Friday, September 07, 2007


From Girl Genius by Phil and Kaja Foglio
From Phil and Kaja Foglio's "Girl Genius"

Every Summer I make two pies. It's not for fun, Lord knows. It's serious business. You see, Tiel is an addict. She has a serious jones that can consume her. She's got the Cherry Habit.

It's good that we live in the Northwest. Both Bing and Rainier cherries were developed here, and prime growing areas like the Yakima Valley and Hood River are close at hand. During the early Summer we can keep the demon at bay.

A few years back we found the definitive treatment, Susie Bright's Eternal Cherry Devotion Pie. Ms. Bright is more noted for writing about sex, pornography, feminism and politics. "Sometimes," she says "you need to prepare a meal that will make someone fall in love with you." In Mommy's Little Girl: On Sex, Motherhood, Porn and Cherry Pie she makes a good stab at it. This has as much to do with the over sweetened corn-syrup glop that passes for cherry pie isolated in a dry crust that passes for cherry pie as Chef Boy-R-Dee does with Escoffier. It has three pounds of cherries, a classic sugar crust, brandy and other wonderful things.

I don't know if it will make someone fall in love with you. If I haven't managed to do that to Tiel yet something has gone very wrong. What I can tell you is that two of them keep the Rosaceae Prunus Avium monkey off her back for almost a whole year. Somehow the combination of crisp Raniers and sweet Bings tastes more like cherries than the pure fruit itself.

Seeing as I'm getting back into the workforce soon and never really mastered pie-baking it was time to kill two birds with one stone (cherry, peach or apricot); I've been on a bit of a pie kick lately thanks to copies of The Humble Pie by Teresa Kennedy (sadly out of print), The Joy of Cooking and Dessert Circus. So far they've been about half savory and half sweet. Peach, Mango Cream, Mango Mousse (Fred Meyer's has a sale on mangoes), Grape Clafoutis, Black Bottom (which spontaneously disassembled in the car), Key Lime, Leek and Sausage, Shepherd's, Pasties, Pirozhkies, Chicken, Koubielaka(sp?) and at least one other meat variety I'm forgetting. Still to go: Shaker Lemon pie and Shaker Fish pie, honest-to-goodness mincemeat pie this Christmas, Shoefly(dry variety), Tomato-Basil, Broccoli-Cheese and maybe one or two others. The freezer is pretty full, so that should do it for now.

I've tried a number of different pie crusts from old fashioned pie paste and whole wheat to shortbread. They're the tricky part of the process. It's taken over a dozen tries to get the gluten and moisture just right. I don't know what will happen when the temperature and humidity change. Well, that's why the commercial bakeries keep it all carefully controlled and why it's as much Art as Science in the home kitchen. Having the right sort of crust for the pie is important. The yoghurt crust really does add something to meat or mushroom pies. The clafoutis just wouldn't do with anything besides a rich, sweet crust. And black bottom pie that isn't encased in crumbled gingersnaps? You've got to be kidding.

Even for a novice like myself the results have been pretty good. The most expensive pie is the Eternal Cherry Devotion with three pounds of organic cherries at about five dollars a pound. A similar one in a reasonably priced bakery? At least half again as much, and they do cut corners for efficiency. With some like the key lime there really is no comparison on top of the lower price.

Savory pies other than pizza and one or two varieties of pot pie are essentially extinct in this country. Outside of the Upper Midwest you can't find pasties for love nor money let alone leek and sausage. They are tasty, convenient, store easily and are quick to the table. You can keep most sorts of crust dough in the freezer for a long while and whip up some sort of filling in almost no time.

About half way through the pirozhkies I ran out of dough. A few lasagna noodles and some cheddar to top and there was a dish which was recognizably lasagna although it had almost none of the canonical ingredients. No ricotta or mozzarella. No sauce. A layer of cabbage and egg, one of mushrooms in cream, another of meat with dill. It worked out pretty well. A cornmeal crust, an egg binder and whatever veggies were nearing their end-of-life and we had a vegetable pie - very simple and flexible.

It's puzzling that they have become so rare. Oh, I suppose that samosas and Hot Pockets are technically in the family, but the first are still uncommon, and the second is the inbred low-class distant cousin who's only in the family photograph out of a sense of completeness. Maybe the rise of the casserole, pasta, and other quickly prepared or pre-packaged dishes is to blame.

Or it could just be that we don't have to go to the extra trouble of making pies anymore. Back in the day pies were an important method of food preservation. in Fading Feast: A Compendium of Disappearing American Regional Foods Raymond Sokolov speaks of winter food in New England. For the most part a colonial farmer might get by on cheese, milk and apple pie for weeks on end. There was enough protein, minerals, carbohydrates and vitamins - especially C & D - on which to get by in forms which could be stored for months.

If you have a weekend to invest in saving time later on or if you would just like to try something that gives you control over the ingredients pull out a cookbook and make a few pies. Try sweet and savory. Or just make the dough and be ready to pull it out a few months later. You'll get something better and less expensive than you would buy in the store let alone a resta
urant. A lot of them you just can't buy. And you'll be reviving an art that might otherwise be lost.

And who knows? You might even come up with an amazing piece of Mad Science like
and this
courtesy of Phil Foglio's most excellent Steampunk Webcomic

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