Friday, November 18, 2016

"Mom's Apple Pie" throwback from November 2009, Falmouth Bulletin

Another "throw-back" from November 2009 in featured under "Lessons from Val's kitchen" in the Falmouth Bulletin

Mom’s Apple Pie
 At Val’s house, one slice of pie is never enough.

“Pie is good for you.” My mother, Val has quipped many times.
“Just have a little sliver.”
Her version of a “little sliver” looks more like 1/4 of the pie to me. “Only eat what you want.” She feigns defeat hiding a knowing smile. Val’s victim can only protest as she cuts a piece and places it in front of them with a cloth napkin and a shiny silver fork. She watches closely until the first bite disappears. As if anyone could resist devouring the whole “sliver” once they have taken the first bite of the flaky, slice of heaven. It’s enough to put a person under a spell and suck them in forever.
 All year, Val makes pies. When the urge to “have a little sweet” overcomes her, she mixes up the dough “it’s really pretty simple” and pours in the desired filling. In as little as an hour, the kitchen is filled with the heady aroma of fresh baked pastry.
Val’s casual pie making ends with a showcase on Thanksgiving. Late fall on Cape Cod is chilly and damp: the perfect weather for warming by the wood stove after the annual Falmouth vs. Barnstable football game. As we pull into the driveway, past Val’s flower and vegetable gardens that have been put to bed for the winter, my stomach rumbles with anticipation. The back door opens to the cozy kitchen. A twenty pound turkey is resting under a tinfoil tent as Val casually whisks her homemade gravy smooth. Most cooks would be frenzied. Val is calm; having risen at 4:00am to bake the pies. She would never serve day old to her guests.  And we, having been spoiled by Val, expect only the best.
Once the turkey and fixings are devoured and the plates cleared, Val sets up her serving station: pie server, knife, plates, dessert forks and lace napkins. All varieties are spread out before us: Classic Apple, Everyone’s Favorite Strawberry Rhubarb, Uncle Don’s Cowboy (a version of Kentucky Bourbon), Coconut Cream, Fall Pumpkin, and Mocha Macaroon to name just a few. It’s an intimidating display and Val is secretly proud of the gorgeous presentation. She should be. She has won blue ribbons at the Barnstable County Fair for most of them. The newest guest is asked to choose first what kinds of pie he would like. Val holds the pie server like a fencer works his sword: pointing and swirling it with a flourish as she names and describes each choice. Inevitably, our poor guest is overwhelmed and in need of guidance.  That’s when we, the pie eating veterans and members of the  “few slivers of each club” come to the rescue. Someone suggests a slice of Classic Apple, another insists on Uncle Don’s Cowboy Pie and someone else pushes their favorite.  Once the plate is overflowing with at least three choices from Val’s pie” buffet”, the newcomer will be initiated.  

 The best pies start with a light and flaky pie crust.      
(Makes 1 two crust pie)
2 cups flour, plus extra for rolling
2/3 cup vegetable shortening (Val uses Crisco)
4 tablespoons cold butter, cut into teaspoon sized chunks
1/2 cup cold water

  Place 2 cups flour, vegetable shortening and butter in a large bowl. Using a pastry cutter, work the ingredients together until small pea size pieces form.  Form a mound and make a hole in the middle.  Pour 1/4 cup of cold water over entire mound.  Blend with a fork.  Add more water and continue blending until mixture pulls away from sides of bowl.  Do not overwork!
  Form 2 rounds, one slightly larger than the other (for the bottom).  Place on heavily floured board. Using a floured rolling pin, roll out from center (do not roll back and forth) until round is large enough to fill an ungreased pie plate and lay over edges. Fill according to recipe. Roll top portion of pie dough, place on top. Trim edges of dough, leaving 1" around pie.  Roll and crimp.  Cut slits in top of pie.
 For a prepared pie shell: form bottom piece only. Crimp edges. Pierce bottom and sides with a fork. Cook at 400 degrees until edges are golden (about 20 minutes).

Val has won blue ribbons at the Barnstable County Fair for both of the following recipes:
(Serves 8)
8 cups peeled sliced apples, (about 10 apples, whatever you have i.e. Macintosh, empire)
1 cup sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ cup flour
¼ tsp lemon zest
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar ( Sugar in the Raw)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Blend together all ingredients except turbinado sugar. Pour apple mixture into bottom half of prepared pie crust.  Cover with top pie crust, trim and crimp edges. Cut 3 slits in the center of the top crust. Sprinkle turbinado sugar on top. Place in oven and bake for 30 minutes or until juices bubble up through vent holes. If edges of pie crust start to brown before the pie is done cooking, take a large square of tinfoil and cut a hole in the center. Place tinfoil ring over crimped edges to prevent over cooking. To check for doneness, pierce pie gently with fork. If it easily goes through to bottom, the pie is done.  Don’t overcook or the pie will be mooshy. Cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes before serving.

(Serves 8)
1 single pie crust (1/2 of Good, Old Fashioned Pie Crust recipe)
3 eggs, beaten
¾ cup light corn syrup
3 tablespoons white sugar
3 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
½ cup chopped pecans
¼ cup bourbon
6 oz. semisweet chocolate bits
1 ½ cups pecan halves
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare pie crust and place in pie plate, trim and crimp edges. Set aside.
Mix filling by combining eggs, corn syrup, sugars, butter, vanilla extract and salt. Mix well. Stir in chopped pecans and bourbon.
Lightly pat chocolate bits into the bottom of the pie shell. Pour filling over the chocolate bits. Arrange pecan halves on top in a circular pattern. Bake for 1 hour until a knife inserted comes out clean.  If edges of crust start to brown too soon, use tinfoil trick mentioned in Classic Apple Pie recipe.
Andrea Norris enjoys eating lots of pie on Thanksgiving Day every year at Val’s house.  For more recipes, go to:

Friday, November 11, 2016

Aunt Viola's Pumpkin Bread


     Val says her aunt Viola used to spread cream cheese between two slices of this pumpkin bread.  The tangy cool layer provides the perfect contrast to the sweet dates and the blend of spices.  I must have somehow recalled this from the cobwebs in my brain when I thought of the brilliant plan to bake Viola’s pumpkin bread in the form of a cake and adorn it with a thick dollop of cream cheese frosting.

     There was an occasion when we were invited to Aunt Viola’s well-kept and finely decorated home in Milton, MA (over the bridge, just outside of Boston).  I know it was some family gathering/ holiday but I'm not sure of the exact reason but it was important enough that Aunt Viola had created an elaborate buffet of food that filled a dining room table.  It was exactly the sort of holiday meal that as a child, I feared.  These were not dishes filled with plain corn topped with a pat of butter, unadorned baked potatoes and sliced chicken breast (white meat only, please).  Aunt Viola’s T.V. reception was much better that ours (living near a city) and she was able to watch Julia Child’s then cutting edge show on PBS, “The French Chef”.  Not only that, she had the ability and panache to pull off such innovative cooking.  There were casseroles with creamy sauces, plates garnished with chopped herbs, and aromas, although not unpleasant, the fact that I had never smelt them before was enough to send me running back to the car.
     Val took a plate from the edge of the table and led me through the choices, suggesting a spoonful of this and perhaps a small bit of that.  My stomach was already bulging from gorging on the gourmet Chex mix Viola provided as I watched numerous episodes of Hanna Barbera’s  “Jabber Jaw” on her color T.V.  I’m sure the soda procured illegally by my sister Karyn, did not help the situation.  I must have protested too loud, “I don’t like that!” when my mother pointed to the scalloped potatoes.  My words seemed to ring through the air as the perfect timing of a lull in conversation took place.  I knew I was in trouble when Val gave me the squinty eye and hissed the dreaded words, “try a bite of it, please!”  Then she did the unthinkable.  She made me apologize to Aunt Viola. 
     Beat red, belly bulging out of my pants, I slumped over to where Viola was overseeing the room of guests murmuring delight over her incredible offering.  I managed somehow to stammer out a mangled, “I’m sorry I said that I don’t like the potatoes.”  While Val watched with an eagle eye to make sure I did exactly as I was told. 
     Well, I don’t remember much else from that day.  Not even if I actually tried a bite of those scandalous potatoes or if I decided I liked them or not. (Probably not, I don’t like scalloped potatoes much, at all.)  But what I do remember is that there must have been pumpkin bread displayed artfully on a special plate or maybe I have two memories confused.  Either way, I’m glad to have Viola’s recipe for one of the things she made that I did always truly enjoy.  But I what I really wish is that I knew how to recreate that delectable Chex mix.

Aunt Viola's Pumpkin Bread
(makes 2 large loaves)
2 2/3 cups sugar
2/3 cup softened butter
4 eggs, beaten
1 can pumpkin
2/3 cup water
3 1/3 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2/3 cup chopped walnuts
2/3 cup chopped (pitted) dates

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease 2 large loaf pans and set aside.
Cream together sugar and butter.  Add eggs, pumpkin and water.  Mix together flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, cloves and salt in a separate bowl.  Gradually, add dry ingredients to the wet.  Mix in nuts and dates.  Pour batter into pans and bake for approximately 60 minutes until a pick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Cool for 5 minutes on a rack then inverted pans to release loaves.  Cool completely before serving.
* If using smaller loaf pans, bake for about 40-45 minutes.
**This recipe freezes well.  Wrap loaves tightly in plastic wrap, then freezer Ziploc bags.  

Cream Cheese Frosting
4 tablespoons softened butter
4 ounces softened cream cheese
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon vanilla 

Blend butter and cream cheese together.  Add sugar.  Blend well.  Add milk and vanilla.  If consistency of frosting is too thick, add more milk by the 1/2 teaspoon, if too soft, add more powdered sugar by the tablespoon until desired spreadability is achieved.