A few more sweet memories from last summer. Can’t wait to see you ladies again soon!
Goal: Catch up on stories from last summer before embarking on this summer’s adventures. Okay. Go.
Our last visit to Minnesota was in August. We’re going again in exactly one week. I can’t wait. Last August’s trip was wonderful, but bittersweet. My Granddad passed away a year ago, and it makes me sad that I will never fish with him again, or do the Bible readings with him again, or hear his funny songs again. But, as my dad said at the funeral, Granddad believed in a hope that was reasonable: the resurrection. God created us with the ability to reason and created a world full of order and beauty for us to all marvel at. So, “why is it considered incredible among you people if God does raise the dead?” as Paul asks in Acts. We will see Granddad again soon.
On this particular trip, in the day and half we spent alone together, I asked my Grandmom to sit with me for a couple hours and let me record some of her stories…about growing up on a farm in Vermont, moving to the Midwest as a young woman, becoming a chemist during a time when women simply didn’t do that, being asked on lots of dates (as being practically the only woman at her workplace put her in a good position for!), meeting and marrying my Granddad and learning the Bible together. If you didn’t know this about my grandmother, she still volunteers at a nature center and does pond walks for children. She also spent many years volunteering at the Minnesota Science Museum; seeing the latest exhibit there was always a highlight of my childhood visits (okay, and my adult ones–who are we kidding here?) Of course, she is also a pie-maker extraordinaire. I am so thankful for the legacy that she and Granddad are leaving for our family.
Once again, we visited Minnesota at the wrong time of year to pick the ever-elusive red currants and make a pie out of them. Nonetheless, there were plenty of pie opportunities. One that I had been meaning to pursue for some time was a legendary recipe I had heard stories about but had never tasted myself; Grandmother’s Chocolate Angel Pie. My cousins and aunts and uncles had long talked about this wondrous concoction and I knew that I wanted…no, needed…to learn how to make it in order to continue climbing the ladder to Pie Mastery. It was the next achievement to unlock.
Grandmom didn’t have a recipe written down for this pie, per se. She uses elements of a recipe for Chocolate Dream Pie that she got from her roommate’s aunt when she was young Marie Gerdon and had just moved to Michigan from Vermont (the aunt was a high school Home Ec teacher). She also referred to a recipe for an unbaked Chocolate Cream Pie from the Joy of Cooking, as well as a pamphlet from the 60’s entitled “Betty Crocker’s Merry Makings: Fine Foods for Happy Entertaining”.
This pie comes together quickly and is fun to make. Although it requires the use of an oven, the temperature never gets set higher to 300 degrees, so it’s a good summertime choice if you’re trying to avoid heating your house up. The final result is very yummy…a slightly chewy, nut-studded layer of meringue crust filled with light whipped chocolate cream…and I think you should all try it. So much so that I took detailed notes and am writing up the recipe below. After all, pie is meant to be shared.
Grandmother’s Chocolate Angel Pie
Preheat Oven to 300 degrees F.
For Meringue Pie Shell:
2 egg whites (beat until shiny with electric mixer)
1/4 tsp cream of tartar (add to egg whites while beating)
1/2 tsp vanilla (add to egg whites while beating)
1/2 cup sugar (slowly add and gradually beat in. Turn off beaters.)
1/2 cup pecans (gently fold into egg white mixture)
Use a spatula (we used a spoon and our fingers!) to round the meringue into a pie shell (in a pie dish). It should touch the top rim of the pie dish all the way around. Bake for 55 minutes, making sure it doesn’t get too brown (rotate the dish halfway through baking).
For Chocolate Cream Filling:
1 4 oz. bar of baker’s chocolate (Grandmom uses German’s Chocolate Baking Bar, 48% cacao)
Melt chocolate. If using a microwave, melt on high for 30 seconds, stir, microwave for 30 seconds more, stir, and continue heating and stirring in 10 second increments until the chocolate is completely melted.
Whip 1 cup of whipping/heavy cream and fold in the melted chocolate. Spread chocolate cream in cooled pie shell. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
When we visited Montana in May, we spent a day in Yellowstone having our breath taken away and a day at Levi’s aunt and uncle and cousins’ house with my aunt and uncle and cousins. That second day was rainy and the house was full of good smells, and I asked my aunt to walk around and take pictures of what everyone else was doing while I was making pie.
I like these pictures because I think they show the reality of what pie is to me. It is important, but it’s not the whole story. I enjoy it, like others enjoy sketching or playing games. At the end of the day, pie is just something I can bring to the table.
This is a just a little post-script to the previous two posts. When Monday morning arrived, all this fruit was still hanging out–the juicy peaches, a handful of figs, plenty of blueberries (you saw how big the box was to start!) and I can’t quite remember but I think we may have had some plums or something around too. Between the other crusts I had made on Friday and Saturday, there was just enough scrap left to piece together a bottom crust…and a crumb topping is quick work……and so we had breakfast pie. Because three pies over a four-day weekend is MORE than reasonable.
Friday was cool and rainy in Marine on St. Croix. We all had our own opinions as to when the sun would appear, and when it finally did appear, it didn’t stay very long. Levi braved a morning swim in the river anyway.
I had already planned out a pie from Ken’s cookbook to make during the weekend, and Aunt Sarah had kindly gathered all the ingredients and brought them to the cabin in preparation for our visit. However, that pie was destined for Saturday, and it was Friday, and so, if you put two and two together: we were facing down the prospect of a pie-less evening.
Aunt Sarah’s friend and neighbor Jaci had gone shopping at the local co-op that afternoon and simply *couldn’t* resist buying a case each of blueberries and the most juicy peaches you’ve ever seen. And since her family simply *couldn’t* eat all of this fruit themselves, she wondered if we could use any?
I still think this was all a clever ruse to get pie, but no problems there. This is what everyone learned that day and what you are learning now: If I am on vacation and you bring me cases of perfectly ripe fruit, there is a 99% chance I will start baking on the spot, and a 98% chance you will get to partake in the finished product.
Now those are good odds.
If you think this Peach-Blueberry creation looks good (and boy, it was!), just wait until you see Saturday’s pie.
Within the last year, I have reached some sort of higher pie-making level. (What the official levels of pie-making are I am not quite sure…) I haven’t been a novice for a while, and now I’m fully at the point of comfort to where if you put me on Chopped and told me to come up with a dessert given the ingredients on hand my mind would immediately start trying to figure out how I could throw together a pie.
Of course, I’d need longer than thirty minutes and I would hope that my ingredients didn’t consist of some bizarre combination (green apple jellybeans, liverwurst, rice flour, and brazil nuts would be hard to make a pie out of) but you get the point. I don’t need recipes anymore. I still love to follow them sometimes and I’ll continue until I finish every dang pie in Ken’s cookbook but it is so tempting these days to throw recipes to the wind. Maybe what I’ve reached is the Freestyle Level.
One pie I’ve made in some form or another over and over this year is Strawberry Peach. The first time I used a splash of Trader Joe’s Dixie Peach juice to give it extra peachiness…if I happen to have very flavorful 100% fruit juices in my fridge, I like adding them to my pies. If you start to develop this habit though, make sure you’re using enough cornstarch. In a pie with strawberries (notorious for making pie bubble over) and a splash of extra juice, you’ll want to use an extra spoonful of starch (I’d say 4 level tablespoons went into this filling.)
Several batches of Strawberry Peaches minis were made during this spring and summer, some destined for local friends as gifts for a variety of occasions, some destined for farther places, like Nashville. When I went to Jamaica for a week, I left a few pies in the freezer, for Levi (I-love-you) and visiting friends I was barely able to cross paths with before leaving town. (In fact, the extent of our visit was a stop at Republic of Pie in between picking them up at one airport and dropping me off at another. Boo.) Pro tip: It’s good to have mini pies on hand. I have yet to meet someone who isn’t happy when you give them their own personal jar of pie. I mean, really.
One of my favorite pie memories of this summer is baking three of them (two Strawberry Peach and a blueberry) for the Onesimus crew on a hot July afternoon and serving them outside that same humid night, listening to a smoky bonfire devotion, surrounded by blinking fireflies. It was definitely an Elisha and the Widow’s Oil situation, when hungry souls kept coming and coming with plates held out eagerly for a slice, and when there was not one plate left, the pie stopped flowing. (Well, I guess at that point the one last piece flowed onto my plate. And then it was really and truly gone. And then I think some of the boys scraped the empty plates clean of any final crumbs or juicy drips.)
I made the Strawberry Peach (and maybe some apple too?) pie below in July late at night after work, waiting for some awesome house guests (and Levi) to get back from a baseball game they’d gone to. It was unplanned; the ingredients were sitting around and I had just a little time and the impulse struck, cause I’m on that Freestyle Level now, you know. And I’m finding out more and more that what it means when I make you pie is that I love you. I might not put the pie in a jar with a cute little handwritten label that says “Strawberry Peach I-love-you Pie,” (that honor is reserved mostly for Levi, I suppose) but it doesn’t mean that every pie I make doesn’t actually have “I-love-you” tacked into the name secretly. Because really, it does. It is my way of showing that I care.
In one note I got in response to a couple Strawberry-Peach pies I mailed was the sentence “Thank you for loving us all the way from California” and I thought, yes! That is what I’m doing, even when I don’t know I’m doing it. If I try to feed you pie, what I am basically doing is clumsily saying “I love you.”
Oh, Obi. Yes, I love you too, because I let you eat the pastry scraps that always fall off the dining room table when I roll out a crust.
Thanks for reading, and for eating, and for accepting my love in the form of pie.
I’m such a dork sometimes. I think that’s what makes me a good teacher.
I’ve had a lot of fun with my 3rd-4th-5th social studies class this year. We’ve been learning about the regions of the United States, which has included making detailed maps labeled with funny sounding places (Okefenokee Swamp is a crowd favorite), memorizing the states and capitals through the use of a catchy song, filming our own music video set to said song, Skyping with my parents to learn about the Northeast and the Southeast, examining Native American pottery, conducting hands-on investigations of resources from across the country, and writing and thinking about how where we live affects who we are (a question I’ve thought about a lot in relation to my own life). I gave my students their final test on the Western region of the United States this past Wednesday…and did I mention that, as of this week, the kids are out for the summer?!
Oh yeah. Oh yeah oh yeah. (I’ve still got plenty of grading, planning, and curriculum writing on my plate…but I see a definite increase of free time in my near future. As in: I see myself doing some laundry. I see myself taking Obi for more walks and writing blog posts that make no references to ancient history. And maybe sneaking off to Magic Mountain for a day.)
Anyway, back to the thesis statement about how I can be a dork. Really though, I’m the kind of teacher who makes kids groan in agony and say things like “How did you sneak MATH into this?” and “Why do you have to turn EVERYTHING into SCHOOL?” Which makes me feel very successful because I like to trick my students into learning even when they aren’t looking for a lesson. So, after I gave my kids their final test (which they took like champs, without complaining) I fed them a pie. I called it West Coast Pie. And here’s what they figured out by the time they were done eating it, with just a touch of guidance from me.
1. It was really, really delicious.
2. The filling was made up of strawberries to represent California, blueberries to represent Oregon, and apples to represent Washington.
3. I had used other ingredients that related to the Western region of the country, if not specifically the West Coast. The pie was glazed with milk and honey, representing the dairy farms and beehives that are an important part of agriculture in the West. The sugar the pie contained represented the sugarcane that grows in Hawaii, probably the coolest state in the West (if not in the entire country) in the eyes of my students. The lemon was a nod to the huge amount of citrus fruit grown in Californ-i-a. The wheat stood for the Great Plains, which lie partially in the Midwest but also spill into the Western states of Montana, Wyoming and Colorado.
I told you I’m a dork. But I’m turning them too, because they honestly figured out 95% of that on their own. Promise.
As a special School’s Out treat, and so I don’t forget it, I’m sharing the recipe for the pie here.
West Coast Pie
Ken Haedrich’s Basic Flaky Pastry. 3 cups flour, 1 tbs. sugar, 1 tsp. salt. Mix together by hand. Cut a stick of butter into small pieces and add into the dry ingredients. Rub with your fingers until the butter is incorporated. Have at the ready 1/2 cup of shortening. Add into the mixture in small pieces until fully incorporated. Add 1/2 cup of cold water, a little at a time, until pastry can be packed together. Make two balls, flatten them, wrap in wax paper, and refrigerate. (For a more detailed recipe instead of my paraphrase, see Ken’s book Pie.
2 cups strawberries, hulled and sliced.
1 cup blueberries
2 cups sliced apples
(I had just barely this much fruit, perhaps a little less. It was just all the fruit I had in the house at 5:30 in the morning that day. You know. Feel free to use a little less or more of something.)
1/3 cup turbinado sugar, plus 2 tbsp
Juice of 1/3 of a lemon
large dash of cinnamon
2 tbsp cornstarch
In a bowl, combine the fruit, 1/3 cup of sugar, lemon juice, and cinnamon. Allow to sit and juice for ten minutes. (You can roll out the bottom crust in the meantime and line your standard-size pie pan with it.) After the filling has been sitting, mix 2 tbsp each of cornstarch and sugar in a small bowl and add to the fruit mixture. Stir in. Turn entire filling into pie crust, wet edge around rim with water, and place rolled-out second crust on top. Press firmly around the rim to seal the two crusts together. Trim excess crust with a sharp knife and cut several vents in the top of the pie. In a small bowl, combine roughly 2 tbsp of milk with 1 tsp of honey. Mix well until honey dissolves. Use a pastry brush to brush the glaze over the top of the pie. Bake in a 400 degree oven for half an hour, then rotate and bake for another 25 minutes. You’ll know the pie is done when the top is a nice shade of brown and you see juices bubbling. Strawberries are notorious for making pies bubble over, so you may want to use a baking dish to protect the bottom of your oven.
I loved this pie. I really did. But I think the real reason you should try this pie is because these cool kids endorse it. I would totally trust their judgement.
Okay, they’re a little nutty. But they can be trusted when it comes to pie-tasting.
They know what they’re talking about.
It’s March already? You’ve got to be kidding me.
Let’s get down to business. First of all, I would like to announce that the Five-Spice Pear-Apple pies I mailed out during Thanksgiving week made it safely to their destinations.
Ironically, I’m pretty sure that standard mail to Australia is faster than priority mail to Georgia, Illinois, or Virginia. What in tarnation?! Lesson: The United States Postal System is an abject failure.
Eric Lange, my official domestic tester in Virginia, sent me this lovely ditty after receiving and consuming the pie:
“O Apple-Pear 5 Spice
You are so good and nice
You make my taste buds sing
You are the greatest thing!
A brown box in the mail
Delivered, without fail
A complete, delish pie
I was one lucky guy!”
Eric, you are the greatest thing.
Following that mini-pie episode, I embarked on another of epic proportions before Christmas, making about 30 pies to give as holiday gifts to the wonderful and devoted teachers I work with and some of my faraway family in New Jersey and Georgia.
Just one of the fillings I used was a recipe from Ken Haedrich’s book: All-Pear Pie with Maple and Candied Ginger. I’d been meaning to try this pie for so long (it’s one of my cousin Carly’s favorites, and she gave me the cookbook so she ought know). Funny thing is, I didn’t gift myself one of these pies, so I’ll be no doubt re-doing this recipe so I can actually have some. (I did have one bite of a friend’s, to be fair. But it wasn’t enough.)
The next two fillings were my own made-up combinations. Here’s the Cran-Apple Spice; I love how beautiful the fresh cranberries are and the sourness they bring to the table. I choose sour flavors over sweet every time and I have to say that I thought this pie was a win-win combination of both.
And here is the Honey-Apple-Raspberry filling, looking like a bit of a mess. But yum.
Mini-pie manufacturing is no piddling job. By the time you make multiple batches of crust, a few fillings, crumbs for the topping, labels for the tops…you’re looking at a long night.
The three pies below traveled not by car, not by mail, but by carry-on. This conversation happened.
TSA agent: I’m going to have to re-run your bag, miss.
Me in my head: Crap.
TSA agent: What are these?
Me: They’re pies….in jars.
TSA agent: Pies in jars?? That’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen!! (Calls other TSA agents to marvel over the coolness that is pie-in-a-jar.)
TSA agent: I think I’m going to have to keep one of these…*laughs*
Me: I’ll make an extra one just for you next time I come through *smiles*
Would this have happened at any other time besides Christmas? Doubtful. But I loved it.
While we’re on the subject of mini pies (which, as it turns out, is more often then not…) for the third year in a row, I had the opportunity to contribute pie to a bake sale supporting my students. (Last year I sent this batch of minis…the year before I had not yet perfected the art of sending pie traveling and sent two whole pies to be sliced and sold.)
I made another Honey-Apple-Raspberry filling (since they had been pretty popular the last time ’round) and a Blueberry-Pear filling with cardamom and maple syrup, both my own recipes. I think I have figured out a pretty exact ratio for mini pie filling; the amount of filling that would fit into one largish normal pie fits roughly into nine jars. Okay, perhaps “exact” isn’t the right word, but it’s a helpful rule to follow. So the filling below made 18 mini pies. And the filling overflowed, so I really could have done 19, or 20.
This was the first year I was able to see the bake sale in person (and I forgot to take any pictures, wouldn’t you know!) By the time I got there, the sale had been going on for perhaps two hours and most of my pies were already gone. I hope they were thoroughly enjoyed. Thanks so much to those who bought them or supported the Palm Springs bake sale in any other fashion. Over $1600 was raised for the Christadelphian Heritage School!
As always, thanks for reading. I’ll leave you with a reminder…PI DAY IS NEXT FRIDAY!
Let me know if you’re planning on celebrating.
Thanksgiving is tomorrow! (As if you didn’t know…) It’s always been my favorite holiday, and not only because it’s practically synonymous with pie. I’m going to be trying my hand at two new recipes from Ken’s book later this afternoon; Jellied Cranberry-Pecan Pie and Triple-Layer Pumpkin Chocolate Pie. I’ll be sure to post pictures soon.
Ken also just posted a recipe for Maple Pumpkin Pie on his blog, so make sure to check that out if you’re planning on making a pumpkin pie for tomorrow’s feast but haven’t yet settled on a recipe. Oh, and if you’re baking Thanksgiving pies of any sort, leave a comment and let me know what you’re making!
Even my dad came out for his first visit to Simi Valley! Our Labor Day weekend activities included hiking, sea kayaking, and mini golfing. The weather was beautiful and the views from the mountaintops were too.
Dad was able to share some of his thoughts at our church service on Sunday morning, on praise, joy, and creation. Here’s a really cool picture a friend drew during his talk which sums it all up. I am thankful to have a dad who always has uplifting thoughts to share and who is focused on things like love, beauty, and peace. In fact, the title of my blog was his idea. Snuck “peace” right in there.
(It’s Sweeny. Not Sweeney. Just for the record.)
On Sunday evening of Labor Day Weekend, before Maggie and Sara and Mike were leaving for the airport, we ended up cooking quite a feast and it felt more like a summery Thanksgiving than anything else. We were feeling particularly thankful for all our blessings. Maggie is vegan and often uses the phrase “vegan love feast” to describe a particularly joyful, delicious meal. Our feast that night was mostly vegan…except for all the grilled chicken we made for all the non-vegans who were partaking. But it was still a love feast.
I made a pluot-blueberry pie filling, just like I had made for Bear Lard Pie, but obviously didn’t use bear lard in the crust. That would have really killed the whole vegan thing. No butter, either.
Ruth and Bethany came over and Bethany was so helpful with her brilliant pie-stirring skills.
I even glazed the pie with coconut almond milk, which was very vegan of me.
While the pie baked, Obi and Bethany passed the time by striking similar poses on the couch.
I could literally compile an entire photo album of pictures of dogs (mainly Obi) looking longingly at my pies.
Enjoy your love feasts tomorrow. Happy Thanksgiving!
The story continues at the end of August. (We’re catching up, slowly, we are.) It was a Sunday. I flew back home from a trip to Pennsylvania and New Jersey and landed at about one in the afternoon, California time. I already had friends in town; they’d beat me. About an hour later, Emily and I were heading three hours into the desert to pick up Matt, Paul, and Amanda; they’d finished hiking the John Muir trail the day before. Destination: Lone Pine.
(This is Emily. We took her to the Pacific Ocean for the first time later in the week, and she was really cute about it.)
We drove through some incredibly boring stretches where we said to ourselves why would anyone live here? And we also saw a farm proudly selling multiple kinds of jerky, stunning red rock cliffs, and a desert thunderstorm, which was eerily beautiful.
Everyone was tired when we got home. The washing machine got to work, and in the meanwhile there was a funny period of time where everyone wore Levi’s clothes.
Along with showers, clean clothes, and sleep, the hikers needed one more thing to complete their recovery process: food. Pie.
To go along with the wilderness theme we’ve got going on here, I had recently acquired a jar of bear lard from Northern California. I won’t get into the nitty gritty details…in fact, I don’t even know them. Just know that if someone asks you, hypothetically, if you would use bear lard in a pie crust, and you say yes, you can safely expect that the situation won’t be hypothetical for long.
I hadn’t made lard pie pastry before, due mainly to the fact that I don’t really trust whatever kind of lard can be bought at the supermarket.
I guess that kind of mentality is exactly how I end up with products made from bears.
Not to be gross, but the smell of the stuff when I opened the lid of the jar was a bit disconcerting. Like, yeah. It smelled strongly like an animal. Which I suppose makes sense. I made everyone else smell it, and I couldn’t get a consensus on whether or not to use based on smell alone. But, lest this bear die in vain, I decided I needed to carry on. I’m glad I did. Not only did the smell and taste disappear entirely once the pie was baked, but the crust was incredibly soft and flaky. Quite different from the results of using butter, but in a very pleasant way.
I didn’t use a recipe for the filling in this pie; I had lots of pluots from my in-laws’ tree (along with bear, another truly Californian ingredient) and mixed them with blueberries.
I wish my back patio could always look like this.