It seems like the two times of year Americans love to eat, make and talk about pie (well maybe that last is just me) are Thanksgiving, and the Fourth of July. In the Fall we want seasonal pies like apple, sweet potato, pumpkin and pecan. But it’s summer now, so a pie-makers fancy naturally turns to stone fruit. Pie is one of my favorite desserts; I will choose pie over most other options, including chocolate. Sadly, it has become almost impossible to get a really good pie, unless you make it yourself, and it is a very easy thing to do- easy as pie!
The first step in making a really good pie is the crust. Many people leave the crust behind when they eat pie, but I think it is the main attraction! It isn’t difficult to make a good crust. My mom made great pies- especially lemon meringue- and they were always beautiful to look at. She taught us to make crust when we were kids, and we used Crisco- you may scoff, but shortening and lard make the most tender crust. That being said I use butter; I like the way it tastes, and feels. Have you ever eaten a pastry or croissant from a random bakery and felt that scummy feeling in your mouth? That is because the Sweetex (commercial shortening product) they used doesn’t melt in your mouth (at 98 degrees f) the way butter does. When making crust remember the less you handle it the better, the glutens that will develop will make the dough more elastic, but less tender and flaky. Pie crust dough freezes well, I used to make several crusts, wrap them in plastic, fold them in quarters and stack them in my freezer!
I am not a fan of using cornstarch or flour to thicken fruit pies. I use instant tapioca which yields a juicier pie, that holds together well enough to cut, but doesn’t have a gummy feel, or floury taste. Fresh fruit is best, frozen is fine too, but please do not use canned fruit or canned pie filling! It is not hard to make pie filling, unless you are pitting your own cherries, which is pretty time consuming, though a great task for children who want to help. Mixing fruits together is a good way to deal with those peaches and plums starting to get too soft, and if you don’t have enough for a pie, toss them into the freezer until you do. There are tons of recipes for pies, but all you need is enough fruit to fill your shell, about one cup of sugar, 2-3 TBL of instant tapioca, and whatever seasonings you like.
Seasoning a pie may sound like an odd idea, but spices and aromatics can bring out the most flavor from your fruit. Most people use cinnamon and nutmeg for any pie, but keep in mind some other options: ginger; fresh or ground; lemon peel or juice, vanilla, or bourbon, balsamic vinegar, or pepper, toasted nuts, candied fruits or citron, star anise, or five spice powder. I haven’t tried it, but I think a strawberry tart with pepper and balsamic vinegar sounds pretty good!
You can top a pie with all kinds of things, from a top crust, a lattice crust, cut out shapes of dough scattered on top, a variety of crumb toppings, streusel topping, and meringue. You can use nuts, or caramel, whipped cream or cheese, the list is endless. If you use any type of pastry, for a beautiful appearance brush pastry with milk and dust with sugar- sanding sugar, or any large grain sugar is best, but this will make the top glisten.
Today I am going to a party and bringing two pies; a Blueberry-Lemon pie that I have made countless times, and something new I am trying a Peach and Candied Ginger pie, I hope it turns out as well as I imagine, I will let you know.
If you have some great pie plans or ideas please let me know about them!