Hi friends, here’s an everyday sort of pie story for you – catching up from March here (and honestly, patting myself on the back a bit that lately my blog posts have been about fairly recent history.) It feels good to be here and writing for you so regularly.
Sometimes, circumstances collude to create just the right conditions for a batch of mini pies in jars. I’d added some Granny Smith apples to my Imperfect Foods box the week before, I had streusel topping in the freezer, and I needed a small but meaningful gift to bring over to a couple from church. (Over the last eight or nine months of Covid-era-life, our church has had a pairing list to connect families on a weekly basis. It’s been really great to have the opportunity to give and receive creative gifts and gestures when we aren’t able to see our church family as a whole on a regular basis.)
Granny Smith apples, pears, a little bit of cinnamon and nutmeg, lemon juice…a simple, can’t-go-wrong filling. In addition to two jars for our church friends, I made a pie for my friend Erin (it was her birthday week, hence the included candle). I also had to make a airplane pie-in-a-jar for our Matt (Uncle Teo to Pippa) who was getting ready to go back to his hometown of KC after a few months of writing his dissertation from our dining room table. And, of course, I made one in a ramekin for Pippa Pip, who helped me make the pastry and thinks there’s hardly anything better than homemade apple pie.
After a morning of pie-making, Pippa and I met up with Erin and her daughter Emery for a girls’ sushi lunch. I love that these two sweet girls are good buddies despite being many years apart in age. (Click the link to see the last photo I posted of Emery on this blog. Boy oh boy. To continue the Head and the Heart quote I started in that post from 2014, the months turn into years!)
This churashi bowl was gorgeous! Eating in a parking lot isn’t always the most picturesque, and we had a chilly day for it, but you’ll never catch me complaining about anything our restaurants have had to do to stay open this year. The food service world has been on my heart constantly.
Pippa can eat a lot – but not THAT much fried rice. (She’s enjoying it, despite the quizzical look on her face.) I hope she takes after her friend Emery’s love of sriracha and all things spicy someday.
It was a happy birthday celebration for a dear friend!
2021 is upon us, and, arbitrary though it may be, it feels good to move forward. It feels good to set new goals and intentions, to re-dedicate ourselves to our core beliefs and values and relationships, to know that any pain and struggles we experienced in 2020 will carve space for deeper joys to come, if we let them.
This is going to be a long post. The format was the most recent guest baker (aka Levi)’s suggestion so if you get too the end of this and think “THIS WAS TOO. MUCH. PIE.,” you can take it up with him. I was intrigued by the idea of starting my blogging life somewhat afresh in 2021, so I went for it. Without further ado, here is a roundup of eight dessert pies I baked in 2020 that had not yet been blogumented.
Yep, I just made that word up.
Indiana Buttermilk Pie
August 2020. First of three pies from when our friend Matt was in California to visit us for slightly over a week. Three pies in a week, that’s well above my usual pace. To put it in perspective, if that was my standard pace, this project would have been over by 2013. This was my first buttermilk pie (there are three buttermilk pie recipes in Pie) but not my last in 2020, as you’ll see. Simple, basic, uncomplicated flavor. 1 teaspoon of vanilla is the only real flavoring agent, and the tartness of the buttermilk shines straight through. I loved this.
“White” Summer Fruit Pie…sort of!
August 2020. Second of three pies in aforementioned week. We really wanted one of them to be a fruit pie, and Matt (Pie Hype Man) really wanted me to make progress in the cookbook, so we chose this “White” Summer Fruit recipe. It called for Rainier cherries and either white peaches or nectarines. As it turned out, we weren’t able to locate Rainiers so late in the summer, so we followed the recipe exactly but used zero cherries, white Saturn peaches, yellow nectarines, and rhubarb (of which I freeze lots each spring). While it was absolutely divine and we ate it with homemade vanilla ice cream (extra divinity points) my overactive conscience won’t allow me to check this pie off my list until I make it again with Rainier cherries. *Avoids eye contact with Matt, who totally thought this one counted.* But look how pretty!!
Little Crème Brûlée Pies
August 2020. Third of three. Unusual and unforgettable mini pies. My first time making Ken’s “Extra Flaky” pie crust recipe, which calls for cake flour. (Also my first time purchasing cake flour! A few of the pies in this post had ingredients outside the typical realm of my pantry, as you’ll see.) The pastry was lovely to work with and yielded enough for four miniature pie pans, pictured below. After these pies are baked, they are topped with a layer of brown sugar and blow-torched to perfection. I mean, what could be better?
Coconut Cream Pie with Coconut Meringue Topping
October 2020. More ingredients I never hardly ever buy: sweetened flaked coconut and cream of coconut (as in, the stuff in piña coladas, not to be confused with coconut cream aka thicker coconut milk). My cousin Martin’s family visited us for a weekend and I wanted to make a great pie to enjoy all together. When we were growing up and on summertime vacations in Vermont, Martin and I were the little kids who would order coconut almond ice cream without fail when we’d all go to our favorite ice cream shop (our grandparents’ treat). Our shared love of coconut led me to choose this pie for the occasion. Decadent. A coconut lover’s dream come true; yet, not overpowering or artificial in any way.
Three Sisters Coconut Buttermilk Pie
October 2020. Remember that sweetened flaked coconut I’d just bought? Me too…so I looked for another recipe that called for it. Since making the Indiana Buttermilk Pie and absolutely adoring it, I had been looking forward to trying a second buttermilk pie – this was an easy pick. Like a coconut custard pie but with the tang of buttermilk to take it to the next level; a real treat. We shared this pie with our good friends Brad and Deb at our big outdoor table. It seats 18, but we’ve been so grateful for the few times this year that we’ve used it to seat even 4. ❤
Homestead Chess Pie
November 2020. I was looking for something very simple, with pantry ingredients, as I decided to put this pie together at the last minute. This fit the bill: eggs, sugar, butter, vanilla, a bit of vinegar and cornmeal. In my last blog post, I mentioned that I made a (correct) executive decision to bake my Tarte au Sucre an extra 15 minutes past the time given in the recipe. I initially took this pie out at 35 minutes (recipe calls for 30-35) but ended up putting it back in the oven later, cause it clearly was underbaked. Yikes. Perhaps my oven does run cold and I am just waking up to this fact? I shall ponder this further. A delightful pie in the end, for all its simplicity. The fifth of the five Chess Pies in Pie – I’ve now exhausted that category. I confess, I did secretly wish this was a Lemon Chess Pie when I was eating it. Levi probably did too because he is Mr. Lemon Dessert.
Crock-Pot Fall Fruit Pie
November 2020. The name above ruins my punch line. Which of the desserts pictured below do you think was my Thanksgiving pie this year? That’s right, it’s the only one that looks nothing like a pie! This oval-shaped semi-imposter, though not what you would expect of me, was a popular and tasty dessert table choice that I’d recommend any of you try. It’s made with baking mix (like Bisquick – I used Birch Benders Organic Classic Pancake and Waffle Mix), fresh cranberries, pears, apples. Super Thanksgiving-y and great with a dollop of homemade whipped cream.
Apple and Blueberry Crumb Pie
December 2020. This was an important pie for me. I didn’t follow a recipe. I made it for my dear Linda (Pippa’s former nanny) and her family. My apple pie is Linda’s favorite, my blueberry pie is her daughter’s favorite, and they both love crumb topping. Linda had filled a pie dish with homemade tamales for us shortly before Thanksgiving. After the tamales sustained us for several days, I was left with this empty dish (it says Blessed on the bottom – I’d actually given it to her as a gift the last week she worked for us). I couldn’t picture giving it back like that, so I made this pie while Pippa took an afternoon nap one day. This has been a season of grief, and that was an afternoon when the grief was more present than I realized. There was something so visceral in making that pie with my hands, both painful and healing at the same time. I didn’t expect to react the way I did to peeling and coring the apples, to breaking up clumps of butter with my floury fingers – each familiar step generating a physical heartache – but perhaps I should have. Linda said her whole family agreed it was the best pie they have ever had.
Through that experience, I recognized that pie making has become a way to let my heart speak what is on is mind. It is a path I can walk any time, in any weather. And it is a way I can return blessings on the givers in my life, of whom there truly are many.
Be blessed in 2021, my friends, though it may look different than you expect. Happy New Year!
A few editorial notes:
You probably got this already, but a pie named in bold type is a pie from Ken Haedrich’s Pie baked for the first time. The two fruit pie titles are not in bold, denoting that they aren’t counting towards my count to 300.
While at this moment I’m feeling 96.5% sure that I covered all of 2020’s sweet pies, there were also a couple savory pies I’d like to tell you a bit more about another day. Also, there are still some pies of yesteryear that will occasionally pop into my mind or out of old photos which have yet to claim their rightful place in the gallery. So, if you had any fear that I was completely done with flashbacks…fear not.
Two years ago, I was given this recipe for a Cranberry Pear Pie by my friend Marilyn. I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that it took me this long to make it, but make it I did for this year’s Thanksgiving dinner, and I want to say a great big thank you to you now, Marilyn. Thank you so much for sharing your special recipe! Everyone who tried the pie was absolutely delighted with it.
The method of assembling the filling of this pie was the reverse of what I’m used to. Usually I start with the fruit in a bowl and add sugar, lemon, spices, and later on (after the fruit has had a chance to juice) the thickener, whether it’s cornstarch, tapioca, or flour. For Marilyn’s Cranberry Pear Pie, start by mixing together the dry ingredients (sugar, flour, cinnamon, and salt) and then mixing in lemon juice, cranberry sauce, and finally the pears, gently. For pears, this makes so much sense; it’s better that they weren’t stirred around so much but were just coated in all the other ingredients before being tucked into the pie. If you try this pie yourself, please do use absolutely beautiful, flavorful, perfectly ripe pears as I had the fortune of using. (Here I go with my advertising again, but mine were Trader Joe’s Organic D’Anjou.)
Marilyn, since we share some family members, I was excited to let my aunt and your granddaughter Jenna and my cousin and your great-granddaughter Kylie know that this pie I had made was from your recipe.
I hope all of your holidays were wonderful, with full plates and full hearts! As always, thanks for reading.
Yes, very often “secret ingredient” is synonymous with liquor. After adding this pear brandy to the pie, we sipped it alongside the finished product and it was not at all a bad plan.
Nutty Pie Pastry made with walnuts…check.
Christmas Eve Morning Piefie…check.
Along with brandy, these pears are tossed in lemon, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and a pinch of salt and are warmly luminescent in the morning light.
(Sometimes I just make up flowery sentences to see if you’re still paying attention.)
The pears are topped with what Ken calls a “blond streusel” which basically just means it has none of the dark ingredients that often make it into a pie topping (brown sugar, cinnamon…) and all of the white ones (cream, butter, white sugar, you know, all the healthiest food groups. If you know me you know I have no fear of the butter.)
What a trick! That’s not a pie, that’s a baby nephew on his first Christmas!
Here’s the pie, in all it’s pear-ish resplendence. I’d heartily recommend trying this recipe at any time of year.
Let’s not dwell on the fact that these pies were made at Christmastime. Just ignore Levi’s “Merry Christmas, Ya Filthy Animal” sweater in the picture below, which was supposed to be a selfie with a pie (the pie was in the basket) but instead you can just see Levi and I, so I guess instead of a piefie, I ended up with a spousie.
Also, please forgive the fact that nearly every picture below, taken while putting together the astonishingly beautiful Pear and Fig Pie with a Pine Nut Crust, shows off my glittery holiday manicure.
This pie is made with dried figs, which I don’t love half so much as the fresh figs that my Great-Uncle Benny somehow grew every summer in his concrete backyard. Still, the combination of fig, pear, honey, and pine nut is really a delight.
Trader Joe’s should pay me for all the advertising I do for them. HONESTly.
To make the crust, just roll out a standard crust and then sprinkle the pine nuts over the top and gently press them in, your fantastic fingernails guiding the rolling pin.
When glazed with milk and sugar and baked, this pie truly looks like a masterpiece. Studding the top crust with nuts would be a fun trick for a variety of pies…just keep an eye out for burning and be prepared to tent the pie with aluminum foil for part of the baking if needed.
So here’s something that happens often. (As in, every time I make more than one pie at a time.) I do a swell job documenting the process of whatever pie I start first. Then, by the time I remember that I still have a whole other pie to make and it’s probably past my bedtime already, I don’t bother with all the pictures and just take one token one of the finished product. I have way fewer pictures of this Chocolate Cream Pie with Cinnamon Meringue.
Point to ponder: Is that what’s going to happen when I have two children…?
Let it be known; this was MY FIRST EVER MERINGUE. I kid you not. I’ve been making new pies for going on five years now and I’ve never made a stinkin’ meringue before. And look how purty it turned out. I’m such a proud mama.
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!
Due to certain circumstances, some of which are explained in this post (the rest can be chalked up to the fact that I take a long time to get around to doing things), I hadn’t yet been able to send my official domestic and international testers their Pies-in-Jars that I’d promised them back in April.
But thanks to my school’s week-long Thanksgiving break (for which I am truly, deeply, thankful) I was able to bake, box, and ship the belated little goodies this morning. Phew!
(I should probably mention that we didn’t get a new dog. Rags is just visiting for the holiday week while his mom and dad celebrate their first anniversary in Cancun. The best things about Rags are how much he loves to cuddle and how much he looks like a stuffed animal. Or a mop, come to think of it.)
I used the Five-Spice Pear-Apple Pie recipe from Pie and then just divided it up into my little jars…I ended up with enough filling to make nine. I had leftover crumb topping and used just slightly less than two single pie crusts.
Here’s what the pies looked like straight out of the oven. Super tall and bubbly! They settled down some within a minute or two of resting. I got the lids on, no problem, and tried my best to wipe the sticky off the sides.
Oh. Oops. It’s supposed to be Pear-Apple Pie…meh.
And now, most of these jars are winging their way through the postal offices of the country/world. We await news of their arrival and sincerely hope that they have smooth landings. Stay tuned!
On the afternoon of the Summer Solstice, Grandmother was taking her well-earned daily nap, Aunt Sarah and cousin Matt were swimming off the dock, and Levi and Uncle Joe were shopping til they dropped at Gander Mountain. Granddad and I worked on a puzzle and made this pie. He has Alzheimer’s and doesn’t remember much of anything these days, but I think baking is a relatively familiar territory for the following reasons.
1.He has eaten possibly hundreds of my Grandmother’s delicious pies (blueberry and apple are the best kinds.)
2.“Grandfather bread” is a term used in my family to refer to the amazing bread he used to make every week in his bread machine. Grandmother has since taken over the breadmaking (Zante currant is the best kind.)
3.He used to be a research chemist, and what is baking, really, other than edible chemistry? (Post-Its and Scratch and Sniff were some of the best projects he worked on.)
I told Granddad that we were going to make an “Experiment Pie,” meaning that I had no recipe to follow. He laughed and stirred the filling: rhubarb, an apple, a pear, a little bit of pomegranate-lime juice, a squeeze of lemon juice, lemon zest, orange zest, powdered ginger, and nutmeg.
Butter pats go on top, because more butter is more better.
That evening–the sun didn’t set until ten–there was a Summer Solstice feast of epic proportions at the cabin.
There was a strawberry jicama salad from neighbor-friend Jackie.There was a pile of crispy walleye and bass straight from the St. Croix.
And to top it all off, we enjoyed a trio of pies (Experiment Pie, the Nectarine-Lime Pie of yesterday’s post, and a Grandmother Marie Apple Pie).
I think they would hold up really well in the mail. Big question is whether they’ll hold up internationally. Now taking domestic and international volunteers to help me test this theory out.
A year ago, I send some normal pie pies (as opposed to pie-in-a-jar pies) to a bake sale in Palm Springs benefitting the school I teach at. You can read that post here. This year, I was asked to contribute again to the same sale. I decided to make mini pies in jars this year after pondering the following key points.
What’s better than a slice of pie? A whole pie to yourself.
What’s more socially acceptable than eating a whole pie? Eating a whole mini pie.
What’s easier to transport than a jar with a lid?…Nothing.
(My points just seem to be rolling out in groups of three this evening.)
This post from Our Best Bites provided me with some inspiration, and even comes with some rather adorable labels to top your jars with. It’s worth checking out if you’re interested in making your own pies-in-a-jar. For my part, I did what I usually do…read some blog posts on the subject at hand, then decided not to follow any of the recipes after all. So, in all accuracy, I probably couldn’t replicate these exact mini pies ever again.
(Awkward silence as you ponder how unhelpful of a blog writer I really am…)
I made two types of pies-in-a-jar; a pretty basic apple pie with lots of spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, lemon and lemon zest) and a pear and mixed berry pie (strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, almond extract).
I love how they look here, all packaged up and ready to travel!
Have you ever tried baking pies (or anything else) in a jar? I would love to hear:
Stories about YOUR mini pie experiences, or questions about mine.
Interest in being a mail-tester for a pie-jar (depending on the number of comments I receive, I’ll put your name in a drawing.)
Which of the two above flavors you would have purchased had YOU attended the bake sale?
I just love fruit pies. Have I mentioned that before? Love, love, love ’em. Especially mixed fruit pies, like this Pear-Raspberry Lattice-Top Pie.
If you’ve never made a lattice-top pie before, don’t worry. It’s super duper easy. Here’s one good trick from Ken to get you started right…shape the pastry which will become the top crust into a square (as opposed to a disk) before rolling!
I like to roll my pie crust between two pieces of wax paper–it just makes the process so much easier. For extra ease, I also refrigerate the pastry before rolling it out. This isn’t as necessary for oil-based crusts, but it’s an important step if you use a solid fat like butter and/or shortening.
The color of this pie is gorgeous. It doesn’t smell too shabby coming out of the oven, either.
I was happy to be able to share this pie with several good friends of ours. As we were eating our first slices, Levi asked if this might not be “One of those times” where it would be appropriate to just cut the rest of the pie up and finish it right then and there. Indeed, it did turn out to be the thing to do.
Along with mixed fruit pies, I love eating outside in the summer, twinkle lights, glasses of wine, and good company.