Thursday, September 12, 2013

People of the Pie

Sweet potato custard pie. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

I came to pie later in life. My people were cake people you see, skilled in the language of layer cake pans, 10X sugar and sprinkles. My first cake was carrot cake, made from a recipe in the venerable, verdant  Farm Journal cookbook. There were forays into pound cakes, with detours through sour cream, chocolate and lemon before deciding on my standard shattery-crust cream cheese pound cake. Rich cheesecakes would follow, chock full of candy, eggs and dairy goodness. But pies eluded me until marriage, when my husband presented me with a set of hand-turned walnut rolling pins. An angled pastry pin, perfect for rounding out a disk of pie dough. The too-pretty-to-use decorative pin with the lovely rounded ends. And my favorite, the Clydesdale of the kitchen, ideal for thwopping a resistant pizza dough or pounding out super-chilly puff pastry.

Rolling pins. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
The gift of the rolling pins, seen here in their display case in my kitchen along with grandma's red-handled rolling pin (perfect for Kitty's Beaten Biscuits) and Little Bit's pint-sized pin, gave me the encouragement I needed to tackle pastry crust. At my husband's suggestion, I made a buttermilk chess pie from Southern Living magazine, and have been turning out pies ever since. Apple pies, peach pies, blueberry pies. Lemon meringue, French silk, and the pie my family looks most forward to each January, Bellwether's Kumquat Pie.

So what pie should I bake for my friends, the monthly #LetsLunch crowd? I intended to bake up a Southern peach pie with the late season fruit I bought at an interstate off-ramp vegetable stand. Those peaches became roasted peach jam instead, so I turned to my second favorite pie, sweet potato pie. Truth is, every Thanksgiving, I'd rather have sweet potato pie than pumpkin or pecan pie. This recipe is adapted from Damon Lee Fowler's charming and reliable cookbook "Beans, Greens and Sweet Georgia Peaches."

Sweet Potato Custard Pie. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Sweet Potato Custard Pie

Pie Crust
These are instructions for making pie crust in a food processor, my favorite way to blend the fat into the flour. I keep a small can of Crisco in the bottom drawer of my refrigerator, so it’s always well-chilled for pie crust making. No excuse not to make pie, right?

2 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
½ cup vegetable shortening, very cold
About 1/3 cup ice water

1.     1.   Place the flour, salt and sugar in the bowl of the food processor. Pulse five times to mix the dry ingredients. Add the shortening, pulsing until the flour resembles coarse meal or grits. Add a few tablespoons of ice water and pulse. Continue adding ice water until dough comes together.

2.      2.  Lightly flour a clean counter top and remove dough from bowl of food processor. Using a light touch, press dough into a round disk, wrap in plastic and chill for at least an hour or overnight. After chilling, the pie crust is ready for rockin’ and rollin.’
Sweet Potato Custard Pie

About five or six medium sweet potatoes
1 cup sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3 large eggs
A pinch of salt
1 generous tablespoon vanilla

1.       To roast sweet potatoes: rinse off tubers, place them on a foil-lined baking sheet and prick the tops with a fork. Roast in a 400 degree oven for about an hour. Let the sweet potatoes cool, then remove the pulp from their jackets. Mash the pulp.
2.       Stir together the sweet potato pulp, sugar and softened butter in a bowl. Add the eggs, salt and vanilla, stirring well. Pour into a pastry-lined pan and bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 40 minutes. Let cool, then slice and serve. 

#LetsLunch is a fine group of food bloggers who post monthly on a given subject. I'm hosting this month and I chose the theme of pie. There is power in pie and here are the stories to prove it:

Annabelle‘s Chocolate Pie at Glass of Fancy
Anne Marie‘s Apple Pie Sandwiches at Sandwich Surprise
Betty Ann‘s Calamansi Pie at Asian In America
Grace‘s Easy Apple Pie with Lard Crust at HapaMama
Jill‘s Guava and Cream Cheese Empanadas at Eating My Words
Lisa G‘s Sweet Ricotta Noodle Pie at Monday Morning Cooking Club
Lisa K‘s Great-Grandmama’s Chocolate Pie at The Little Good Ride
Linda‘s Biscoff Banana & Pear Galette at Spicebox Travels
Lucy‘s Sweet Potato Custard Pie at A Cook and Her Books 
Mai‘s Caramel Apple Pie Sundae at Cooking in the Fruit Bowl
Margaret‘s Cushaw (Squash) Pie at Tea and Scones, Too
Nancie‘s Edna Lewis’s Tyler Pie at Nancie McDermott
Naomi‘s Huckleberry Pie Ice-Cream at The Gastro Gnome
Rebecca‘s Summer-Fall Hand Pies at GrongarBlog
Sara‘s Herb Pie from Ottolenghi and Tamimi’s “Jerusalem” at Three Clever Sisters

Monday, September 2, 2013

It's pie time

Research for #LetsLunch pie. Lucy Mercer. A Cook and Her Books.

I need to bake a pie. Not a bad prospect for a rainy Labor Day afternoon. This morning, over coffee, I'm poring over my favorite baking cookbooks for inspiration. Savannah writer Damon Lee Fowler's glossy "New Southern Baking," a pair of pamphlets from Pleasant Hill's Shaker community "We Make You Kindly Welcome" and "Welcome Back to Pleasant Hill," and a classic from my Harvest Gold youth, "Farm Journal's Complete Pie Cookbook." 

Should I bake a buttermilk chess pie, the most-pinned recipe from A Cook and Her Books? Or a sweet potato custard pie, a recipe adapted from another much-loved book, "A Treasury of Southern Baking," by Prudence Hilburn? In these last days of summer, I keep going back to my first pie love, peach pie.

Zinnia with grasshopper. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

 And peach it may well be. On the return drive from visiting family in middle Georgia, we pulled off at a roadside fruit stand and bought a case of plump, late season peaches. I intended to buy a basket for $10, but the fella offered me a case for $25. I told him that was more than I needed. He said "$20, then." When I hesitated, not a bargaining stance, I promise you, I was really pondering what I would do with a case of peaches ripening on my countertop with only the Labor Day holiday to deal with them before they turned to overripe mush. "In case you haven't noticed, I'm making a deal for you," he said, and I ran back to the car for an extra five-spot.

Peaches. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

 I may have been snookered, these late-season peaches are plumped up from the excess rain we've had in the South this summer. The sweetest fruit is in June, but sometimes late season peaches will surprise you. The first I picked up and bit into was mealy and bland, unfinishable. My daughter couldn't keep her mitts off of the fruit, and grabbed a good one, finishing it in six bites. These may be good pie peaches, with a bit of coaxing and cooking, more sugar, some lemon juice, maybe a turn in the roasting pan. With a bit of advice from my baking gurus, we'll see how this turns out.

South Carolina Peaches. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Peach stand, middle of nowhere, Georgia. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Peaches. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
 And, of course, if the peaches don't turn out, there's always sweet potatoes.
Sweet potatoes. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
The pie is for September's installment of #LetsLunch, a global food blogging party. The theme of pie is open to wide interpretation here ~ pretty much any combination of fruit and batter or dough will do. And why limit the theme to sweet concoctions? Savory versions like chicken pot pie fit the theme, too. We'll post stories on Friday, September 13. Check out the #LetsLunch page on Facebook and follow on Twitter #LetsLunch. Hope to see you there.