lessons from making pie
This time of year, it is slim pickings in the root cellar. Long gone are the winter squashes of acorn, spaghetti and butternut. Any leftover potatoes have sprouted and then been planted in the Spring garden to grow new ones...same with the onions. The 75 quarts of tomato sauce we canned back in September lasted until May 3rd. Tomato soup? Gone June 4th. The last jar of pressure canned green beans was eaten by the six year old exactly two weeks ago today. Same with the cider beets. We have two quarts of chicken noodle soup, 10 quarts of organic bone broth, three quarts of chili I made for a friend's meal wheel and never delivered (I made her a fresh cheescake instead), five pints of sweet jalepenos that my step-dad can't get enough of, one jar of salsa and 45 quarts of...eh...pickles. (It was a good year for cucumbers). But if you look way in the back, almost hiding, you will find three quarts of peaches. This is why we decided to make pie.
When we make homemade pie, we don't make it the way my mom makes her 'homemade' pie (which, mom, is very good, it just isn't technically 'homemade' if the crust comes out of a freezer). We add the flour and cut up the butter, add a bit of cold water, a beaten egg, a pinch of salt, a splash of vinegar and roll it out thin enough to make the crust flaky when it is baked (don't forget to prick the dough in the pan first or it will puff up and your peaches won't lay flat). We used to follow Betty Crocker's crust recipe, but last week, when we were at the used bookstore in town, we came across a book called, "The Best of Amish Cooking." In it, of course, are all of the top secret recipes all of the Amish women around the country use, so we couldn't pass it up (plus it was on the sale rack for $1.75). We took the book home and read it from front to back within a couple hours (although I say 'we', my kids really had nothing to do with the excitement of the newfound secrets of the Amish cookbook..it was all me). 'We' read about pies being the favorite all time dessert of the Amish folks (a rumor my Amish neighbor, Mary completley denies..."Well, Perry really likes his ice cream, so I would have to say our favorite is vanilla ice cream.") This sentence is said with a slight accent and a bit slower, as if to pick her words carefully. I think she thinks I am one of those undercover English folks who really wishes they were Amish. Which is not true. Well, the undercover part, anyway.
So...the cookbook. Despite apparently not being true about the pies being the favorite Amish dessert, they have some good ones in there that are not typical for our family. Like the Shoofly pie with a whole cup of molasses, a raisen pie and a green tomato pie. This past winter, we tried the vanilla pie and although you can use corn syrup or molasses, we used the molasses...and of course, the vanilla flavor got lost in the strong flavor of the molasses. Not one of our favorite pies. But last week, with the three quarts of peaches, we decided to make....you guessed it...peach pie!
Now, if you follow the recipe from "The Best of Amish Cooking" which, of course we did, you will find that it will make 6 pies. This is because of the relatively large sizes of the Amish family, and for some reason, the author felt that we 'English' might benefit from cooking for 12, as well. But seeing as we do nothing small scale around here, we went ahead and made all 6 crusts (and put four in the freezer for a later date...thank you modern electricity). The key to a good peach pie is to pile up the sugared peaches so high that you think there is no more room for anymore...and then put some more on. Although the recipe calls for a crumb top, we couldn't resist using another crust for the top and making fancy 'venting' decorations on top (which, subsequently, is not listed in the book as something the Amish do). Once the top is on, bake at 425 degrees for 45 minutes and let cool for 15 (if you can wait that long).
Pretty soon, peaches and all of the other garden fare, will be coming into season and me and all of the other homesteaders will be stocking up their root cellars to get ready for the winter months. These are the times when we all feel so grateful for how the land can provide for us, and then in return, how we can provide for our families. To show our children where real food comes from. To offer up the cycle of life with our farm animals and veggies, from birth to our dinner table, and to know exactly how that animal or vegetable was raised. To know that you can provide for yourself and help provide for others by sharing your garden bounty.
All of these lessons learned from three quarts of peaches found in our root cellar at the beginning of summer...