Easy as Pie

Whoever coined that simile never made one.

I have been trying to make a simple, flaky piecrust like my mother’s for ** years. Just flour, salt, Crisco and water, mixed with her hands, it is always delicious, especially with McIntosh apple filling between the double layers.

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Grocery or Grandma’s?

I have resorted to the Pioneer Woman’s recipe which you can get online, and by rolling it out between two pieces of waxed paper can accomplish an acceptable result. But the added ingredients expand the wavy edge and keep it from looking like I shaped it with my thumb and forefingers before it went into the oven.

A long time ago I tried a recipe which used cooking oil, and pressed it into the pan like Play-Doh. It tasted like Play-Doh. I wouldn’t recommend it.

I do use refrigerated crust from the grocery store at times, but don’t consider that a homemade pie.

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I guess it is a little easier to make a graham cracker crust for some pies.

Do you have an all-time favorite made-from-scratch filling? Mine would be pumpkin, Dutch apple, banana cream (stirred in the double boiler) and sugar cream. Glazed fresh strawberry pie marks a special summer dessert time at our house. Though I have a recipe for the glaze, I also use Wick’s, which probably contains more red dye than I want to think about. Who remembers the ban on red food coloring?

The oven temperatures which result in a set but not runny end product can be tricky. Some instructions tell you to start out high, then turn to medium for the duration. The knife test in the middle always certifies the state of the filling. A century ago farm ladies had to be even more skilled to keep their wood-fired ovens at an even heat for pies, cakes, cookies and bread.

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I had to give up on the wavy edge., using a fork to make it look decent.

Even with the unusual circumstances of holiday celebrations this year, you can bet there will be pies on many tables. If yours are homemade, consider yourself fortunate. There is no shame in buying a Christmas pie. I guess in that case, it is easy.

Relishing the Last of Summer

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Green tomatoes may be battered and fried, as in the Fannie Flagg book, but I like them most in my grandmother’s sweet relish.  It’s been an eon since the last (and only) time I made it myself, so I take advantage of our bumper tomato crop, borrow my mother’s galvanized food grinder, buy the rest of the veggies, and dig in.

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I begin cutting peppers, tomatoes and onions to feed into the hopper as I crank the wooden handle to force them out of the circular holes. A simple machine, an inclined plane, it is still fascinating to watch as it pushes piles of mush into the pan below.

And the juice!  It drips around the vegetables, but also onto the floor like the perspiration onto my ears. Who’d have thought onions would have the most juice of all?

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There is something about a kitchen completely absorbed in putting up food the old-fashioned way. Pans are large. Knives are sharp. One sink is full of seeds and pulp. The top of the stove is completely covered as steam rises from sterilized jars. The floor grows sticky.

Holding onto the crank with one hand and the vise with the other, I watch the outdoors.  Ruby, the hummingbird, pauses in front of the patio door to let me know her juice is empty.  Flower hues, a bit more subdued than the day before, still dance in a faint breeze.  There is time to think.

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But the rest of the work is waiting.  The vegetables go into the pot, joined by sugar, vinegar and a cheesecloth bag full of spices.  They simmer and are soon ready to be poured into jars.

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If you are curious about what goes into this savory mixture, or if you by chance would like to try making some yourself, here is Grandma Porter’s recipe.  I am fortunate to have a copy in her left-handed script:

Sweet Pepper Relish

1 dozen green peppers

1 dozen red peppers

1 dozen green tomatoes

3 1/2 cups sugar

1/2 pint water

1 1/2 pints apple cider vinegar

salt to taste

pickling spices

Grind vegetables and cover with boiling water.  Let stand five minutes and drain.  Add sugar, water, vinegar, and salt.  Gather pickling spices into a cheesecloth bag and put in.  Cook for 15 minutes.  Remove the bag of spices, pour into jars and seal (jars and lids have been scalded in boiling water bath).

Oh – and I make half a recipe.  The whole thing would be out of my league.