November 30, 2005

Bog help me for laughing, because it's such a wonderful book, but it's precisely because the line is so wonderful that I laugh.  The book in question is A Revolution in Eating: How the Quest for Food Shaped America by James E. McWilliams; the context is a comparison of the foodways between the English settlers who raised sugar in the West Indies and the English settlers who came to New England to build the shining city on the hill:

Instead, New England consisted of restless Puritans hell-bent on utopia.

Dear friends, I cannot enumerate the ways which I love this sentence.  Tell me if the image of restless Puritans hell-bent for utopia doesn't conjure up some rich imagery in your mind.  It certainly does in mine.

Posted by Bakerina at 10:50 PM in • (1) Comments • (0) Trackbacks
November 29, 2005

Dear friends, the woolgathering continues.  I should be back on my feed by the end of the week, but in the meantime, I am still dreaming of pie; thus did I figure that it would not go amiss if I revisited last year's pie musings.  Thanks as always for your very kind comments and emails, birthday wishes and recipe inquiries, general overall goodness, kindness, fellowship and love. 

Pie for Breakfast: The Very Good Thing (originally published November 27, 2004)

I don't know who invented the idea of pie for breakfast -- English peasants?  New England settlers?  Carolina rice farmers?  the Amish? -- but whoever did invent it has conferred a mitzvah upon humanity.  I used to think that the apex of civilization was the eating of a plate of cold stuffing and cranberry sauce the day after Thanksgiving.  Then Lloyd said "can we have pie for breakfast?" and I remembered that our pumpkin pie, the one I so ignominiously sloshed on its journey to the oven floor, turned into the best pumpkin pie I have ever made in my life, and probably will ever make again.  He brought me a slice on a saucer, and with the first bite I cursed my childhood bad attitude all over again, the one that wouldn't touch a pumpkin pie until I was in high school.  If I had thought things through, I would have realized that pumpkin pie is, essentially, a custard pie, pumpkin flavored with eggs and milk and cream and sugar.  It's pudding, and how much pudding did I put away as an enthusiastic youngster?  But no, I was too fixated on the horror of eating squash for dessert, and thus did I find myself eating slice after slice of halfhearted storebought apple pie.  Now I am grown, and I have no such qualms now, and I wonder what this pie would taste like with the huge, amazing, multihued squashes available at the market.  What would happen if I tried Delicata squash, the long yellow-with-green-striations squash that changed my mind about squash as a young adult?  Turban squashes, kabochas, those enormous Blue Hubbards the size of a small dog:  I look at them all and see new possibilities.  I'm also flirting with the idea of sweet potato pie, but I'm more shy about this one, as one of my co-workers, a LuthorCorp mailroom lifer, makes a sweet potato pie that is easily the best pie I've ever eaten.  I have never made a pie as good as that one.  If I'm lucky, one day I'll make one that is *almost* as good.

As I continue squashing that smooth gorgeous pumpkin custard against my palate, I turn to my well-perused copy of Pascale Le Draoulec's American Pie and reread the chapter where Pascale and her traveling buddy Kris meet some New Order Mennonites in south-central Pennsylvania; these sweet and friendly young women tell them about the mighty shoofly pie, so well-loved here that some people eat it with every meal.  While I did not grow up in Amish country (I lived in a far more northeasterly county), I did grow up amidst dairy farmers, and most of my friends and classmates were farm kids.  I remember thinking that I'd dodged a bullet, not being born into a farm family.  The worst I ever had to deal with was weeding the garden, pulling the big rocks out of the garden before my stepdad started tilling, mowing the lawn, getting the windfall apples off the ground while they were still good to use, feeding the chickens and getting the eggs.  I didn't have to get up at 4:30 so I could start milking the cows by 5, I didn't have to come directly home after school so I could be there for the afternoon milking, I didn't have to win the trust of evil-tempered goats, and most of all, I didn't have to spend the hottest days of August cutting and baling hay.  I would look out in the distance at our closest neighbors, all four kids covered in sweat and dust, each carrying bales of hay that weighed as much as they did, two at a time.  At the time, I thought I was lucky, but now I think I was a dope.  These are the kind of families who could, and did, eat pie at every meal.  If I could have pie at every meal, I would wake up at 4, I would go to bed at midnight, and I would cut hay nonstop in the meantime.  I would let myself be stung by angry bees.  Alas, I spend most of my time in a cubicle, or in library study carrels, and I get, at best, five hours of exercise a week, not nearly enough to justify pie at every meal.

Breakfast, though, breakfast I can handle.  I have to tread carefully, though, because if I don't, Lloyd will want shoofly for breakfast every day.  And I'll probably oblige.

More Songs About Baking and Pie (originally published November 28, 2004)

Well, dear friends, if Lloyd decides he wants shoofly pie for breakfast every day, I will provide with alacrity.  While Lloyd was at the laundromat (where he goes every Sunday morning even though I know he'd rather be sleeping in), while a steady and petulant cold rain beat down on the neighborhood, I crawled out of bed and made this:

Shoofly

This was the first shoofly I'd made in about ten years, and it had a valuable lesson to teach me.  This is a "wet-bottom" shoofly, similar to pudding cake, with a moist-yet-firm top and a sauce-like bottom.  Like gingerbreads, shooflies vary greatly in texture from recipe to recipe:  there are shooflies with wet, sticky fillings; there are shooflies with dry fillings, suitable for eating with your hands and dunking into coffee; there are probably dozens of variations in between.  My stepgrandmother, who died when I was 13, was an ace baker and a fan of the dry shoofly.  Hers is my reference point, as it was the first shoofly I'd ever tried.  Hers also had a pronounced crumb topping, and a very subtle hint of molasses; I think she divided the sweetener between molasses and brown sugar.  With any luck, I'll know for sure soon, as my folks went to visit my aunt, my stepdad's sister, this afternoon and my stepdad said he would ask my aunt if she still has the recipe.  Dear friends, I have to get a handle on this compulsion to bake variations on a theme.  I should be starting my Christmas cookies, or making a plan for my 2005 egg research, or reactivating my sourdough starters.  What the world does not need is six different shooflies, straight from my oven.

On the other hand, maybe it does.  smile

This particular pie, the one I made this morning, comes from The Pie and Pastry Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum, who got the recipe from Pennsylvania food historian William Woys Weaver.  Some shoofly recipes suggest replacing part of the molasses with brown sugar, to cut down on the molasses-y intensity, but this recipe goes in the other direction, actually boosting the dark acidity of the pie with a cup of coffee.  (The recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of powdered espresso dissolved in 3/4 cup boiling water, but you can also use regular, strong coffee.)  The pie itself is a doddle to prepare:  roll out your crust (use the crust recipe of your choice, and really, if you are a fan of the storebought crust, then by all means, use it here), line your 9-inch pie plate, stick it in the fridge or the freezer to chill.  While it is chilling, heat your oven to 425 degrees (Gas Mark 7 for those of you across the pond), move your oven rack to its lowest position, put a baking sheet on the rack and let the oven heat for 20 minutes. While the oven heats and the pastry chills, make your coffee and set it aside until it is warm (not boiling, not cold).  Make a streusel with 1 1/4 cups flour (Rose specifies bleached all-purpose flour, but I used unbleached pastry flour instead; unbleached all-purpose would also probably work, although your pie might be a little denser), 1/2 cup sugar, 1/4 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. ground cinnamon, 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg and 1 stick (4 oz.) butter.  To make the streusel, combine the dry ingredients until well-blended, then cut in the butter with a pastry cutter, two butter knives or your fingertips (I like the fingertip method myself).  Take the pie shell from the fridge or freezer and pour the streusel into the pie shell.  Make sure the streusel is evenly distributed in the shell.  Pour your coffee into a medium mixing bowl, add 1 tsp. baking soda, stir it in and add 3/4 cup unsulfured molasses (either "light" or "full-flavored" will work; since I don't believe in half-measures with this pie, I used the strong stuff).  Pour the coffee and molasses mixture over the streusel.  Some of the crumbs will sink; others will float to the surface.  Put the pie on the preheated baking sheet in the oven and bake for 15 minutes; check the pie and cover the edges with a foil ring if it looks like they are getting too dark.  Turn the oven down to 350 degrees (Gas Mark 4) and bake for an additional 30 minutes. 

As with all pies, it is best not to eat this right out of the oven, but unlike fruit pies or custard pies, you don't have to let this one cool down all the way before you eat it.  You can eat this while it's still warm.  In fact, I would urge you to go bake this pie as soon as possible, just so you can eat it, warm, for breakfast.

Posted by Bakerina at 11:42 PM in incoherent ravings about food • (2) Comments • (0) Trackbacks
November 27, 2005

Never let it be said, dear friends, that I don't know how to celebrate.  Live fast, love hard, put up a lot of jelly.   smile

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Posted by Bakerina at 10:42 PM in • (0) Comments
November 26, 2005

It doesn't have quite the same ring as sixteen candles, but then again, "birthday pie" doesn't have quite the same ring as "birthday cake," and I was still perfectly happy to eat it.   smile  Dear friends, the rumors are true.  I am 38 today. 

I am also still feeling a bit quiet, but I suspect that this has less to do with any new Existentialism Virii, and more to do with woolgathering, quiet mind that precedes a flurry of activity.  As birthdays go, it was definitely a quiet one, filled with catching up on some long-unanswered email, watching the Gilmore Girls Season One dvd box set that the lovely and brilliant Lloyd gave me for my birthday present, washing out a few zillion mason jars to prepare for this weekend's ExpoFestO'Rama of paradise jelly, and spending an hour in a hot bath, emerging blackcurrant-scented and covered from neck to knees in sky-blue glitter.  It was also a day for discovering that we did not have bread for the making of turkey sandwiches, and correcting this oversight by starting a batch of pumpkin brioche.  Will more be revealed in time?  Oh, absolutely.

Until that time, though, let me say what I should have said yesterday:  I am blessed, lucky, so thankful to and for everyone who has visited this silly little pink and yellow page, old friends, new friends and friends from points between.  I should have told you weeks, months, years ago just how much fun I am having with you.  I simply must redress this.  Stick with me, kids, and we'll go places, I promise.  smile

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Posted by Bakerina at 12:48 AM in stuff and nonsense • (2) Comments • (0) Trackbacks
November 24, 2005

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Oh, greenly and fair in the lands of the sun,
The vines of the gourd and the rich melon run,
And the rock and the tree and the cottage enfold,
With broad leaves all greenness and blossoms all gold,
Like that which o'er Nineveh's prophet once grew,
While he waited to know that his warning was true,
And longed for the storm-cloud, and listened in vain
For the rush of the whirlwind and red fire-rain.

On the banks of the Xenil the dark Spanish maiden
Comes up with the fruit of the tangled vine laden;
And the Creole of Cuba laughs out to behold
Through orange-leaves shining the broad spheres of gold;
Yet with dearer delight from his home in the North,
On the fields of his harvest the Yankee looks forth,
Where crook-necks are coiling and yellow fruit shines,
And the sun of September melts down on his vines.

Ah! on Thanksgiving day, when from East and from West,
>From North and from South come the pilgrim and guest,
When the gray-haired New Englander sees round his board
The old broken links of affection restored,
When the care-wearied man seeks his mother once more,
And the worn matron smiles where the girl smiled before,
What moistens the lip and what brightens the eye?
What calls back the past, like the rich Pumpkin pie?

Oh, fruit loved of boyhood! the old days recalling,
When wood-grapes were purpling and brown nuts were falling!
When wild, ugly faces we carved in its skin,
Glaring out through the dark with a candle within!
When we laughed round the corn-heap, with hearts all in tune,
Our chair a broad pumpkin,--our lantern the moon,
Telling tales of the fairy who travelled like steam,
In a pumpkin-shell coach, with two rats for her team!

Then thanks for thy present! none sweeter or better
E'er smoked from an oven or circled a platter!
Fairer hands never wrought at a pastry more fine,
Brighter eyes never watched o'er its baking, than thine!
And the prayer, which my mouth is too full to express,
Swells my heart that thy shadow may never be less,
That the days of thy lot may be lengthened below,
And the fame of thy worth like a pumpkin-vine grow,
And thy life be as sweet, and its last sunset sky
Golden-tinted and fair as thy own pumpkin pie!

-- John Greenleaf Whittier, The Pumpkin

Gladdentheheart

Posted by Bakerina at 03:02 PM in valentines • (1) Comments
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