Location: Los Angeles, California, U.S. Outlying Islands

I am a graduate student in American Literature...

Saturday, February 05, 2005


What does that mean, anyway? Does it mean I am really drunk? Or does it mean that I have a face shaped like a pie? I don't think I have a face shaped like a pie, but I do know that I make a mean pie crust. I got the basic recipe from Maida Heatter (I hope I spelled her name correctly), who has a brilliant cookbook about pies and tarts. One time I made the mile-high apricot pie from her cookbook, with fresh apricots from a tree that grew in my backyard in Long Beach. You cut the apricots in half and coated each one by hand with a butter-brown sugar-spice mixture, layering the whole thing until it rose high in the air, and then gently layering a top crust over the whole thing. Divine. Tonight I was out at the old Long Beach place, because some friends live there, and was very sad to find out that the building had been sold and the avocado, loquat, plum, and apricot trees had all been chopped down (because this decreased the insurance payments/risk of fire on the property?). Why do people cut down trees when they buy new houses? I cannot understand this. When I was in Texas recently, and was visiting the farm where my husband grew up, his mom was pointing out to me how the beavers had eaten through the trunks of most of the old fruit trees--especially the pear trees, and particularly not the plums (too bitter, I imagine)--so the former orchard was in ruins. Now this is an acceptable explanation for the disappearance of fruit trees, though sad.

Anyway, the key to pie crust, as most people know, is that one does not want to handle it overmuch. This is why if you have one, it's best to use a Cuisinart (some might balk at it, but I can make a crust in less than 30 seconds in the Cuisinart, and it's better than the ones I have made by hand). For one crust, you throw in 1 1/3 cups flour, a large pinch of salt, a pinch of sugar (for sweet pies), 3 3/4 tbsp. butter (organic is preferred), 3 3/4 cup shortening (again, organic is good), and some spice (a few grates of nutmeg for sweet pies, a pinch of fenugreek for savory ones), and blend in the Cuisinart for 30 seconds or so. Add a few tablespoons of ice cold water to bind things, gather the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap, flatten into a round, and throw it in the freezer for a half hour while you preheat the oven and start on the filling. Preheat to 400 degrees, take out the pie crust, roll it out, pop it in the pie dish, and bake it for 12 minutes (if you remember, pop it with a fork while it's cooking, because it will puff up). Then pour in the filling, reduce the heat to 350 and cook for another 35 or 40 minutes or so (with the crumb topping, recipe to follow). For the filling, I like to use a few cups of fresh or frozen fruit, a 1/3 cup of cornstarch, 3/4 cup sugar, depending on how sweet the fruit is, a tsp. of lemon peel and a tablespoon of lemon juice (you can mix the cornstarch in here before adding it), a teaspoon of vanilla extract, and some spices (clove, cinnamon, etc.). Cherry pie can also use a tablespoon of molasses and clove as the spice. An excellent crumb topping can be made with 1/2 cup butter, 1/3 cup oats, 1/3 cup chopped pecans or walnuts, cinnamon, vanilla, a pinch of sugar, and 1/3 cup brown sugar. You may need to add a bit more butter or Canola oil to make it moist enough--or a few drops of water if you have had enough butter/oil. The key is for the mixture to be crumbly, sort of in little tiny balls of dough, and then to pour this all over the topping (which you have dumped into the partially baked pie crust).

Cook until the pie filling has set and the crust is golden. This pie recipe is alwasy a hit.


Blogger mollie said...

wow, you've inspired me to make pies. i've never done that before. I'm serious when I say that your blog makes me hungry- I read armed with bagels and lox cream cheese this time. and a glass of shiraz. interested in imparting some wine wisdom on this blog?

7:34 PM  
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6:22 PM  
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10:10 PM  

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