Posts tagged ‘fall pies’
This pie is an heirloom well worth dusting off and setting out in a place of honor at today’s table. Made with a dedication to thrift and flavor, it uses the thick, sturdy hulls of the muscadine grape, which is native to North America and still thriving both out in the wild, and in domesticated varieties tended on backyard grape arbors throughout the South. You’ll find them referred to as slipskin grapes, since a firm squeeze on a plump, ripe grape causes the juicy seed-filled grape to pop right out. Though muscadine skins are too tough to chew up when eating the grapes out of hand, thrifty and flavor-conscious cooks figured out how to make use of them along with the grape pulp. They separated skins from pulp, and then cooked the pulp just enough to squeeze out and discard the big round seeds. Then pulp and hulls were cooked with sugar, a bit of flour, and butter, to make a thick, juicy pie.
Between the steps involved in preparation, the shortness of their season in early fall, and the challenges for most cooks of even finding these heirloom grapes nowadays, the practical pie has faded from its status through the first half of the 20th century as a common Southern home dessert. They’re out there, though, so look for muscadine grapes in farmers’ markets and at roadside stands throughout the South, as well as in grocery stores and specialty food stores, through the first half of the fall. For this pie, I found deep purple muscadine grapes at the local Whole Foods market, from a commercial grower in Georgia. Look for the lovely golden-hued scuppernong grapes as well; they will work just fine, being simply a delicious grape version within the muscadine grape family.
Here’s a look at some steps in the process. You can skip to the end if you’re ready for the recipe.
Nancie’s Muscadine Grape Hull Pie
Pastry for a double-crust pie
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 cups muscadine grapes (about 2 pounds), rinsed
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice, or cider vinegar or white vinegar
3 tablespoons cold butter, cut into bits
Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Place bottom crust into a pie pan, with the edge of the piecrust hanging over the edge of the pan by about 1 inch. Mix the sugar, flour and salt in a small bowl and stir with a fork to mix them well.
Holding it over a medium bowl, squeeze a grape with its stem end down, so that the pulp pops out and falls into the bowl. (If the pulp doesn’t pop right out with only a squeeze, cut the stem ends off the grapes and discard the ends. Then squeeze the grape and the pulp should pop right out.) Set the hulls aside in a bowl, and place the grape pulp and juices into a medium saucepan. Add 3 tablespoons of water to the pan and bring it to a gentle boil over medium heat. Cook until the pulp has soften and begun to break down, so that the seeds can be easily separated, 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl let cool until you can handle them. Work through the bowl of pulp, extracting and discarding the large round seeds.
Add the grape hulls to the saucepan, and continue cooking to soften the hulls, for 5 minutes more. Remove from heat and stir in the sugar mixture. Pour the grape filling into the piecrust . (Do not overfill it. Reserve any excess and make a small pie in a custard cup, or cook just the fruit as a simple pudding to eat with cream.) Scatter the bits of butter over the pie filling, and cover with the top crust. Press hard all around the pie to seal up the crust. Crimp the edges or press them with the tines of a fork to seal it well. Make slits in the top of the pie so that juices can bubble up and steam can escape. Place the pie on a baking sheet lined with foil, so that any juices have somewhere to go besides the bottom of the stove.
Bake the pie at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. Then reduce the heat to 350 degrees, and continue baking until the filling is thickened and bubbling hot, and the crust is nicely browned, 40 to 50 minutes. Set the pie on a cooling rack or a folded kitchen towel, and let it cool completely.
Pumpkin pie gets a headstart at my house, and always disappears quickly. This particular pie involves a small experiment, a substitution of coconut milk for evaporated milk that I’ve been meaning to try. I love getting people to cook, or cook more, or cook differently, and one issue that can get in the way is: The Stuff. The ingredients, the components, the list of what’s needed before the cooking can begin, or proceed, or get finished. Whenever I can offer an a), b), or c) choice to cooks, I love to do it. When I looked in my pantry for the evaporated milk I usually use in pumpkin pie, I noticed unsweetened coconut milk on the same shelf, and decided to find out whether I could subsitute coconut milk for evaporated in this pie. I did so, and was pleased with how it worked. No difference in flavor, no “coconutty!” sensations, as the flavor of coconut milk is a general richness rather than a strong taste. Using coconut milk in place of dairy products means that a given dish can become vegan, and accessible to people who for whom dairy products present problems. (Canned unsweetened coconut milk sometimes separates as it sits on the shelf. If that’s the case, stir with a fork to bring the contents of the can together into a smooth, thick creamy liquid; then measure and use in the recipe.)
Since I’m on the subject of what will work in place of what, let me share a solid-gold source for cooks who like to know what’s what and how ingredients work and can be interchanged. The Food Substitutions Bible 2nd Edition is a superb culinary reference book by my friend David Joachim. I’ve received review copies of both the original version several years back, and the second edition just published this month. It’s a book I count on, both as I cook and as I write about food. For details, check out David’s website here: http://www.davejoachim.com/books.php
Nancie’s Pumpkin Pie
1 unbaked 9-inch piecrust
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups pumpkin puree
3/4 cup evaporated milk, or unsweetened coconut milk
1/4 cup honey or maple syrup
2 eggs, beaten well
Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Combine the sugar, cinnamon, ginger, and salt in a small bowl. Stir with a fork to mix everything well, and set aside. In a medium bowl, combine the pumpkin, evaporated milk or coconut milk, honey or syrup, and eggs. Using a fork, a whisk, or a wooden spoon, stir to combine everything well. Add the sugar mixture and stir until everything comes together into a thick, smooth filling. Pour into the piecrust and bake at 350 degrees F until the pie is puffed around the edges, and the filling is firm and set — a little jiggle in the middle will work. Place on a cooling rack or folded kitchen towel and cool to room temperature.
Pumpkin pie has been on my A-list forever, and I’ve never understood why we relegate it to the holiday menus between November and January 1st. Delicious? Check — Simply and swiftly made? Check — Made from accessible inexpensive ingredients? Check — Popular? Check! Perhaps its automatic inclusion on menus that require turkey, dressing, and cranberry sauce gets in the way of our ability to think outside the holiday box. Grocery stores, farms stands and farmers’ markets around here have been stacking up gourds all week, and placing this year’s pumpkin supply out in full view of the Halloween crowd. The jack-o-lantern pumpkins decorating the marketplace telegraph the arrival of autumn nicely, and they serve carvers well as a canvas for scary faces. But if you’ve tried using the standard pumpkins for cooking, you know that their texture and flavor leave much to be desired, piewise. Farmers’ markets often carry old-time pumpkins, varying in color and shape from the bright orange standard, and tending to have thick, sweet flesh which is ideal from a pie-making point of view. Butternut squash makes a grand alternative to pumpkin in most any recipe calling for cooked mashed pumpkin or pumpkin puree. I love it peeled and cut into large chunks as an ingredient in Thai-style curries, and for roasting along with parsnips, carrots garlic, and onions. These days I’m finding it peeled and chunked up in the produce section, making it a quick fix for curries, for roasting, and for simmering just until tender enough to mash to a puree. From there I season it with salt and either butter or Asian sesame oil as a fall sidedish, or stir it into this fine, spiced fall pie.
Nancie’s Butternut Squash Pie
1 unbaked 9-inch piecrust
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups cooked, mashed butternut squash
3/4 cup evaporated milk or half-and-half
2 beaten eggs
1/3 cup honey, dark corn syrup, maple syrup, or molasses
Heat the oven to 450 degrees F. Combine the sugar, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and salt in a small bowl, and stir with a fork to combine them well. Combine the butternut squash, milk or half-and-half, eggs and honey or syrup in a medium bowl. Stir all this up with a whisk, an eggbeater, or a large spoon, until everything is evenly combined. Stir in the sugar-and-spices mixture and mix it all together evenly and well. Pour this mixture into the unbaked piecrust and place it in the oven 450 degree oven on a lower rack. Bake 10 minutes, and then lower the heat to 325 degrees F. Continue baking until the filling is firm and the outer edges of the pie puff up nicely, 35 to 45 minutes. (The very center can still be a bit jiggly but overall the pie should be firm and set.) Set the pie on a cooling rack or on a folded kitchen towel to cool to room temperature.