Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Sweet Cherry Pie with Cornmeal Streusel

After emerging from the north woods and a brief stint back in D.C. to trade my spring sweaters for summer sun dresses, I headed to Berea, Kentucky, where I'm living for the month of July. I'm here on a research fellowship with the Berea College Appalachian Sound Archives, studying the collection of East Kentucky banjo player, songwriter, hotel owner, postmaster, sheriff, and mother of six, Nora E. Carpenter.

As I'm in the process process of constructing a picture of who Nora Carpenter was, I'm also getting my bearings in this place--learning the trails and best blackberry picking spots around the house where I'm staying, finding the best rural ice cream stands and swimming holes, checking out the bars and donut shops and record stores in nearby cities, and trying to make friends--making sure that I keep my head just enough out of the archives.

Berea is a unique place, with its concentration of local artisans and craftspeople, not to mention its number of famous local residents including bell hooks and Jean Ritchie. But in many ways, Berea College seems to be the life pulse of the town, with its radical history of race and gender equality, belief in community and cultural diversity, and emphasis on integration of intellectual and manual labor.

Though things are a little quiet on campus now, with school out of session, I've been taking advantage of some of the school's resources, in particular the Berea College Farm. The farm is one of the oldest student-operated educational farms in the country, and is abundant with over 500 acres of cattle, hogs, chickens and eggs, goats, fish, honey bees, grains, fruits, vegetables and herbs.

Many of the products from the farm can be purchased at the Berea College Farm Store a block from downtown. They sell meat and produce, flowers and herbs, fresh baked goods, and a new favorite indulgence of Crank & Boom Ice Cream, made in nearby Lexington.

So when I set out to make a pie--another practice that always helps ground me in the place where I am--I bought most of the ingredients from the Farm Store and other local producers. I've been trying out the Kentucky-milled all-purpose flour from Weisenberger Mill as well as a red heirloom cornmeal from nearby Salamander Springs Farm.

Though no sour cherries (my favorite) were to be found, this sweet cherry and cornmeal combination is auspicious-- the sweet and smooth flavor and texture of the cherries pairing perfectly with the grit and grain of the cornmeal. And of course, these pie slices were topped with some of that Crank & Boom-- of the Bourbon Honey variety.

 Sweet Cherry Pie with a Cornmeal Streusel
Adapted from The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book

Nothing in the House pie crust, halved
1 small baking apple, peeled and shredded
5 cups sweet cherries, pitted
2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
3 Tablespoons cornstarch (potato starch may also be used)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
2 dashes Angostura bitters

For cornmeal streusel:
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cornmeal (I used Salamander Springs' red heirloom cornmeal)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup salted butter, cold and cubed

For the crust:
1. Prepare half of the Nothing-in-the-House pie crust as per the directions. Chill dough at least 1 hour before rolling out and fitting into a greased and floured 9-inch pie pan. Place pie plate in fridge for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

2. Once you've let the pie crust chill, prick crust with a fork all over the bottom. Line crust with parchment paper and pie weights or dried beans and bake for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, remove weights, and bake 3 more minutes. Let crust cool completely and once cool, place in fridge while you prepare the pie filling.

3. Preheat (or leave on) oven to 425 degrees F. To prepare the streusel top, stir together the flour, cornmeal, and brown sugar in a medium bowl, Sprinkle in the butter pieces and toss to coat. Rub the butter into the dry ingredients with your fingers until the butter is incorporated and the mixture is lumpy but not homogenous. Place in the fridge to chill for at least 15 minutes while you prepare the filling. 

4. Place shredded apple, pitted cherries, lemon juice, brown sugar, cornstarch, sea salt, cinnamon, cardamom, and bitters in a large bowl and toss until well mixed. Pour the filling into the refrigerated pie shell and evenly distribute the chilled streusel on top. 

5. Brush pie crust with an egg wash and sprinkle with Turbinado sugar, if desired. Place pie on a baking sheet on the lowest rack of the oven. Bake for 20-25 minutes, then reduce heat to 375 degrees F and continue to bake until the crust is a deep golden brown and the filling juices are bubbling throughout, about 30-35 minutes longer.

6. Remove pie from oven and let cool completely on a wire rack, about 2-3 hours (if you can wait that long). Serve slightly warm or at room temperature. We enjoyed ours with Crank and Boom's Bourbon Honey ice cream.

Related Recipe:
Sour Cherry Pie

Monday, July 14, 2014

Curtains for NPR Kitchen Window

I came back from the woods to the sad news that NPR's Kitchen Window had folded. The blog, which was edited by Bonny Wolf and featured weekly stories and related recipes, was not only a great writing outlet for me, but it was something I looked forward to every week. With its illuminating pieces by respected food writers on a single theme, highlighting a specific ingredient, or exploring traditional foodways, it was a trusted source of great food writing and great recipes. I'm going to miss it (though I'm glad to still be able to work with Bonny via her excellent site, American Food Roots). 
Fig-Pistachio Tarte Tatin from The Pies of Late Summer

In celebration and a bit of mourning over the end of Kitchen Window, here's a little round-up of some of the stories and photos I did for them. Don't stop there though--the Kitchen Window archive remains alive, and there you can find an examination on sorghum's move into the mainstream, a collection of recipes from Tasmania, a meditation on a meal celebrating early African-American cookbook authors, and much more. I hope it remains up in perpetuity.

Beignets from Fat Tuesday: The Many Different Doughnuts of Mardi Gras

Speculoos Icebox Pie from Belgian Sweets Not Just for 'Sinterklaas'

Friday, June 27, 2014

Apple Slump (or Fruitlands?)

I'm now out of the woods and catching up on posts and pretty much everything else in my (digital) life. I have a number of film shots of baked goods to share from the spring and am excited about continuing to do more. For now, though, I'll start here with a Rhode Island Apple Slump.

As I mentioned earlier, this NELP, my friend Becky and I co-led the "Transcendental Kitchen Society," a 5-class workshop exploring transcendental ideas with a feminist lens, and examining the intersection between creative space and domestic space/daily work and intellectual work (read some words from Becky on the class and other feminist pursuits at NELP here).

At all of our meetings, we engaged in some type of creative domestic work while discussing readings and ideas. For this particular class, in which we talked about Louisa May Alcott's Transcendental Wild Oats, a parody of her father Bronson Alcott's highly idealistic cooperative farm, Fruitlands, we made an Apple Slump.

The connection between the text and the dessert appears in the final sentence of the story. Sister Hope--the analog for Mrs. Alcott and female protagonist who ends up taking on most of the domestic work of the commune while the men spend time "thinking"-- acknowledges the failure of the Fruitlands and wittily comments,  "Don't you think Apple Slump would be a better name for it, dear?"

A fruit slump, cousin to a pandowdy and British steamed pudding, consists of fruit simmered in a skillet, which is then topped with biscuits/dumpling dough and cooked until the dough is baked through. It's then inverted, with the fruit being spooned over the biscuits-- a cooked shortcake, of sorts (for more on slumps, grunts and pandowdys, see this New York Times article from last year).

This particular recipe comes from Becky's 1947 edition of The United States Regional Cook Book edited by Ruth Berolzheimer. As many recipes of the era, the directions are not especially detailed or proscriptive--I added in a few details here, but it is meant to be approximate-- there's not much danger of failure. The apple slump's deliciousness exists in that tension between soft and doughy biscuits and the dark and rich caramelized apples.

Rhode Island Apple Slump
Adapted from The United States Regional Cook Book c. 1947

Makes 8-10 servings

For the apple filling:
3 pints apples, peeled and chopped into slices
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup water
2 teaspoons cinnamon

For the baking powder biscuits:
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cold
3/4 cup whole milk

1 cup heavy cream (optional)

1. In a 9-inch cast iron skillet over medium-low heat, simmer apple slices, brown sugar, water, and cinnamon until liquid is reduced and apples begin to soften. 

2. Meanwhile, prepare the biscuits. In a medium sized bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. Cut in the cold butter, until mixture is the consistency of cornmeal and peas, then pour in the milk and bring dough together into a ball. Roll dough out onto a floured surface about 1/2-inch thick and cut into circles with a biscuit cutter or jar top.

3. Once apples are soft, place cut biscuits over the dough, cover skillet, and cook over medium-low heat until biscuits are baked through but still soft and apples are completely cooked and caramelized, approximately 20-25 minutes.

4. Remove biscuits from skillet and spoon caramelized apples over top. Serve with cream and enjoy warm. We warmed the cream in the skillet after the apples had been scooped out, so that it took on some of the caramelized flavor. We then drizzled it over everything.

While the slump cooked, we also created a "dance" composed of actions from experimental recipes the workshop the students wrote for an assignment. Rachel Pernick's wonderful graphic representation of that dance is pictured above.

Related recipes:
Apple Pie with Salted Caramel Glaze
Apple-Raspberry Pandowdy
Peach-Blackberry Cobbler
Surry County Peach Sonker with Dip

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

A Newer Wilderness: Another Analog Spring

It's time once again for my annual reverse migration to the woods of New Hampshire, where I teach at the University of Michigan's New England Literature Program, affectionately known as NELP (see past posts from/about it here). There 40 students and 13 staff members (along with a couple of dogs) take to the northern wilds to read Thoreau and Emerson, Dickinson and Frost, and modern New England authors, write in journals, and climb mountains in an immersive experimental study of literature and creative writing and New England culture, history, and regionalism. 

As part of this process, we also relinquish our cell phones, computers, recorded music, internet and as a new experiment this year, digital cameras, so as to be more present in our work and the creative community at camp. 

Last year's analog blogging (anablogging?) during this time went so well, thanks largely to my friends Morgan and Elizabeth, that I'm going to do it again, this year hopefully with more frequency. For the next two months, I'll compose Nothing in the House posts long-hand or typed on a typewriter, taking film photos (hopefully developed at camp, as we have a darkroom!), and send them to Morgan who will scan and post them on the blog. I may also solicit contributions from a few guest bloggers. 

This year marks my 5th year as a teacher at NELP, and 6th including my time as a student, which means that when June 22nd rolls around, I'll have spent a year of my life in these woods. Along with analog postings involving baking of bread and pies in our industrial bakery, I'm excited about leading a Transcendental Diner Society with my friend Becky (more on that soon), working on my tree and spring ephemeral identification, writing some songs with my friend Chris, re-learning how to develop film, and forever working on finding that important pedagogical balance between nurture and rigor--they really go hand in hand, yes? 

Thanks for indulging this analog-to-digital experiment once again. Wishing you a lovely, inspiring spring. For now, a favorite Emily Dickinson poem, and until soon in pen and ink.

Had I not seen the Sun
I could have borne the shade
But Light a newer Wilderness
My Wilderness has made --