Peach Pie, Pie Crust & Preserving Pie Filling

This is the first year that our peach tree has really done much of anything.  It’s very exciting.   It’s strange to see peaches this late in the summer, right?
Even though August in the usual time for looking at pretty pictures of peach pie on the internet, there are actually a lot of late season peach varieties available in California.  I know they’re still around at the farmers markets in San Francisco and I believe that the Gowans have them at the Ukiah Farmers Market up here in Mendocino County.

Still, it is strange that it’s almost october and we’re just now harvesting the peaches.  I’ve already canned a few hundred pounds of pears, so I feel like I’m driving in reverse through the summer. Food magazines, websites and blogs will follow this theoretical cycle of produce coming into season (strawberries in the spring, peaches in the summer, then berries, then apples…) but something about living in Redwood Valley means that instead of one by one, we’ll get everything, all at once, right around the end of September (with a few exceptions, like cherries and apricots.) There are still strawberries and rhubarb at the Redwood Valley Farmers Market – at the exact same time as pears – which seems impossible somehow. The reality of the fruit harvest here actually kind of emphasizes the important of preserving if you care at all about eating these most of things during any month that’s not September.

Once my cat and I finished harvesting our peaches, I realized I had some preservers-block when it came to what I was going to do with all of them.  I usually make a ton of this peach-vanilla bean jam, but these peaches seemed so precious since they came from our own tree which we’ve been caring for for years now. It really just seemed like a travesty to do anything other than eating them fresh or putting them into pie.Which brings me to two major revelations that I’ve had.  They might not seem very exciting or important reading them here, but I had to share them because they’ve helped me out so much.

1. I’ve been using pre-made frozen pie crusts.  I know, I’m going to hell! The thing is, they sell two-packs for $3 and change, and they’re organic, and they come out great, flaky and tender.  I know how to make pie crust from scratch.  It’s easy. There’s no way I can do it as quickly as popping one out of the freezer, though, and it also means I don’t trash the whole kitchen with flour, which happens whenever I try to bake anything.  It seems ridiculous to grow the peaches myself and then use a pre-made crust, but the time saved literally makes the difference between pie or no pie.  When I’d seen these crusts in the freezer section in the past, I also never realized you could do double-crust pies with them.  I’ve gotten the best results when I follow this process:

  • Put bottom pie crust on a cookie sheet so if it overflows you won’t have to clean up burnt fruit and sugar off the bottom of the oven. Ladle pie filling into crust. Gently pop the top crust, still frozen, out of the metal pie tin and place it facing down, on top of the fruit filling. Don’t press down or worry about the seam.
  • Put the cookie sheet with the pie in the oven and bake it for 10 minutes at 350 degrees.  Remove the pie (still on the cookie sheet), and then cut a few slits in the top crust,  brush with beaten egg and sprinkle with about a tablespoon of sugar.  If there are any cracks in the top crust, I’ll work them together a little bit by brushing egg on them.  I also brush a little egg around the seam to try and seal it. Then pop it back in the oven and bake until the whole thing is golden brown.

2. I realized that the best way to preserve peach pie filling, or any precious fruit pie filling, is just to put it in the freezer.  I know, you just read that and thought “that’s not a revelation, that’s completely obvious.”  Maybe, though, you’re like me and need a reminder that you have a thing called a freezer…  I had all these peaches out in front of me, I knew I didn’t have any clear-jel on hand (the thickening product that you have to use when you’d canning pie filling), and when I looked in my Ball Book of Home Preserving, the peach pie filling recipe didn’t have clear-jel in it but did call for apples and golden raisins.  Golden raisins? …. Um, no, I don’t think so, not in this pie. I was also really worried about how fragile our peaches are and was pretty certain they’d turn to much if I tried to can halves or slices.

Right about then, I had a lightbulb moment and realized:  put it in the freezer.  Then you can use your favorite fresh pie recipe, flour and all, put whatever you want in it, and not worry about it being shelf stable.  Or, you can be like me and not use a recipe at all, just eyeball a bunch of peaches, sugar, flour, lemon juice and cinnamon.  Then dump it in a jar and call it good. Obviously, this method would be horrible if you were trying to preserve a large amount of peaches, but if it’s only a couple jars, I would challenge you to think of a single item more worthy of your freezer space than peach pie filling.

 

So, I hope these tips help you eat pie more often.  I hope you don’t judge me for the crust thing.  Or,  you know, judge me if you want but I’m just going to keep doing it because I like pie. I hope that you can find a few last, precious peaches before the growing season’s over.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Fresh Blackberry Pie: The Best Pie, Ever, In the History Of Pie

I picked up some gorgeous triple crown blackberries in town the other day, and (after we ate a bunch of them fresh) I knew I had to make this pie.  First off:  Westside Renaissance Market, the little neighborhood grocery where I picked up these berries, is the best local store I’ve been to in ages.  It has the highest quality, freshest local products, sourced from small family farms that put so much care and love into their work. It’s absolutely on par with places like Bi-Rite Market in San Francisco, but un-like Bi-Rite Market, it’s quiet and has plenty of parking.  If you live in Mendocino county and haven’t been there, you should go.  They’ve got everything from cold-brew coffee to nectarine cream pies to fresh breads made with freshly milled local flours.   Plus they have these crazy good blackberries right now.  (They are literally the best blackberries I’ve ever tasted in my life.)

This pie is what I meant to talk about, though.
This isn’t your average pie.  Only some of the blackberries are cooked, and only with a little bit of sugar, and then you fold in a bunch of fresh blackberries, so you end up with this beautiful finished filling that tastes juicy and just sweet enough. Serve the pie chilled, and it’s the perfect dessert for a hot summer night.

Fresh Blackberry Pie, adapted from Vegetarian Pleasures, by Jeanne Lemlin.  My mom made this pie all the time when we were little.  I’ve added even more blackberries than the original recipe calls for, since there’s no such thing as too much of a good thing.

Cook Time: 25 minutes or so, plus time to cool

Ingredients:

  • 1 9″ pie crust
  • 5 c . blackberries
  • 1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. lemon zest
  • 2/3 c. water
  • 2 1/2 tbs. cornstarch
  • 3/4 c. sugar

To start, you’ll need to blind bake a 9″ pie crust until it’s golden brown and fully cooked.  (Using whatever recipe you like, or, if you’re like me, which is really busy, you can cave and use a store bought one from the freezer section.  The organic ones were only $2.50 each here, and somehow the pre-made crust made the difference between having pie and not having pie.  Summer is crazy busy, don’t judge me).

While the crust is in the oven, make the filling: Stir together the sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl.  In a medium-sized pot, combine 2 c. blackberries with the water, nutmeg, lemon zest and the sugar/cornstarch mixture.  Cook on high heat for about 5 minutes, or until the mixture has visibly thickened. Stir often to make sure the cornstarch and sugar dissolve and that the blackberries don’t stick.  Remove from the heat, and fold in the remaining three cups of raw blackberries.

Pour the blackberry filling into the cooked crust.  Chill before serving.  (I put it in the freezer for awhile to make sure it’s really cold – something about cold, sweet blackberries is wonderful for a hot weather.)

Optional: Serve topped with powdered sugar, whipped cream, ice cream, etc.

 

Marlborough Pie

I’m still laid up with a busted ankle today.  Hopefully this is the last day of this, but I’m still going stir-crazy in a motel room in town.  I’m going to try heading back to the farm tomorrow, but I’m not totally sure how it’s going to work.  I grudgingly let a bunch of boys come and watch the 49ers game on the motel tv since the other option seemed like it wouldn’t go over very well (which was this: “… but how am I supposed to sit in bed and feel sorry for myself if I have a bunch of laughing, happy people around?”)

I finally unwrapped my foot this morning and poked it a little bit, which was exciting. It’s a nice blue-ish gray, a shade that might be called Weathered New England Beach House, and still pretty puffy . Other than poking at my foot, the only other productive activity I can think of is writing more blog posts.  I’ve already replied to e-mails and looked at new recipes and ordered some supplies for holiday craft projects…   I think writing about pie is a reasonable next step.
Anyway, this is such a delicious pie recipe that despite the fact that all of these pictures are old, from the Days Before The Blog, I’m going to share it.  I’m sure I’ll make it again this fall and update these pictures with something newer and fancier.

Marlborough Pie is a traditional recipe from New England. It may not look like much at all in the above picture, but it’s one of the best pies I’ve ever eaten. I heard a dude on NPR do a program about regional apple pies and  he said Marlborough Pie was his favorite.  The crust can be either a traditional pate brisee or puff pastry, and the filling is this wonderfully luscious and sophisticated, slightly lemony apple custard. It’s a perfect way to use home-canned apple sauce and fresh eggs to make a wonderful fall dessert.   It’s somehow rich and light tasting at the same time, and you could serve it after a big holiday meal without sending everyone spiraling into food comas.

My family has been eating this pie for as long as I can remember.  We used to go to Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts every Thanksgiving, a fantastically nerdy family vacation.  Looking back, it was actually pretty fun.  I remember the crisp November air while we walked to all these different houses and watched “costumed historians” do reenactments of Thanksgiving dinners from the 1800’s.  As an eight year old, I was always super annoyed that the actors were eating turkey and pie while I was walking around in the cold.

Eight Year Old Me: “Hey Lady, lemme have some of that pie.”

Grownup: “No.”

Later in the evening, though, we would go to the big restaurant in the village and have a wonderful dinner.  Another traditional New England dessert we’d have was Indian Pudding, which looks like a bowl of gross brown schlop, but is actually this steamy spiced molasses and cornmeal custard served with vanilla ice cream.  Everyone should also be eating this, it’s delicious.  As a child, I really thought our Sturbridge trips were so dorky and annoying, but as an adult, I think it’s pretty great that my parents took us there so many times.

Marlborough Pie

Sometimes I wonder if I shouldn’t call it Apple Custard Tart or something so it doesn’t remind me of cigarettes.

Serves: 8

Cook Time: around 2 hours, including baking time

Ingredients:

One single 9″ Pie Crust: Use whichever recipe is your favorite, or click here for instructions from Martha (please note that this recipe is for a double pie crust, not a single pie crust, so split it in half).

For the Custard Filling:

  • 3/4 c. unsweetened applesauce*
  • 1/4 c. heavy cream
  • juice and zest from 1 lemon
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 3 fresh eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/2 c. butter
  • 1/4 c. sherry (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the butter, sugar, lemon zest. Gradually beat in the eggs, lemon juice, applesauce, sherry, and heavy cream and ginger.

Lay out the pie crust in a 9″ pie dish. Pour in the custard filling.  Put the pie in the oven for 15 minutes at 400 degrees.  Reduce heat to 350 and cook for 45 more minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

This pie will set much better if you let it cool  and don’t serve it piping hot out of the oven.

*I use a chunky gravenstein applesauce from our pantry for this, but if you want to have a perfectly smooth custard you can puree the applesauce first or even run it through a chinois to take out any clumps.  I like leaving it chunky and calling it rustic.