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Easy as pie. September 22, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. I don’t know about you all, but it drives me crazy to open the fridge door and see three jars of preserves taking up precious space with about a quarter of the preserves (or jelly or jam, as the case might be) in each one. I love jellies, jams, preserves, marmalades, and the like, but since I rarely eat breakfast, I seldom have the opportunity to eat them, though I’ll often add them (especially marmalade) to a dal or lentil stew to deepen the flavor. And, much as I try to coax, browbeat, or outright threaten our friend Ben, he seems constitutionally incapable of finishing a jar before moving on to the next… and the next. Grrrr!!! I need that fridge space!

What does this have to do with pie, you’re asking. Well, our friend Carolyn’s birthday was yesterday, and I’d been thinking of making a peach pie as an end-of-summer celebration. I’d decided to make a peach-and-blueberry pie. Staring at the three jars of sparkling red preserves (cherry, four-berry, and cranberry-pear), I decided to make a peach-and-blueberry pie with a preserves glaze. Would it be good? Well, I figured I had nothing to lose by trying, since I had a yummy pumpkin roll, made by Mennonite farmers and sold at the nearby Kutztown Farmers’ Market, in reserve. If the pie was a flop, I knew the pumpkin roll would be delicious. If the pie was great, OFB and I could enjoy the pumpkin roll all by ourselves. Talk about win-win!

So here’s what I did: I began with a Pillsbury refrigerated rolled piecrust. I was already making the entire birthday dinner, centered on my easy and yummy Red, White and Gold Pasta (you can find the recipe by typing “Red, White and Gold Pasta” in our search bar at upper right), with a side of broccoli and a huge, hearty, elaborate salad. Damned if I was going to make piecrust from scratch under the circumstances and wreck my countertop while I was trying to cook. I remembered reading that the Pillsbury refrigerated rolled crusts were the only premade piecrusts that the good folks at America’s Test Kitchen, who publish Cook’s Illustrated and my favorite, Cook’s Country magazines, consider a good substitute for a homemade crust. So I picked up a package at the grocery, along with six locally grown yellow-fleshed, cling-free peaches and a carton of blueberries.

Back at home, I unrolled one of the two crusts in the package and pressed it into a 9-by-9″ glass pie pan. I agonized about whether to prebake the crust, but decided against it. This turned out to be a good move; it cooked up beautifully. Whew! Then I washed, halved, and sliced the peaches lengthwise, then cut across the center of each half to make chunks. Thank God for cling-free peaches, where you can simply pop the stone out of the center of each peach rather than having to hack around it with a knife, usually bruising the peach flesh in the process.

Pretty much every peach pie recipe on earth insists that you peel the peaches before slicing them and adding them to the pie, but I say to hell with that. Those peels are good for you! Besides, I have to wonder if this isn’t another holdover from the past, like peeling tomatoes or cucumbers or stringing beans, that’s just been carried forward in knee-jerk fashion. Back in the day, tomatoes had tough skins, cukes had bitter skins, and green beans had tough, ropey “strings” that had to be removed before cooking, pickling, or eating raw (in the case of cukes). But these problems have long since been bred out of today’s cultivars, so unless you’re cooking with heirlooms from the Nineteenth Century or before, you should be good to go, peels and all. The peach skins would add beautiful color to the pie. And again, if it proved to be a disaster, no big deal: At least I’d have learned something.

So I distributed the halved peach slices to cover the pie crust, pressing them down a bit to fit in all six peaches. Next, I sprinkled several teaspoons of sugar, a half-teaspoon of salt, and some generous shakes of Korintje cinnamon over the sliced peaches (any powdered cinnamon would do), following this with dots of butter. (Mind you, ground cardamom or cloves would probably be excellent as well, not to mention more complex spice blends like garam masala or ras al-hanout.)

Then I poured the carton of blueberries over the peach slices and patted them in, distributing them evenly over the pie. Finally, I emptied the three jars of red preserves over the top, spreading the preserves evenly over the pie with a spoon. (Note that you could just buy a jar of cherry preserves or four-berry jam or whatever and use that. I’ll bet marmalade would be luscious instead, too.)

I was concerned that, once the pie started cooking, it might overflow the pan, so I lined a cookie sheet with aluminum foil, set the pie plate on that, then covered the pie plate with more aluminum foil to keep the peaches and blueberries from burning. I slid the whole shebang onto the middle rack in my countertop oven, which I’d dutifully preheated to 400 degrees F, breathed a sigh of relief, and went on to make the rest of the dinner. (Well, the salad and pasta sauce, minus the bag of shredded extra-sharp white Cheddar. OFB and I had to transport everything to Carolyn and Gary’s, and I didn’t want to add the cheese to the sauce until we got there to prevent curdling. Ditto cooking the broccoli and pasta.) 

I checked the pie roughly every half-hour to see how it was coming along. My working hypothesis was that, once the peaches were cooked, the pie would be ready, and this proved to be correct. I wasn’t timing it, unfortunately, but eyeballing it, so I can’t say how long that was, maybe an hour or (at most) an hour and a half. Bear in mind that I was using a countertop oven, which tends to take longer than a conventional oven.

At any rate, by the time the pasta sauce and salad were ready, the pie looked perfect—and perfectly gorgeous—so I pulled it, under-tray and all, out of the oven. (That foil-lined tray proved to be a great idea, since some of the preserves had leaked out of the pie plate. In retrospect, five rather than six peaches would probably have been a smarter idea.) OFB and I loaded up the car, swung by the local grocery for some vanilla ice cream to top the pie, and headed over to Carolyn and Gary’s. The pie looked and smelled so wonderful that I decided to leave the pumpkin roll at home and take my chances.

Thank goodness, the dinner was a huge success. Carolyn even sent us home with some leftover pasta and sauce. But I noticed that no pie was offered; every bit of leftover pie and the remaining ice cream were carefully transferred to their fridge for future indulgence. If that’s not a sign of a good pie, I don’t know what is.

I’m not huge on dessert, since for me, it’s either food or dessert, not both, but I simply had to try my Radical Peach Pie to see how it was. I only had a forkful, but I have to say, that was a good pie. And it was so easy. Easy as pie.

Unfortunately, I had to endure OFB’s outraged complaints during the entire half-hour drive back to our house. (“Why didn’t they send some of that pie home with us? How come you never make pie like that for me?!” and etc.etc.) Well, hey. We still have the pumpkin roll!

                   ‘Til next time,