll on wax paper, then shape in pie pan.
4 c. fresh sliced apples
⅓ c. brown sugar
⅓ c. white sugar
Cinnamon to taste
Pour into pie crust. Top with additional crust or make lattice crust from remaining pie dough. Bake at 425° for 15 minutes. Lower temperature to 325° and continue baking for 45 minutes
Joe's Blueberry Pie
Joe uses the same recipe as for his apple pie except he adds 2 T. flour to the blueberries and uses ⅔ c. white sugar instead of the ⅓ c. white and ⅓ c. brown sugar. Baking time and temperatures are the same.
Joe's Sweet Potato Pie
2 c. cooked, peeled sweet potatoes (see note)
¾ c. sugar
3 t. cinnamon
1﻿½ t. ginger
1 t. salt
4 eggs, slightly beaten
1 (12 oz.) can evaporated milk
1 unbaked pie crust
Break apart sweet potatoes in a bowl. Add seasonings, eggs and evaporated milk and beat on medium speed until mixture is smooth. Pour into unbaked pie crust. Bake at 425° for 15 minutes. Lower oven temperature to 350° and continue baking for 45 minutes.
Note: Meredith puts 3-4 sweet potatoes and a little water in a crockpot and cooks them for three to four hours until soft.