A few more sweet memories from last summer. Can’t wait to see you ladies again soon!
Some things about our trips to Minnesota are pretty standard.
Uncle Joe takes us to the best fishing spots.
Levi and I catch fish. (This was a particularly successful day.)
Aunt Sarah cleans our fishes in anticipation of fish dinner.
Grandmom leads fish dinner preparations, breading the filets perfectly. My mouth is literally watering just looking at these pictures.
Levi and I sneak away to the Brookside Tavern (the only bar in Marine-on-St. Croix, next to the only gas station and across from the only general store) for glasses of Farm Girl.
Sometimes, depending on the time of year, we get to do things that are out-of-the-ordinary. This year we happened to visit in mid-August, right around my cousin Matt’s 19th birthday.
Now, Matt has plenty of his own summertime/cabin rituals. One place he can very predictably found for at least part of every day is on the couch, reading voraciously.
Matt also has traditions that he plans out in advance and shares with us during our visits; these include bonfires complete with Reese’s S’mores and scary stories (which he retells with much suspenseful inflection and an impressive memory for detail), movie nights, and of course, trips to the (only) ice cream store. He is a remarkably thoughtful host.
Truth be told, Matt has been a long-time supporter of my pies, whether or not they are specifically referred to as his birthday pie. But this one really WAS a birthday pie. You can tell by the 19 on top.
Although I have already baked my way through so many of the fruit pies in the Pie cookbook, I was luckily able to find and prepare this lovely new specimen for Matt’s birthday festivities: Deep-Dish Blackberry-Peach Double-Crust Pie.
There were several fun new pie tricks to try in the making of this recipe. For one, the peaches are called upon for blanching. I hadn’t blanched peaches before. I’m not much of a blancher in general.
Jury’s still out on how useful that was, as I’m pretty handy with a paring knife, and I think I could have peeled the peaches in far less time than it took to boil the water, try to determine when the peaches were actually finished (although Ken does give very good, clear directions on the process) and then scrape off the remaining skin as not all of it really came off nicely. Either way, it was fun to try a different method-and I can definitely see how, when executed properly, blanching could cut back on wasting delicious bits of fruit that might be cut off with a knife.
Another of the fun new tricks: freshly grated nutmeg. I’m rather ashamed to say that this was new to me. I apologize for dashing your visions of me happily grating whole nutmeg tendrils into every pie filling that had ever called for nutmeg. I usually just shake it out of a jar. But Grandmom had a whole nutmeg and a cute teeny nutmeg grater at her house and once I saw this, I knew it was meant to be. Fresh nutmeg, you smell so good.
Have you ever thought about what a funny word “nutmeg” is?
Add some freshly grated lemon zest, lemon juice, sugar, butter, and cornstarch and you’ve got a pie fit for a 19-year-old.
We won’t be together for Matt’s 20th birthday this summer, but I look forward to a visit next week that will hopefully include all of our favorite cousin traditions…including pie!
In the past, I’ve demonstrated to you time and time again the merits of pie-in-a-jar. It can pass airport security checks, it travels securely to faraway bake sales, it can be mailed to Australia with no incidents whatever. Just in case you were looking for another reason to add to your mental list of “Why Pie-in-a-Jar is Truly Awesome,” I’ve got you covered.
Pie-in-a-Jar can climb mountains.
We had the privilege of visiting Pinnacles National Park this weekend, with the added privilege of Allyn and Ali’s company and conversation along the way. I highly recommend catching up with a friend you haven’t seen for nine years/making a new friend while walking for five hours. A lot of territory can be covered, literally and figuratively.
Along with other feats of Creation, we encountered talus caves, a nocturnal red frog, an exalted reservoir, Mariposa lilies, monkey flowers, and FOUR CALIFORNIA CONDORS. I’m still a little bit giddy just thinking about how incredible the views were from the tops of the pinnacles the park is named after. No wonder the condors love it up there.
All this beauty aside, let us turn now to a matter of practicality. To paraphrase what Ali said so wisely, one of the best parts of hiking is snack breaks. Which brings us back to our strawberry rhubarb pies-in-jars. I mean, who doesn’t like the idea of eating pie on a pinnacle?
Also, do you readers wonder if I bring pie everywhere I go just so I have a reason to tell a story about it on my blog? I wonder that too sometimes. I like to think that the answer is no, that it just happens organically this way, but I’ll ponder the question some more and get back to you. For now, lay all doubts aside and enjoy these last few pictures of happy people and pie in the middle of nowhere.
There are only nine weeks left in the school year for my students, and eleven for myself. I’m already looking forward to summer weeks and pies I’ll be baking in our little New Jersey cabin home.
I’m also looking forward to another year of serving at Operation Onesimus. When I went through the program as a teenager, I consumed many a slice of delicious homemade pie or square of cobbler made by the loving hands of those who cooked for my peers and I. I consider it a massive privilege to be able to carry on the pie torch, as it were.
(To read more about Operation Onesimus, what it is, what it means, and how pie has been involved, check out these posts from the ol’ blog archives.)
As I’ve been thinking about and planning for our program this year, I came to the realization that I never shared with you a really awesome collection of photos that Levi took for me one crazy, humid summer night on Schooley’s Mountain when we all had pie for a nighttime snack. To be honest, I don’t even remember what kind of pie this was, other than that it was my own recipe, and it involved blueberries upon blueberries. They were on sale. (It took four pies to feed everyone.)
Enjoy the look back, and for those of you who are planning to attend Onesimus this summer, the look forward!
I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus.
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.
February has been a good month for pies. Several new pies from the book have been tested for various occasions. I also baked up a couple Apple-Berry Pies of my own imagination to bring to the tech/warehouse department of my company, because I believe in bribery, I mean because I’m such a nice person. (No but for real. I needed to work out of the warehouse for several days and there is no better way to ensure a bunch of guys will run around finding you printer ink when you use it all up than feeding them pie first.)
Okay, wow, I just now noticed the double smiley face. That is some serious sucking up.
So yes…I will have PLENTY of 2015, February, current, hot-off-the-press pie stories for you. They’re coming!
Green tomatoes. Ahhh yes. This Green Tomato Selfie harks back to December and to the Green Tomato-Mincemeat Pie I made with the last of the stragglers on our vines. This is the second green tomato pie I’ve made, the second that’s featured in Ken’s Pie cookbook, if you’ll recall. (If not, check out this post from a year ago, In which I Pride Myself On My Resourcefulness and Also Obi Nearly Poisons Himself.)
I felt that it was very fitting to christen this Christmas gift from another pi(e)-loving friend with a pie of a hue to match. (Thanks, Ren!)
I suspect we North Americans don’t eat enough mincemeat. It truly has become my favorite Christmasy pie. This is a delicious variety; in addition to the finely chopped green tomatoes*, we have here raisins, walnuts, dates, white sugar, brown sugar, cider vinegar, flour, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, salt, lemon zest, and butter.
*Boy, is that ever a time-consuming activity. Be prepared for wrinkled fingers and passing waves of anger.
The crust used for this recipe is a cornmeal crust. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, cornmeal is paired with green tomatoes in Ken’s other recipe as well. It makes sense. When I think of green tomatoes, the first thing I think of is (no, not pie) delicious battered-in-cornmeal-and-fried green tomatoes with remoulade, such as some that I ate in New Orleans not a month ago. Yummmm. Clearly green tomatoes and cornmeal are just meant to be.
Cornmeal crusts mean that I get out these handy gadgets (thanks, Grandma Bonnie!) and place them on the outer rim of the crust before baking to protect from overbrowning. The rest of the pie does just fine without a shield, although you’ll probably still notice a little deeper of a color than you’ll get with a standard pastry.
We were able to share this pie with many friends, including some Canadians who were not surprised at all by the contents of the filling and remarked that this was the way their family had always made mincemeat–with green tomatoes!
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.
Saturday came, cloudy and cool. Uncle Joe took me out fishing and five hours passed before I knew it. The first four hours and forty five minutes were filled with frustration as fish after fish eluded me. (How about that alliteration?)
The thing about fishing, though, is that as many times as you throw out your bait and reel it back in without a bite, you still cherish this hope, a seemingly unsubstantiated confidence, that the next time you cast, you WILL catch a fish.
And sometimes, it’s true.
After this great success, it was then time for the planned-out Pie book pie, the pie I mentioned in my last post. After Aunt Sarah had done some recon work to find out what fresh fruit could still be bought in Minnesota in September, I had chosen the Raspberry and Fresh Fig Freeform Pie for this trip. I mentioned last year that we were in MN too early for currants, and this year we were too late. Once again, Trader Joe’s stepped in with figs- but upon my word, I WILL make a fresh currant pie one of these summers!
This was one of those strikingly beautiful pie fillings. Someday I’ll compile a lustrous coffee table book called “Pie: The Inside Story”.
The recipe for this pie suggests adding an egg yolk to the pastry to make sure it holds up a bit. For freeform pies, the crust simply gets rolled into a circle and placed on a baking sheet; don’t use a pie dish for freeform pies. Well, you can, but it won’t be freeform anymore, so that’s pointless.
To form the crust, fold the edges up all around, making sure a good amount of the outskirts of the pie are covered, and pinch the pastry together in some spots that look like they might be prone to gapping open in the oven. I’ve made some delicious freeform pies in the past but I’ve also made one that was decidedly too dry because I didn’t fold the pastry up enough and it got gappy (spell-check is hating on that word right now, trying to change it to happy, but the pie was NOT happy! It was gappy…and sad from the loss of its delicious juices.) So now I pinch parts together to really secure the perimeter.
The finished product was bundled into the trunk and driven to Grandmom and Granddad’s house in North Oaks. It has always been one of the most interesting places in the world to me. You find things like this.
We had the traditional fish dinner that night. There are not many finer delights in life.
Thanksgiving or Labor Day, turkey or fish (though, like Grandmom, I prefer the latter), I’m thankful for my Sweeny family. (Spoiler alert: more Sweeny pie-making to come on Thanksgiving. Levi and I are heading to Georgia to visit my parents!)
I just have a few tiny more things to say about this pie. As delicious as it would have been on its own, it was made truly remarkable by the addition of a honey-anise whipped cream. I’m a licorice person, so to me this whipped cream was a revelation. But even if you’re not a licorice person, per se (Levi isn’t one) you should try it anyway. It’s just that good. The anise part of the flavor comes from the addition of…
Any guesses?……..Sambuca. 1 cup whipping cream and 2 tablespoons each of honey and Sambuca and you’ve got yourself an incredibly special whipped cream to go with an equally special pie, to share with some of the special people in your life.
P.S. Stayed tuned-Labor Day Weekend isn’t over quite yet.
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.