Monday, August 24, 2009

The summer's finally PEACHY!

I command you to walk away from the computer this very minute, and hurry to the store or farmstand or farmer's market, and buy yourself a whole passel of peaches which are--right at this very moment--at their peak of juicy perfection! Of course, my zone (4) is just too frosty for this heat-loving fruit, so our "local" peaches generally come from New Jersey, just a day's drive. Despite the cool, wet summer, the peaches are quite lovely this year. Other than eating them out of hand, the best thing you can do to showcase peaches when they are perfectly ripe is to make a homemade peach pie! But first, an introductory anecdote, as is my way...

Last weekend, my friends and I attended the 154-year-old tradition known as the Redford Picnic (colloquially, "The Fifteenth of Redford") in Redford, NY. Its main function is as a church fundraiser, and there are all the typical games of chance and food booths and homespun music performances that are to be found at any such country fair. The two attractions that make the Redford Fair unique are first, the wonderful 1890's Armitage-Herschell wooden carousel that was donated to the Church of the Assumption in Redford in 1910 and is reported to be the oldest in America that is still in operation. It is comprised of 24 original carved horses and four sleighs, and the carousel can be ridden just once a year at the Redford Picnic, formerly powered by actual horses, and now run by a tractor.

The second event that truly defines the Redford Picnic is the pie booth, where you put your quarter down on a number between 1 and 30, spin a roulette-type wheel, and if it lands on your number, you win a pie! Of course, if you're not a lucky person, you can always purchase a pie for ten bucks. Though the pies are homemade, whether you get an edible one or not seems to be as much of a gamble as the spinning wheel game itself.

My friend June and I both tried to win a pie, but we gave up after a couple of bucks' worth of quarters. June finally bought a pie, mainly for her pie-loving husband, Tom. She chose peach, but I could tell by the looks of it, it was sub-standard. (I suspect that pie-making skills have deriorated quite a bit since the Redford Picnic's inception in 1855!) The crust looked thick and dry and decidedly un-flaky, and the peaches inside--God help us--may have been from a can. Moreover, they were glommed together with little beads of undissolved tapioca. In a word, EWWW!

I felt so bad for them, that when I spied some lovely Jersey peaches in the grocery store this week (for a mere $0.69/pound!), I quickly grabbed a few pounds and decided to make them a proper peach pie. As he ate his icky Redford pie, Tom (born in Alabama and raised in New Orleans) unkindly proclaimed that northern piemakers obviously knew nothing about making peach pie. So I took it upon myself to reclaim the honor of the Yankee piemaking tradition!

Of course, I began with my favorite half-and-half pie crust recipe rom Ken Haedrich, but to make it truly old-fashioned, genuinely Southern, and ridiculously light and flaky, I made it with half butter and half lard instead of vegetable shortening. Then for the filling, I used three pounds of perfectly ripe, peeled peaches, with just a scant half cup of sugar, a little vanilla and a few drops of almond extract (always good when paired with stone fruits), and because they were so juicy, some extra thickener so that the filling wouldn't end up being runny.

Since I made the pie as a gift, I didn't get to see the inside with my own eyes, but June sent me a picture after she cut the first slice, and it was GORGEOUS! The filling wasn't runny, but neither was it stiff like Jell-O. The peaches softened but did not dissolve into mush, and the bottom crust was golden brown, as it should be. I quote June, the recipient of said pie: "The peaches were perfect. Tender, yet each holding its shape. Their freshness really shone through. The pie was light and yet tasty. The perfect summertime dessert." SUCCESS!

Perfect Peach Pie
(Source: crust recipe adapted from Ken Haedrich's Pie)

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1/2 cup frozen lard, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1/2 cup ice water

3 lbs. peaches (8-10), peeled and sliced in sixths
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
3 tablespoons corn starch
3 tablespoons tapioca flour
pinch of salt
2 tablespoons butter

Egg Wash (optional):

1 egg
1 tablespoon cream

In the bowl of a food processor, add the flour, sugar and salt and pulse to blend and aerate. Add the cold butter and lard and pulse about ten times until the fat breaks into petite pea-sized pieces and the dough looks like crumbly oatmeal. Drizzle in about 1/2 cup iced water, more or less, just until the dough holds together when pinched between your fingers. Divide the dough in half, form two disks on pieces of plastic wrap, and chill for at least an hour, or even overnight.

When the dough is thoroughly chilled, preheat your oven to 400 degrees and prepare the peach filling. Make an shallow "X" in the bottom of each peach with the tip of a sharp knife. Drop the peaches into boiling water for 30 seconds to a minute, or until the peels start to loosen. Remove the peaches to a bowl of cold water, then peel and pit them, and cut each one into sixths. Sprinkle the peach slices with the lemon juice, then gently mix in the sugar, vanilla, almond extract, corn starch and tapioca flour, and set the mixture aside while you form the pie crusts.

Roll out one of the crusts and fit it into a 9-inch Pyrex pie plate, cutting off the excess and forming a stand-up edge between a half-inch and an inch high. Place in the freezer to firm while you roll out the second crust. When the botton crust is firm, pour the peach filling into the pie plate, scatter bits of butter on top of the filling, and cover with the second crust. Pinch the edges together to seal and crimp decoratively. Cut four large slits (or many smaller ones) in the top of the pie, and use a pastry brush to apply a thin coating of egg wash (one egg whisked with one tablespoon of cream) if desired.

Bake the pie for 30 minutes at 400 degrees, reduce the heat to 350 degrees, cover the edges of the pie with a shield or tin foil, and bake for about 45 minutes more. Let cool for at least two hours before cutting and serving.

1 comment:

Randi said...

my MIL gave me a few redhaven peaches from her farmers market and they were soooooooo good. I bought a 3L basket for 2.77 at the grocery store and they sucked. No flavor at all. The peach pie looks great!! I read about a trick where you line a pie shell with foil and then drop in your filling( sans crust). Freeze and then remove from the pie plate. When you want to make a pie, you just roll out the crust and then drop in the disk of frozen peach filling. Genious!!