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Closeup of a cranberry pie

Closeup of a cranberry pie

The Tao of Pie

Kate McDermott ’76 picks pie as the great unifier this holiday season.

Kate McDermott ’76 picks pie as the great unifier this holiday season. 

The question of great debate on Thanksgiving: pumpkin or pecan? Pie, that is. But for Kate McDermott, ’76, it’s neither. To her, there’s really no question at all.

“My grandmother was the pie maker in the family. Every Thanksgiving, I remember her getting up ridiculously early to make pies… there would be apple, pumpkin and her infamous lemon meringue,” the James Beard Award nominated cookbook author, blogger, and teacher says from her home in Port Angeles, Washington.

Sour, summery lemon meringue to celebrate the fall harvest? Why not, McDermott asks, Thanksgiving and, by extension, pie baking are about celebrating traditions but also expanding upon them.

Kate McDermott holds a pie in her kitchen

Kate McDermott ’76 is a James Beard Award nominated cookbook author.

“Every family will have their unique traditions. There are traditions that maybe go back generations—special meals and special dishes, that you equate with a particular person, like, ‘Oh, that was Auntie Ruth’s special stuffing,’” McDermott says. “But as our families grow, new traditions are introduced.”

In this way, McDermott says, pie—no matter the flavor—is a symbol of unity. “It’s all these different elements coming together in one vessel… it’s more than its ingredients.”

That same ethos could be said of McDermott’s time at Santa Clara University, where the accomplished pianist switched from music to a general humanities major. “My entire life had been fast tracked to music but here I was at a liberal arts schools with all these different incredible classes,” she says.It was an opportunity to expand my life.” So she worked her way through Russian Imperial history, philosophy of law, and ethics.

After graduation, McDermott worked as a professional accompanist before transitioning around 2008 into a teacher, offering her signature Art of Pie baking workshops around the country.

“I’ve always made a living with my hands,” she says. “I like to think of it as doing things [pie and music] that hopefully harm none and maybe bring a little beauty and happiness to the world.”

Her second cookbook, Home Cooking with Kate McDermott, was released in October and leans more savory. Think: savory stews, rustic casseroles, hearty winter vegetable shepherd’s pie. From her first cookbook, Art of Pie, she offers the following recipe, “Cranberry Pie is Home for the Holidays,” including foolproof pie dough and a classic yet unexpected filling.


 A watercolor painting of a cranberry pie

Cranberry Pie

Try this cranberry pie in the fall or winter when you are craving the bright taste of a sour cherry pie. Add pecans to this filling if you’d like, as well as some orange zest or liqueur, and serve it with champagne. There is a lot of naturally occurring pectin in cranberries, so not much thickener is needed.

Author: Kate McDermott - Art of the Pie*


  • 1 qt (4 cups) cranberries (fresh or unthawed frozen), divided
  • 1 and 1/4 c sugar 
  • 2 and 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh orange zest or 1 tablespoon orange liqueur
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
  • 1 T butter
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 Art of the Pie double crust recipe or your crust recipe of choice.
  • 1-2 teaspoons sugar for sprinkling on top of pie crust

Prep time

30 mins

Bake time

40 mins

Total time

1 hour 10 mins


  1. Place 3 cups of cranberries in a food processor and pulse until slightly chopped
  2. In a medium bowl, place chopped and remaining whole cranberries, sugar, cornstarch, nutmeg, salt, zest or liqueur, and optional walnuts and mix well. Set aside.
  3. Roll out bottom crust and place in pie plate.
  4. Put cranberry filling in pie plate and dot with butter.
  5. Roll out remaining dough disk and carefully lay top crust over filling.
  6. Trim excess dough, crimp edges of pie and cut 5 to 6 vents in top crust, or cut strips to make a lattice top.
  7. Chill the pie for a minimum of 1 hour before baking.
  8. Separate egg white into a small bowl and fork beat with 1 tbsp water. Lightly brush egg wash over the entire pie, including the edges, and sprinkle with sugar.
  9. Bake on the middle rack of the oven preheated to 375 F for about 40 minutes, or until crust is just golden.
  10. Cool completely before serving.

Recipe reprinted with permission from “Art of the Pie: A Practical Guide to Homemade Crusts, Fillings, and Life” by Kate McDermott. Published by The Countryman Press, a division of W.W. Norton & Company (2016).


Photos by Andrew Scrivani