MY INTENTIONS WERE pure, I swear. My mother is one of the two best pie makers I have ever known. Ruth Reichl is the other one, so Mom is in plenty fancy foodie company. (I’m not picking favorites here. That would be stupid, and probably reduce the amount of world’s-two-best-pies in my future.) Since Ruth was in Brazil, and therefore not available for stalking for pie tips (and I suspect she’s more likely to put them on her own site, anyway) I turned to Mom. “I have a great idea!” I began. She looked suspicious. My “great ideas” and “suggestions” can be as annoying to her as hers are to me. “I want to film you making pie, and put it up on The Sister Project this week!” Her face seemed to pale, and the corners of her mouth plummeted.
“You know, it won’t be a long video,” I stammered. “Just some shots of you making your crust, mostly, you know, edited together…” I trailed off. “You make the best pie of anyone I know.” (Well, one of the two best, anyhow.) “And you make it look so easy–you could help people conquer their fear of pie crust, because yours is always so perfect.”
My compliments were sincere; my enthusiasm genuine.
“What kind of pie do you want me to make?” The tone was less, say, exuberance, than maybe, oh, suspicion. Again.
“Whatever you want, but the theme is stone fruit, so I was thinking apricot.” Her entire face puckered. “Apricot?” This time, the tone was disbelief, with perhaps a soupçon of disgust.
“Well, yeah, but, uh, I can see you don’t like that idea, so…maybe blueberry? They’re in season…”
Not an improvement: “Blueberry pie is always too sweet.”
I still wasn’t dealing with reality. I know this, in retrospect, because my tone was still sunny. “Well, you could show people how to make it not-too-sweet.”
“I never make blueberry pie. I have to go to work. Let’s talk about this later.”
The next night, I came home from a night out with my husband; Mom had been babysitting the short people (thanks, Mom). As we came in from the garage, she flew down the stairs.
“We need to talk.”
My mind raced. What horrors could those nasty kids have unleashed on Grandma, even after being sternly warned that a bad report would eliminate the next morning’s cartoon privileges?
“It’s about the pie.” Oh, jeez. “I have to figure out what to do. I have to experiment. You know, they changed Crisco. I haven’t made a pie since. I have NO IDEA how to make the crust properly.”
“Of course you’ve made pie! What are you talking about? I ate it. The kids ate it.”
Never, EVER tell my mother she did something she said she didn’t.
“OK, I get it, you hate to be photographed, it’s about the video, I’m sorry, Forget it.”
“It is NOT about the video. I can’t make my crust anymore. It used to be half Crisco, half butter, but the new Crisco doesn’t work. I’ve been all over the internet tonight. Hundreds of pie bakers all over the country are in the same fix. NO ONE KNOWS WHAT TO DO. And now you’re mad at me.” Her voice was anxious, and maybe a touch shrill.
I had no idea we were in the midst of a nationwide pie crisis. But the fact that I was embroiled in a house-wide domestic crisis was becoming clear. Some louder words were exchanged, she stomped up to her room, I slammed out onto the front porch, and screamed a bit at the dog, since my actual target had removed herself from the buttery field of battle.
It’s true that when I was growing up, my mother made her pie crust with half cooking oil (she remembers Wesson, though I could have sworn it was Mazola) and half butter. Then, at some point, she switched out the oil (deemed unhealthy by Experts) for Crisco. Then the great transfat controversy unspooled, and somewhere around that time, even regular Crisco was reformulated. According to Mom, it just doesn’t work.
All this time, I’ve been making my pie crust with all butter, and though it’s not as good as Mom’s, or Ruth’s, it’s not bad. When I have it on hand, I use Plugra, the European-style butter with a higher fat content, which seems to improve my crust’s texture. I am lazy, and make mine in the food processor, instead of with a pastry blender. (My mom used the pastry blender or two knives my entire childhood, but now also sometimes uses the Cuisinart. I’VE SEEN HER, I SWEAR.) I put salt in my crust, but no sugar, because I always like a salty flavor playing off my sweets (the same reason I put sea salt in my chocolate cookies.)
In the absence of a video dispelling all the mysteries of perfect pie, you’ll have to settle for the crust recipe I use, and the best stone-fruit dessert I make, the one that is not my mother’s pie. Maybe when the apples come in, I’ll convince Mom to revisit this discussion, because it’s true that there is nothing better than Mom’s apple pie. (Except maybe Ruth’s apricot pie.) Then again, maybe I’ll just have to pray my mother ever makes me a pie again, and continue to hone my own skills. Let’s just hope that what I won’t be singing, come fall, is that chilling children’s song, No More Pie.
Suzanne Goin’s Plum Tarte Tatin
(adapted from Sunday Suppers at Lucques)
The original recipe calls for a sheet of puff pastry, and you could certainly use that instead of pie crust. I prerfer to make it with a regular pie crust, because it seems more rustic to me, and because I am too lazy to make my own puff pastry, and too cheap to pay $12 for it at the grocery store. I sometimes make my crust with whole wheat pastry flour (King Arthur brand) instead of all-purpose white flour, which gives a delicious nutty flavor that is divine against the sweet-tart plums.
3 lbs. plums, halved and pitted
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 stick unsalted butter
Crust for ten inch pie (see below), or 1 sheet of puff pastry
Toss the plums with 1/4 cup sugar and let macerate at room temperature, covered, for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, make a caramel: Put a 10 inch cast iron frying pan over medium heat for one minute. Add the butter, and when it foams, add the remaining 3/4 cup of sugar. Cook 6-8 minutes, swirling (but not stirring!) often until you have a deep brown caramel. Remove the pan from the heat and cool for 20 minutes.
Drain the plums. (The syrup makes a delicious cocktail–try it mixed with vodka and a bit of soda water, perhaps with a sprig of mint, on the rocks. That should take all your pie anxiety away.) Arrange the plums, cut side down, in concentric circles atop the caramel in the pan. Overlap them slightly if you can, and pack them in–you want them tight.
Return the pan to the stove over medium-low heat, and cook for twenty minutes until the fruit begins to soften. Cool the pan, preferably in the fridge, for two hours. If the fruit seems too syrupy after cooling, you can siphon off some of the juices with a turkey baster, but remember, this is a rustic dessert, so if juice runs when you serve it, that’s ok.
When you’re ready to bake the tart, preheat the oven to 375. Top the pan with the dough (rolled into a circle slightly larger than the diameter of your pan) or puff pastry (cut into a circle slightly larger than the diameter of your pan), turning the edges in so there’s a slightly thicker layer of pastry on the outer edge. Prick the crust in a few places with a fork, and brush gently with the beaten egg. Bake for 45-55 minutes, until the top is nicely browned. Cool in the pan on a rack for thirty minutes before unmolding: run a paring knife gently around the edge of the tarte, place a plate larger than the diameter of the pan on top of the pan, and (using potholders!) flip to unmold. Rearrange the fruit if any of it sticks to the pan (doesn’t usually happen, but sometimes can.) Serve plain, with a scoop of creme fraiche, or vanilla ice cream.
1-1/4 cups all purpose, unbleached flour
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, very cold, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup ice water
Combine flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Sprinkle the butter evenly over, and then process on and off until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs. With the machine running, add the ice water a tablespoon or so at a time. Stop the machine just as the dough comes together–you may not need all the water. Turn the dough out onto a large sheet of plastic wrap, and form into a ball, using the plastic sheet to enclose and shape the dough at the same time. If the dough seems too sticky, sprinkle on a spoonful or two of flour. When the ball is formed and wrapped, flatten it slightly so that you have a disc of dough about six inches in diameter, and an inch thick. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
When ready to make the tart, unwrap the dough and roll it out on floured wax paper. It helps to have a size guide, such as a traced circle drawn onto the waxed paper. Once the dough is rolled out, if you’re not using it immediately, chill the rolled-out circle again, between two sheets of was paper, on a baking sheet.
HOW OUR CROSS-BLOG SUMMER FEST WORKS
Thanks for attending Summer Fest, a four-week cross-blog celebration of fresh-from-the-garden food ideas, co-created (alphabetically listed) by A Way to Garden, Mattbites, Steamy Kitchen, and White on Rice Couple, with guest appearances from Gluten-Free Girl, Simmer Till Done and Paige of The Sister Project (hey, that’s me!). And from you—that’s critical. Your contributions are desired, and needed, whether growing tips or recipes or anything at all on topic.
So now it’s your turn: Have a recipe or tip for something wonderful with stone fruit? Leave it in the comments below, and then go visit my collaborators and do the same. The cross-blog event idea works best when you leave your recipe or favorite links (whether to your own blog or someone else’s) at all the host blogs. That way, they are likely to be seen by the widest audience. Everyone benefits.
If you wish, grab the juicy tomato badge (illustrated by Matt Armendariz of Matt Bites) and make a whole post on your blog on this week’s topic, to really jump into the sauce. Up to you: A whole post, a comment; badge, no badge—whatever you wish. (It’s meant to be fun, viral, fluid. No pressure, just delicious.)
And in case I forget, won’t somebody remind me on Twitter? Thanks. We’ll be talking it up there, too.
The Summer Fest 2009 schedule: Tuesday, July 28: HERBS. Any and all. Tuesday, August 4: FRUITS FROM TREES (also known as stone fruits, but we won’t scream if you toss in a berry or another fruit, promise). Tuesday, August 11: BEANS-AND-GREENS WEEK (either or both, your choice). Tuesday, August 18: TOMATO WEEK. How do you like them love apples? See you for the final two!