(Written Nov ’10, and lost in Drafts file ever since)As usual Time Change has my eyes snapping open at 3:57 AM, doing the math to figure out that in Summer, it would be time to get up, and debating whether to. 4A is too early for most farm work, but it’s handy for blogging, so I start coffee and look at my neglected Recipes category.
What’s wrong with me? There are zillions of recipes in my Documents! Oh wait – there are zillions in your Documents too? Uh-oh! As everyone re-discovers real food, we’re drowning in recipes.
And everyone is elbowing each other aside with with exotic additions and startling combinations: Sea Salt with Everything keeps popping up. Can anyone actually tell a difference?
So, a different approach. Among my zillions are a couple dozen favorites, not that different from yours. There are a few things I’ve discovered on my own, fresh or just helpful. You may add them to your own favorites. Or, even better, they may inspire you to find your own small, simple changes. Since I spent yesterday making pies for my sister’s TG dinner, I’ll start there.
The theory in our family is that you have to have 3 pies, so there’s “something everybody likes.” The practice is that nearly everybody has a small piece of each one. I’m the pie baker. My late mother-in-law, getting ready for TG dinner, once said “I don’t really like [some shortcut] but it’s so easy!” Given a choice between something easy which I don’t like, and something hard or complicated which I do, I’ll take the hard way, 10/10.
So all the crusts are scratch (half-butter, half-lard; 1/3 cup shortening & 1/2 tsp salt to each cup flour; you know the rest). We’ll have the Mandatory Pumpkin, made with roasted butternut squash, which is drier, sweeter and less stringy than pumpkin, plus bakes up a prettier color. Split and bake the squash instead of steaming or boiling, and it’s even better.
And the ancient dilemma of the gummy bottom crust is solved*.
We have the Alternative Pie, for theoretical guests who “don’t like Pumpkin,” but have yet to appear. Wild Blackberries are good this year, so that’s it. Otherwise Apple or Cherry or other fruit. The key to fruit pie which is tart, not acidic, and smooth, not too sweet, is to dot the fruit with butter between the lattices.
Yes, lattices >:-[
Then there’s Pecan “for Dan and Mike,” my brother-in-law and nephew. In our childhood, Mother proclaimed Pecan pie “too rich,” part of her disdain for most things Southern. So no one actually admits to liking it, but since we’re accommodating two smart, kind, talented men who graciously married among us, we are justified. And everyone has “a tiny piece.” Mother included.
Most recipes call for either brown sugar and light corn syrup (mine), or white sugar and dark corn syrup. Now I can’t remember whether it was deliberate or expedient, but one year I used cane molasses instead. (Look for “Pure Cane”: corn syrup may be added to products labelled Molasses.) This gives a dark, full-flavored custard, that critical bit less sweet than corn syrup. Works in chess pie too.
Thanks to Pecan Pie*. I noticed that on Pecan, the bottom crust always got crisp. OK – sugar, butter, nuts and molasses are conductors: milk, egg and pumpkin are insulators. So have the Pumpkin ingredients at room temp before you pour them into the crust.
Other than that, you’re on your own. Full recipes on request, but who needs’em? A last example of my approach: picnic food, the venerable Banana Pudding, made with lemon pudding mix. Try it.
Okay, one more: Cobbler. Like Baked Apples, a plain, familiar dessert: but if I hear one more person say, “OMG! Blackberry cobbler! I haven’t had that since I was a kid!” I am going to seriously wonder what’s wrong with our culture. (Yeah right ;-)
Use any fruit or berries you like, and sweeten to your taste. Preheat oven to 425, put the berries in an oven-proof dish, and set them in the oven while you make the topping. Follow biscuit recipe on sack of White Lily Self-Rising Flour, but use butter instead of shortening, cream instead of milk, and add a tablespoon of sugar for every cup of flour.
When the berries are good and hot, dot them with butter, then drop the dough by teaspoonfuls in an irregular pattern, leaving space in between. Sprinkle dough with coarse sugar and a little cinnamon (or ginger if using peaches). Return to oven and bake till topping is puffed and browned. Serve with vanilla ice cream.