Friday, July 22, 2005

Pies of summer

Two or three times every summer, my dad and I would set off on a drive to The Pie Lady's house. This was on Cape Cod in the 1950s, when big, turn-of-the-century country houses, always painted white, sat far back from the road, shaded by old oaks and surrounded by blue hydrangeas. The Pie Lady lived in just such a house. I imagined her in a large, sunlit kitchen, wearing an old-fashioned long dress and full apron, making her pies.

We never saw The Pie Lady. A glass pie case stood at the end of her crushed-clamshell driveway, in the shade of an oak, and filled with pies still warm from the oven: fruit pies, cream pies, and lemon meringue. You helped yourself.

We usually got blueberry, leaving payment (I believe it was $4) in a basket in the pie case. The lemon meringue was $5.

Although both my mother and I bake, we never made berry pies -- or perhaps we tried, and the blueberries were just too drippy? My mother's speciality was peach chiffon, a complicated pie created in stages with components (including perfect fresh peaches) that took most of the day to cook, chill, and assemble. I once started a peach chiffon late at night and arrived at the critical stage where you whip the egg whites at about 3 a.m. My first husband and I were living on the first floor of a multi-tenant Victorian in New Haven at the time; when I set to work with the electric beater it woke up everyone on the second and third floors.

The only time I made peach chiffon for Zorg he gave me a "this is sort of tasteless fluff" look, and I didn't try it again. It is rather subtle.

A year or so ago, I came across a terrific and easy pie crust recipe that one of the winners of the Puyallup Fair baking competition had shared with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. It produces a crust a lot more elegant looking than the old reliable Crisco crust I've used, and more delicate than the oil-based crust I've employed for hearty apple-and-raisin pies. So when I found myself with 8 pints of extremely ripe assorted berries and four stalks of rhubarb in the fridge, I knew it was time to bake a berry pie.

A Google search yielded dozens of recipes for berry pie filling, but they all seemed to be for canning and using later. Searching under rhubarb and berry pies, I kept coming up with this basic recipe:

5 cups of berries
2 cups of chopped rhubarb
1-1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup flour

Mix the chopped rhubarb with the sugar and flour, then add the rest of the berries. Put it all in the pie shell, add a top crust and cut a few air holes into it. Bake at 425 degrees (F) for one hour.

It just doesn't get any easier than that. The berry mix was one cup of blueberries, two cups of blackberries, one cup of raspberries, and a cup of yellow berries that look like raspberries. I used an old-fashioned aluminum pie plate with a lip to catch the berry juice, and put the pie plate on a cookie sheet covered in foil to catch any drips. Halfway through the baking, I dropped an aluminum crust shield over it.

The result was a pie with an extremely complex sweet-to-sour flavor and a stunning claret color. Both people who've sampled it licked their plates!

No comments:

Post a Comment