Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here for...marriage pie.

Friends, I am in love. No, no, not in that way. But with a lovely memoir that I just discovered (and only four years after it was published--whoops!) called American Pie: Slices of Life (and Pie) from America's Back Roads by Pascale Le Draoulec. In the book, Ms. Le Draoulec takes a job as the food critic at the New York Daily News, and decides to road trip from San Francisco rather than flying to make the move. And the theme and guiding force in her travels is PIE--to go wherever friends or strangers recommended a good piece of pie could be found. In seeking out places where real people still made real pie, Le Draoulec hoped to find the roots and the essence of America, particularly as a first-generation American born to French parents. Before this memorable road trip, Le Draoulec only knew of tarts, not pie. But in her travels in not one, but two, Volvos named Betty with her companion, Kris (among others) riding shotgun, the author found way too many specimens that she termed, "dumpster pie"--pies that masqueraded as the real deal, but after the first bite, quickly found their permanent homes in the nearest dumpster. But they also discovered such wonders as an "accidental" apple-blueberry pie in Natchez, Mississippi, hubbard squash pie in Vermont, belgian pies from Door County, Wisconsin, and many other delectable specimens (and don't think I won't be trying my hand at each of these recipes in due course!). But the pie that was the pinnacle of the road trip was found in Montana at the Spruce Park Diner. It was a huckleberry peach pie, a so-called "marriage pie" where two fruits complement each other yet retain their individual characteristics. I was intrigued, especially as one of the best pies in my repertoire is a Dutch peach-blueberry pie, so I felt sure that this one would be right up my alley! (Remind me to post that recipe at some point, will ya?)

Huckleberries are wild, bluish-black berries whose flavor is often described as being like blueberry but more tart and less tame. Of course, as I am east of the Rockies, I have no access to huckleberries. But I thought perhaps a triple berry mix of raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries in combination with peaches might yield their own magical result. The only error in judgment I made was to try a crust recipe from Chez Panisse that, although extremely flaky and tasty, was just too short of a dough to be able to work with properly. You could either chill it until it was brittle, or leave it out for a few minutes and quickly have a dough too soft to even lift off the work surface. GRR! Furthermore, after the crust was baked, it lacked structural soundness. You can see in the picture that part of the top had already shattered, the lattice had snapped in half, and just seconds after I took the picture, the rear portion of the crust fell backwards, breaking off from the filling. UGH! It still tasted awesome, but next time, I will try a different pastry recipe. I still don't have a definitive pie crust that I always use, but I am honing in on it slowly but surely. My ideal crust has both butter for flavor and shortening for exceptional flakiness. I know, I know, I can hear the purists gasp and clutch their hearts, but the best crust I ever had was from a couple of gals calling themselves Sister Pie in Sebastopol, CA, one of the greenest, crunchiest, most organic spots in the country, and their crust was made with shortening (organic shortening, but still, I think I've made my point!). Truth to tell, I am also not above using a butter-lard combination, again for both flavor and flakiness. Here next to Quebec, lard crusts are very popular. You can even buy frozen ones in their grocery stores. But I digress...

My point is--and I do have one--is that this book was so inspirational to me and reinforced so many of my own food philosophies which are sorely tested in this fast-paced world of culinary shortcuts. Why, I was just at my favorite local farmstand this past weekend, and I saw that they are now selling their own preserves. But I was HORRIFIED when I looked at the label and saw that the main ingredient in their "farmstand" jams and jellies was high-fructose corn syrup! YEGADS! And to make bad matters worse, a sign listing the different varieties of their "homemade" pies indicated that only the apple pies contained fresh fruit--all others used canned filling. CANNED FILLING! At a FARMSTAND! What is the name of all that is holy is the world coming to? It's just so discouraging. But then I read a book like American Pie, and my faith is restored. There are still people out there who care enough to take the time to make real pie the right way. And I aim to be one of them! So it's July, and though we're already at the halfway point of 2006, I am adding another resolution. In addition to starting a food blog, always having homemade vinaigrette in the fridge, and baking more bread, I also vow to bake more pie, REAL pie. If you wish to join me, you might want to start with the recipe below or a variation thereof. It is a definitive example of "marriage pie."

The Spruce Park Diner's Rustic Huckleberry Peach Pie by Laura Hansen
(Source: Pascale Le Draoulec's American Pie)

1 9-inch double-crust (Laura uses the recipe on the back of the Crisco can)

3 cups of huckleberries (fresh or frozen)--I substituted a triple berry blend here
2 cups of peaches, sliced and peeled (fresh or frozen)
1 cup of sugar
3 tablespoons of tapioca (I used four tablespoons of tapioca flour, and it was perfect--the filling held together but was still supple and juicy)

*I also added a teaspoon of vanilla and just a pinch of pumpkin pie spice to the filling.

Pick your huckleberries clean of stems and leaves. If you plan on freezing them, do not wash them as they will release too much juice when they cook. In your favorite mixing bowl, gently toss huckleberries, peaches, and sugar together. Add tapioca, mix well but gently. Score bottom crust with a fork (I did not do this as I was afraid of leakage). Pour fruit mixture in your deep-dish pie tin lined with your crust. Cut the remaining dough into four wide bands, interlay them on top of the pie to create a weave effect. Sprinkle top with 1 tablespoon of sugar (I brushed on some egg wash before sprinkling on the sugar). Bake at 350 degrees for 75-90 minutes (mine had to go the full hour and a half for the bottom to get done--and it does bubble over, so bake it on a lined sheet pan or be prepared to have berry napalm all over your oven!). Top crust should be golden brown.

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