Wednesday, May 2, 2007

The Glory of Pie

Pies played an important role in my childhood. I can remember my mother making pumpkin pies, minces pies and rhubarb pies, I've never liked those, every year. Come to think of it, my Dad makes a pretty good apple pie.

I love pie. Want to make me happy on my birthday? Forget the cake. Make me birthday pie.

My favorite time of year for pie was late summer. Growing up, my parent's had a peach tree in our back yard. When the peaches were ripe our family would harvesting them for use during the rest of the year. We’d cut them up and bottle them, make jam out of them, eat them fresh off the tree, and my mom would make a fresh peach pie.

Now, before you go pulling out your pots and pans and heating up your stove, let me explain something about this pie. It isn't what you might expect. My mom would blind bake a pie crust, fill it to the brim with sliced fresh peaches, and then pour orange flavored gelatin over the top (they didn't have peach flavored gelatin, back then). After it set up, we'd top it with Cool Whip. As I got older I started making my own whipped cream, instead, but I still love that pie.

I know this recipe sounds like something out of a weird homemaking magazine, and maybe it was. But fresh peaches on your fork, stuck to a tasty pastry crust and smeared with whipped cream is quite the treat. In my book, it beats a cooked peach pie, hands down.

Over the years I've learned to make pies my mother never dreamed of making. My mother never made key lime or sweet potato pies, but I'm pretty fond of them, and I think mine are pretty tasty.

The only troubling thing about making pies is the crust. Fillings are easy, but making a good pie crust is a nightmare. I've found a few good recipes (my great-grandmother’s pie crust recipe is pretty darned good), but getting the right consistency of the dough is more of an art than a science. You want it to just barely hold together to make a flaky pie crust, but if it's too loose, it will fall apart before you can get it into the baking pan.

In recent years, I've given up. Instead of making my own I've started buying the ready-made pie crusts at the grocery store: graham cracker crusts for my key lime pies, and the frozen dough for the sweet potato pies. They're not as good as the home made variety, but they're a heck of a lot less work. What can I say? I'm lazy.

UPDATE: My cooking obsession has overcome my lazyness, and I've started making my own pie crusts, again. Recently, I found a recipe that used a cooked corn-starch slurry to help it stay tender and hold together. It was touted as being “fool-proof” and was presented by someone I really respect in the cooking industry. I've made it twice now, and I can tell you it was crap. Yeah, the dough was easy to work with, but it cooked up like rubber. Ick. Back to traditional recipes, for me.

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