When I was young, I learned how to “cut” (or “chop”) shortening into the flour when making a pie crust, and I still use the old-fashioned technique -so enjoyed reading advice in a hundred-year-old cookbook about how to make crisp and flaky pie crusts. Here are a few excerpts:
Contrary to the general opinion, pastry is not hard to make. In fact, once the fundamental principles are understood, pastry is much easier and more quickly made than cake. When making pastry, keep these rules in mind. Fat makes a pie crust crisp, therefore, to economize on shortening will produce poor pastry.
The amount of air which is incorporated in the dough makes the crust flaky, so the dough requires careful handling. Water makes pastry tough and only enough should be used to hold the dough together.
Pastry flour is recommended because if absorbs less moisture; however, the regular family flour will give good results.
If all the ingredients are cold, the dough will be much easier to handle. Chopping the fat into the flour is recommended. Do not chop the fat into the flour too thoroughly; mix until the consistency of coarse meal.
Add only enough water to hold the mixture together. If too much water is used it will be necessary to use more flour when the dough is rolled out, and if that is the case, the pastry will be tough from handling, and the fat and flour will not be in the right proportion.
Handle the dough as quickly and lightly as possible.
Mrs. DeGraf’s Cook Book (1922)