Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Easy as...well, ya know...

Yes, we're a little prolific with the food posts lately. Chalk it up to the time of year when the availability of fresh produce makes cooking and baking so enjoyable.

We picked up some plums on sale this week. I wait all year for fresh summer fruit and it disappears around here pretty quickly. So I had to make this pie right away because I'm sure that in a few days all the plums would be gone.

Family legend has it that my grandmother made the most wonderful plum pie. But by the time she baked it for me, her eyesight was poor and she'd fallen out of the habit of baking. Add to that the fact that she made her pie crust with olive oil and I begin to wonder if her plum pies weren't better in retrospect than actuality (a bit like camping trips).

The sad thing about fruit is that it's become increasingly hard to find any that taste good. Strike that. It's become increasingly hard to find any that tastes -- period. Organic produce around here is way beyond my means and I've not yet found a local source for plums. Peaches and apples, no problem. Plums, forget it.

Anyway, this was one of those tasteless grocery store buys that every once in awhile produces a good plum. Unfortunately, I wasn't so lucky with this batch, but I had hopes that the baking might bring out some flavor.

Well, anyway, that was the plan.

Appearance-wise, they were lovely (which seems to be the primary goal of grocery story produce -- all appearance and no substance. I'll leave you to make the obvious metaphorical connnections...)

When I am Empress of the Universe my royal robes will be this color.

This required about 6 large plums for an 8-inch pie. I cut these up just any old way, trying to keep the slices with as little peel as possible so no one has to deal with a huge mouthful of plum peel. To this I added a scant cup of sugar, 2 T. granulated tapioca (or "quick cooking") and a shake or two of cinnamon. A few recipes called for ginger also, but my herb cabinet is a nightmare to rifle through, so I decided to favor the recipes that consider ginger unnecessary.

Now, let's talk pie crusts.

There is a school of thought that says either you are a person who can make a wonderful pie crust or you are a person who cannot. Whenever someone tells me they can't make a pie crust -- excluding the people who say that because they don't want to make a pie but feel under some moral obligation that they should -- I tell them they're trying too hard.

There is a reason they call it "easy as pie." Crust too tough? You fiddled with it too much. Once the water is in, bring the dough together and let it alone in the fridge for awhile. So what if you can't get the rolled-out crust into the pie plate in one piece. Piece it together and seal it with your wet finger. No one is taking pictures for Bon Apetite. Pie is pie.

Besides, once you slap that sucker on a plate, no one is going to care that their slice isn't a perfect equilateral triangle; double so if you serve it with ice cream.

Of course, you can buy a passable ready-made pie crust, but here's my thought about that (yes, I have an opinion about pie crust): Making a pie crust is a little bit of a workout; all that cutting in and rolling out stretches some muscles and burns a few calories, making pie consumption a little more justifiable -- not the whole pie, mind you -- a nice, conservative piece. Anyway, that's what I tell myself.

So, for the record, for an 8-inch pie:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
3/4 c. vegetable shortening (or cold butter, if you are so inclined)
approx. 5 T. ice cold water

You know the drill: Mix the flour and salt. Cut in the shortening until the size of baby peas. Add water in tablespoon increments and stir with a fork just until dough comes together. Divide in half, wrap and refrigerate for 20 min. or so.

Roll out one half of the dough and place in pie plate. Dump in plum mixture and dot with 2 T. butter.

Roll out second half, top pie and crimp edges. If the fruit is particularly tart, I'll brush the top with milk and sprinkle on some sugar. Using a fork, stab the crust all over making steam vents (By family rule, I am required to form my stabs in the shape of the letter that the filling begins with, as if I'm churning out a large variety of pies on this particular day and won't be able to remember what this one is. I continue to do this because...well, I just do.)

Bake at 450 degrees F. for 10 minutes, drop the temperature to 350 degrees F. and bake for 40 to 45 min. more. Cool on a rack.

(This crust comes from the label of the Crisco shortening, which my mother copied down in her recipe file and we've always used. It's probably still on the label -- I never bothered to check)

Not my fingers -- Dirtman served the pie

So there ya go. Easy peasy and you don't have to settle for those hideous grocery store pies with their tiny bits of fruit swimming in corn syrup and corn starch and covered with a thick, leathery crust.

Unfortunately, the crust was the best thing about this particular pie. Other than that, it could have been a styrofoam pie for all the flavor you could taste. But, I whipped up some cream and slapped it on top and everyone was satisfied but me.


jagosaurus said...

Nice. That is exactly the pie crust recipe my grandmother taught me, and I've never had trouble making one. Then again, I haven't made one in ages so I probably just jinxed myself.

Gwynne said...

Prune pie! ;-) Completely agree with your assessment of grocery store fruit. I've tried finding blackberries to rival the ones we picked in our backyard (in CA) and nothing compares. My pie crust recipe is also from my grandmother but in addition to Crisco (which is far better than butter for some reason) hers calls for vinegar and egg. It's flaky, delicious and no fail, always the best part of the pie. Mmmm...pie crust cookies! Think I'll make some today. :-)

Dirtman said...

Care to share the vinegar and egg variation?

PS: If you haven't checked yet, you won something over on the Dirtman site. Go check it out!

Darkgarden said...

Umm... You want your royal robe to look like an eviscerated person?

Gwynne said...

Here's my grandma's version (oh, and don't tell anyone else because this is our family's secret):

Mix 2 C. flour, 1/2 tsp baking pwdr, 1-1/2 tsp sugar and 1/2 tsp salt; cut in 3/4 C. "lard" (obviously written before Crisco became a more appetizing generic term), until crumbly;

Mix 1/2 egg (this is a good reason to double the recipe and use the extra for a second double crust pie, or pie crust cookies ;-), 1/4 C. water and 1/2 tsp vinegar;

Combine liquid mixture with flour mixture just enough to roll out on a floured surface (you know the kneading!)

Sisiggy said...

Jag: No one will know the difference.

Dirtman: This is a shameless ploy to get me to make more pie.

DG: It's my robe and I'll have it any color I want. I can't help the weird connections that take place in that head of yours...

Gwynne: I can't resist a different approach to a basic. I'm really curious to see the effect of the baking soda, vinegar and egg -- all leavening agents -- on a crust. Dirtman, of course, like the idea of MORE SUGAR.

Leslie Shelor said...

Never thought of making a plum pie before but it sounds like it COULD be wonderful....sad that everything these days is looks over substance.