In a pinch, you can make pie crusts with your fingers, rather than a food processor or pastry blender. I’ve done it many a time and they come out fine.
But the right equipment can make the process quicker and easier.
Here’s my preferred equipment list. You may already have most of these things in your kitchen:
Measuring cups, both liquid and dry
Sprinkling can for flour
Spatula with sharp edge
Good sharp knife for cutting fruit
Large spoon for stirring
Good quality rubber scraper
Pie pans (I prefer nine-inch Pyrex but there are many other good pie pans)
Wire racks for cooling pies
So that’s my preferred list, but I can get by with lots less.
Once while at a summer house with a group of friends, we decided to make some pies for a large dinner party. We bought all the ingredients and then discovered we had neither rolling pin nor pie pan, one small measuring cup, and no measuring spoons.
Approximate measures worked fine, a wine bottle proved a fine rolling pin, and we commandeered every reasonable size pan in the house—cake pans, oven dishes, etc. The pies were great and no one minded the odd presentation.
In case you’re wondering about the chop stick, that’s my universal kitchen tool. Use it for leveling off flour when you measure; for poking in the blender (turn it off first) to loosen stuff stuck in the bottom; and many other uses! My husband used to tease me about it, until he saw how useful it was.
Equipment I use less often:
Electric mixer—for meringues, whipped cream, etc.
Good quality peeler—for apples and other fruit that needs peeling
Blender—for some fillings
Flour sifter—for some crusts and some fillings
Pie weights (for baked crusts; you can also use dry beans or a slightly smaller aluminum pie pan)
Pie bird—a ceramic blackbird (as in “four and twenty blackbirds, baked in a pie…”). For a covered pie, you put this in the middle of the pie crust before adding the filling and top crust. Like cutting holes in the crust, it allows the steam to get out—and it’s cute.
Grater or lemon zester—for citrus peel
Other equipment some people like:
Marble pastry slab: marble stays cold and provides a solid surface for rolling. I used to have a slab but didn’t have a convenient place for it in my kitchen, and eventually found I was just as happy working on my formica counter top
Pie crust form: a plastic sheet that has outlines of different size pie crusts, so you have a guide for rolling and getting the size right. It also makes it easier to move the crust into the pie pan.
Why don’t I use one? I just never have. My friend Faith does and she makes great pies, and maybe I’ll try it someday.
Waxed paper: some cooks like to roll the dough between two sheets of waxed paper, to keep it from sticking and to make it easier to move to the pan. Again, I’ve just never done it, though it sounds like a good idea. I guess I just like the feel of the dough. I do use waxed paper when measuring flour or for wrapping crust.
Pastry wheel: a small instrument used to make fancy crust edges. I prefer just shaping the crust with my fingers or crimping it with a fork.
Apple corer/slicer: My friend Janice has one of these cool tools. You place the apple on the spindle, turn the handle, and voila! A peeled and cored apple sliced into spirals. Lots of fun, but unless you’re planning to bake a whole lot of apple pies probably not essential.
Pyrex (tempered glass) pans are sturdy, cook evenly, and are reasonably attractive.
Metal pie pans work fine too, though I personally don’t find them attractive. Some are made with a few small holes in the bottom, to help keep the crust dry and not soggy.
Disposable pie tins are fine, particularly when you’re making pies to take to a party or other event.
However, a word of caution: they’re not very strong, and a pie that’s filled with yummy fruit gets heavy. I once had a near disaster taking a Celestial Blueberry Pie out of the oven, and watching the pie pan fold up the middle!
Fortunately I put it down quickly and it survived, although it was not the most attractive pie I’ve ever made.
So if you use disposable pie tins, be sure to lift them carefully and support the bottom of the pan!
Recently a friend of mine, who had been around when I baked eight blueberry pies for Circus Smirkus, gave me a beautiful covered blueberry pie dish. This bakes just fine and provides convenient storage, besides providing a fanciful presentation.
I’ve also seen apple pie bakers of this type.
And in a pinch, any sort of pan will do—round, square, glass, metal—whatever you can find that can go into the oven and is a reasonable size (8-10 inch diameter works best).