22 March 2010

Family recipe Monday: three classic pies

Yes, I realize I should have posted this for Pi Day (March 14 at 1:59; you math geeks types will get it), but I have an excuse. It's not signed by my mother, but I do have witnesses. I was off in Nebraska preparing to do a series of lectures the next day, and I didn't have the foresight to do the prescheduled pie posting instead of the prescheduled cake posting last week. So sue me. The complaint line forms at the left; take a number and wait to be called.

Here are three classic pie recipes from the Simple Gifts files. Gene and I have somehow fallen into the pie-baking niche of the family, and these are a few favorites. The first one, another one written on a moving-company scratch pad, is for a classic southern delight, pecan pie. There is not a Texan or other Southern type alive who doesn't believe that his/her version is the best on the planet. Gene believes that his Virginia version is better than this one. So be it. He is, of course, misinformed. He is, of course, from Delaware.

Pecan pie
1 cup pecans
3 eggs, beaten
1 cup sugar
1 cup white Karo syrup
¼ cup butter
2 tsp vanilla
1 unbaked pie shell (9”)

Put pecans in bottom. Pour mixture over. Bake 10 minutes at 400* F, then 50 minutes at 350* F until done. Add 4 eggs if too sweet.
--Gladys Brooks Strickland

This needs some interpretation, stat. That's 4 eggs total, not 4 eggs added to the 3 you already mixed. You do not want this to be a 7-egg pie. Trust me on this one.

Southerners will argue ALL DAY about mixing the pecans into the syrup vs. pouring the syrup over the pecans. We (by which I mean "I") fall squarely into the latter camp, and it's not up for discussion. (NB: The word is pronounced "pe-KAHN," and that is not up for discussion, either.) The white Karo syrup and vanilla make this an aromatic, delightful version.

Here is a particular family favorite.

Gladys’s caramel pie
For 2 pies

1 cup sugar, browned in a heavy iron skillet
4 egg yolks (reserve whites)
3 cups sweet milk
4 T flour
1 cup dry sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 T butter or margarine

Mix all ingredients except browned sugar. Pour over browned sugar and let dry sugar melt. Pour into baked crusts. Use whites for meringue. Top with meringue, brown in oven, and cool.
--Mary Marcella Walker Brooks, Gladys Brooks Strickland.

When the Johnson family would go to the Brooks farm in Littlefield on Saturday morning, Gran Brooks usually made a caramel pie because it was Shirley’s favorite. To this day, Shirley associates caramel pie with Saturday nights at the farm.

For a reliable meringue, try this.

Never-fail meringue
1 T cornstarch
2 T cold water
½ cup boiling water
3 egg whites
6 T sugar
Pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla

Blend cornstarch and cold water in a saucepan. Add boiling water and cook, stirring until clear and thickened. Let stand until completely cold. Beat egg whites at high speed until foamy. Gradually add sugar and beat until stiff, but not dry. Turn mixer to low speed and add salt and vanilla. Gradually beat in cold cornstarch mixture. Turn mixer back to high speed and beat well. Spread meringue over cooled pie filling. Bake at 350* F for about 10 minutes. This meringue cuts beautifully and never gets sticky.

Finally, just to keep you in a meringue frame of mind, here is a classic lemon pie. We have two lemon meringue pie recipes, and one for lemon chiffon that is indistinguishable from the first version of lemon meringue. Since it's called lemon chiffon on the card, we'll go with that name. The results are just as wonderful.

Lemon chiffon pie
4 egg yolks {4 eggs, separated}
1 cup sugar
1 lemon

Beat egg yolk until light colored, add ½ cup sugar and lemon juice. Cook until thick. Beat whites and add other ½ cup sugar. Put half of whites with yolks of eggs, folding slowly. {Fold into baked pie shell.} Add remainder of whites to top and brown.
--Vada Brooks Johnson

Footnote: yes, we make our own pie crusts. This is apparently the part that intimidates many people. For a wonderful account of pie-making and its decline in America, read American Pie: Slices of Life (and Pie) from America's Back Roads, by Pascale Le Draoulec. I have been tempted to drive across the country with a rolling pin mounted on the bumper ever since I read this terrific book.

For a dependable pie crust, try this:

Pie crust
2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
7/8 cup vegetable shortening
1 egg or egg yolk
1 T white vinegar
3 T ice water, or slightly more

In a mixing bowl, stir together flour, salt and sugar. Cut in shortening just until incorporated. In a 1-cup measure, beat the egg or yolk. Add vinegar and ice water and stir well. You should have about 1 cup of liquid in all. Very slowly, pour liquid into flour mixture. While pouring, mix with a fork until it clumps together. If too sticky, add pinches of extra flour. If too dry, sprinkle on a bit more water. Divide the dough into 2 pieces. Chill, then roll out into a circle slightly larger that the pie plate. Fold dough in half, place in pie plate, and then unfold. Makes 1 double-crust or two single-crust pies.

It's fun and it's better than anything you can buy. Happy Monday.

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