Friday, March 30, 2012

Dale's Spinach and Feta Fried Pies!


My friend Dale is a wonder. Though we've only hung out on two separate weekend adventures (the first being this West Virginia birthday party), I knew we'd hit it off before we ever met, as I had heard a lot about her and her various creative talents from my friend Lora. Dale's an artist and baker, cook and maker who anthologizes it all in inspiring ways on her blog here.  She's also hilarious and super fun (I could talk about our leopard print onesie girl gang dance party, but I'll leave that for another time).

Back in January, I went down to Knoxville, Tennessee where Dale lives were her beau Shawn. On Saturday morning, Dale treated us to some of her incredible, and I mean INCREDIBLE fried pies--this breakfast version included bacon, cheddar, apples, and walnuts. Wow. Good thing I started eating meat again. 

When I got back home, I asked Dale if she would be interested in doing a post for the pie blog. She happily obliged....

I've been making a lot of fried pies recently.  I won't tell you officially why, but I'll give you a hint. It's been fun coming up with sweet and savory variations on the traditional fried pie.  A few I've made recently: sweet potato marshmallow, mushroom rosemary, caramelized banana, cheesy walnut apple bacon, brie & dried cherry and most recently, spinach and feta.  I've been keeping my pie making close to the vest, at least on this blog, but when my friend Emily asked me to do a post for this blog, I knew it was time to come out of the pie-frying closet. 

I've always loved spanakopita, the Greek pastry made with spinach, feta, egg and phyllo dough, and thought a similar filling would be lovely in a buttery pie crust.  SURPRISE!  I was right.  Below is the recipe for these tasty pastries.

Spinach and Feta Fried Pies

For Crust:
  • 1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 8 Tbs. (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
  • 3 Tbs. very cold water
To make the dough by hand, in a large bowl, stir together the flour, sugar and salt. Using a pastry cutter or 2 knives, cut the butter into the flour mixture until the texture resembles coarse cornmeal, with butter pieces no larger than small peas. Add the water and mix with a fork just until the dough pulls together.

To make the dough in a stand mixer, fit the mixer with the flat beater, and stir together the flour, sugar and salt in the mixer bowl. Add the butter and toss with a fork to coat with the flour mixture. Mix on medium-low speed until the texture resembles coarse cornmeal, with the butter pieces no larger than small peas. Add the water and mix on low speed just until the dough pulls together.

Transfer the dough to a work surface, pat into a ball and flatten into a disk. Lightly flour the work surface, then in sections, roll out until it's 1/8 inch thick or less and use a 3 or 4 inch circle biscuit cutter to create dough circles.

For Spinach Feta Filling:
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 small onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • about 4 cups fresh spinach, rinsed and chopped
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Saute onion and garlic until soft and lightly browned. Stir in spinach and continue to saute until spinach is limp, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

In a medium bowl, mix together eggs and feta. Stir in spinach mixture. 

To Assemble and Fry Pies:
Spoon about 1 tablespoon of filling into center of dough circles. Fold and crimp closed with a fork.  
Heat a deep fryer or a deep pot halfway filled with oil to 350 degrees F. Carefully add the pies to the oil, 1 at a time, and fry until golden brown, turning the pies as necessary for even browning, about 5 to 8 minutes.

Big thanks to Dale for sharing her recipe for spinach and feta fried pies with us--I will definitely be whipping these up sometime very soon. For more of Dale's recipes, check out the Domesticity page on her blog, and keep up with all of her creative projects here.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Exotic Pies: Try Them You Will Like Them


My friend Jocelyn told me about this folk art painting, Acupuncture Pitchfork Style, by John William "Uncle Jack" Dey, which hangs in the Smithsonian American Art Museum (click here for a larger image of the piece). It depicts a bizarre scene where crows or blackbirds (four and twenty, perhaps?) hover over an attempted pie theft by kite! A woman in a blue dress, evidently the vendor of these "exotic pies" ("try them you will like them"), uses a pitchfork to defend her threatened pie mixes which include raisin rum peach, French apple, and mince with rum. Yum.

Uncle Jack was born in Phoebus, Virginia in 1912, and painted this work with model airplane enamel on wood in 1974. The inspiration for the piece apparently came from memories of Maine, where Dey worked as a trapper and logger, combined with his vast imagination.

The painting reminds me of this photograph of Bill Carter Mug Baker's weird pie shack as well as a time when I stopped for one of "Priscilla's pies" at a house on the side of the road in Maine. I didn't meet Priscilla, (only her husband), but I imagine she looked a little like the woman in a blue dress, and might have even poked you with a pitchfork if you attempted to steal her desserts. I must admit, I have not yet visited Uncle Dey's painting at the art museum, but perhaps I'll make a pilgrimage to view this exotic pie scene this weekend.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

D.C. Pi(e) Day 2012!

Berry pie and Niva & Patrick's pumpeapple!

This was my fourth year in a row celebrating Pi(e) Day. The past two years we've had celebrations on the Pie-dmont of North Carolina-- last year it was at Johnny's in Carrboro and the year before it was a loverly spring celebration at Celebrity Dairy in Siler City, complete with adorable baby goats.

I knew I wanted to have an event again this year, as a benefit for a D.C. organization, so I pitched it to the diverse and vibrant community-powered radio station, Radio CPR (where, full disclosure, I host a bi-weekly traditional/experimental show), and all the DJs and volunteers were down to bake, DJ, promote, and most importantly, eat.

Amy with her "crack" pie

Front: my pecan sorghum pie & Athena's chocolate-chestnut torte, Back: pecan pie & berry pie

We got a TON of press about the event. It was posted on various pages of the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, DCist, fashion site Refinery29, superb lifestyle blog Panda Head, and ReadySetDC even came over and did a little pre-Pi(e) Day interview with me while I baked. There was, in fact, so much press I started to get worried about having enough pie.

Selina's avocado pie and my pear frangipane tart

Niva and Patrick--proud parents of the pumpeapple!

In the end we had over 25 pies, both sweet and savory, ranging from a grapefruit-ginger meringue to bacon-onion, "crack" pie to vegan tamale, and classic key lime to pineapple-madadamia-coconut. The pie spread even boasted a pumpeapple--a spin-off on the cherpumple, which is a pumpkin pie baked inside of a yellow cake, peach pie baked inside of a white cake, and an apple pie inside of a spice cake, all stacked and frosted together as one giant dessert. Woah! I made a banana cream pie with a peanut crust and salty bourbon caramel (recipe, and it's a damn fine one, coming soon), a pear frangipane tart, two gorgonzola-pear and balsamic honey galettes, and a last-minute pecan sorghum pie.

Pie eaters!

As it turned out, my suspicions were somewhat correct-- in about an hour or so, we had welcomed over 125 people and, despite attempts at a one-slice-at-a-time rule, pretty much every pie plate had been essentially licked clean. More like a Pi(e) Power Hour than a Pi(e) Day. Most everyone I saw was smiling though, if not full of pie, then at least tempted by a bite or two.

After the pie had all but disappeared, we struck up some fiddle tunes for the Pi(e) Walk (walked in circumference 2pi(r), with the prize of a homemade "crack" pie to take home. When the winner was announced, though, she generously announced to the other participants and remaining attendees that she would slice it up and share with everyone.

Malaka selling copies of The Runcible Spoon, a rad D.C. food zine

Fellow Tart Kari with her ginger-grapefruit meringue tart

By the end of the evening, we had raised almost 700 (yes, 700!!) much needed dollars for Radio CPR! It was a lovely community gathering with friendly faces familiar and new on a beauuutiful spring day. We were also part of a network of Pi(e) Day celebrations across the country, in Greensboro, Alabama; Durham, Chapel Hill & Burnsville, North Carolina; and Austin, Texas, who all were celebrating pie, community, and nerdy mathematics for good causes, even if it was just getting together with friends and making some new ones.

You can see more pictures from the event via our rad photographer Jen Mizgata here, and also from TBD, who photographed the event here. They have some great ones of our Pi(e) Walk, a cross section of the pumpeapple, and a hilarious snapshot of folks entering the PEZ.

Me cutting my pecan sorghum pie

Jenn with her bacon onion tart

I'd like to extend a very special thanks to our Pi(e) Day 2012 Baking Team of Kari, Layne, Athena, Peter, Brenda, Selina, Jenn, Yael, Luna, Bent, Bradley, Amy, Betsy, Niva & Patrick. Special thanks also to photographer Jen, DJs Layne, Peter, Selina & Bent, musician Brent, other volunteers Bobbie, Don, Darby, St. Stephen's church for generously providing us with a space, and Amanda for being an amazing co-organizer. And thanks to everyone who came and ate (or tried to) and supported community radio in our nation's capital. Only 351 days until Pi(e) Day 2013!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Black Walnut Pie

Just a warning--there's a lot going on in this post. I want to talk about sorghum. I want to talk about the black walnut pie with sorghum. And I want to tell you about the time I made a black walnut pie with sorghum, brought it to a music party at a Virginia farmhouse, and there met one of my musical heroes. I also will be combining both digital and film pictures. There's a lot going on.

I had been trying to get my hands on some sorghum syrup, and found some at Scratch Bakery in Durham during a visit to North Carolina last month. Sorghum syrup is made by grinding the tall sorghum grass or cane, which is grown in the southern Appalachian mountains. It was brought to the southern United States in 1853 from Africa, and became an important locally-produced sweetener. A southern recipe from the 1800s that calls for molasses probably meant sorghum syrup, as it was readily available and affordable for farm and mountain families.

The sorghum I got at Scratch came from Spring Valley Sorghum Mill, an old order Mennonite farm in Scottsville, Kentucky. It is a smooth deep amber color with a flavor less biter and more delicate than molasses. It also tastes great on biscuits.

In continuation of my efforts to bake every pie in Nancie McDermott's Southern Pies, I found her recipe for black walnut pie which calls for sorghum. It makes sense that black walnuts are paired with sorghum here, as black walnut is a tree native to the United States, particularly in Appalachia and the Midwest. Because of the intensive labor of cracking black walnut shells, recipes containing black walnuts nearly went completely out of favor. Now shelled walnuts are readily available, though at my local co-op, a sign hangs above the bulk bin, "STOP! Black walnuts are a particular flavor. DO NOT get them if you do not want them!" It's true, black walnuts, especially raw, are an unusual taste, but baked and paired with sorghum and brown sugar, they make for a rich and hearty heirloom pie.

Black Walnut Pie
adapted from Nancie McDermott's Southern Pies 

Nothing-in-the-House pie crust recipe, halved
3 eggs, beaten
1/2  c. to 3/4 c. packed brown sugar, light or dark
1 c. sorghum (can also use molasses)
1/2 c. (one stick) melted butter
1 tsp. vanilla extract (I used vanilla-bourbon extract)
1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 c. (6 oz.) chopped black walnuts

1. Prepare 1/2 Nothing-in-the-House pie crust as per the directions. Chill for 1 hour. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Roll out pie crust and fit into greased and floured 9-inch pie pan. Flute crust decoratively. Line crust with parchment paper and fill with dried beans or pie weights. Bake for 10 minutes. Take crust from oven and remove parchment paper and pie weights. Turn oven temperature up to 400 degrees F.
2. With a whisk, mix eggs and sugar in a medium bowl until well combined. Add sorghum, butter, vanilla, and salt and stir until filling is thick and smooth. Add black walnuts and mix until well incorporated. Pour filing into the partially baked pie crust.
3. Place pie in the middle shelf of the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake for 45-55 minutes more or until filling puffs slightly and the center wiggles only slightly when nudged.
4. Place pie on cooling rack and let cool to room temperature. Serve with whipped cream beaten with sugar and 1/2 tsp. orange zest.

I made this pie on a Saturday afternoon, packed it in my Amish pie carrying basket, and brought it to a music party out at a our friend Hannah's farmhouse outside of Harrisonburg, Virginia. As folks started unpacking fiddles and banjos, I unpacked the pie which drew the attention of a woman who had been flatfooting on the other side of the room. As she introduced herself, I suddenly realized that I was shaking the hand of Rebby Sharp, one of my musical heroes.

I was introduced to Rebby's music by my friend Alex when she played her solo album, In One Mouth and Out The Other for me. It is weird and wonderful and combines traditional music with experimental leanings, which describes some of my favorite kind of music. With a little googling, I found that Rebby had also put out a 7'' with another musical hero, Michael Hurley, played in the Richmond band Orthotonics, and then moved to the Blue Ridge Mountains to learn old-time fiddle. A woman after my own heart.

I realized we had some mutual friends through old-time music, so I contacted Rebby via facebook back in December, asking if she would be interested in working with me on a project about her music. She responded and said she was game and to get back in touch in the new year. I was super excited to finally meet her in person, at a music party in a Virginia farmhouse. We talked about weird music, old-time music, Michael Hurley, and pie, and then played some tunes along with a whole slew of others in the "honky-tonk room". Rebby is smart, zany, hilarious and had more energy than all of us 20-somethings at the party combined. So that is how I came to be in a photo with black walnut pie and Rebby Sharp-- a funny experience to have one of your musical role models turn into a friend.

It wasn't just Rebby and I who liked the pie. Here's Hannah, our gracious host (and a mean fiddle and banjo player), entering the black walnut PEZ. Thanks to Hannah for having us, hosting a raucous Saturday night party, and unknowingly providing the opportunity to share pie with a musical favorite.

Friday, March 23, 2012

5th Annual Portland Thanksgiving in March!

So I know it's March and 81 degrees here in D.C., but before we slip too far into warm weather and the end of storage crop season, I first want to show you some pics and share some recipes from last year's Thanksgiving! There was a bit of a stall in getting the photos, but it was well worth the wait, as they were taken by my talented photographer friend Maria (MAV) of 3191 and More & Co.

Though I was not able to make it to Maine for the 2010 Thanksgiving, last year marked my 5th year spending Turkey Day with the Portland crew. It's always the best of times, with music playing, record shopping, and food making, and this year my friend Jamie (of Nothing-in-the-House plate lickers club fame), was in on the fun.

I assembled the crust in Maria's beautiful kitchen on Wednesday, while she prepped the cookie tray. I love being in the kitchen with and working alongside this lady (remember the apple galette I made last time I was visiting?). On Thursday morning, after a midnight trip to the 24-hour L.L. Bean headquarters the night before, Jamie and I made the pies. We settled on a drunken pumpkin bourbon pie with marscapone cream (adapted from Tartlette) and a Maine blueberry-cranberry pie (with frozen Maine blueberries Maria had picked in the summer, and fresh Maine cranberries). The recipe for the drunken pumpkin bourbon pie is as follows.

Drunken Pumpkin Bourbon Pie with Mascarpone Cream
Adapted from Tartlette 

Ingredients for pie:
Nothing-in-the-House pie crust recipe, halved
2 c. canned pumpkin purée (for why I often use canned pumpkin instead of fresh, read here)
3 eggs
1/2 c. light brown sugar
1 c. heavy cream
2 Tblsp. bourbon
1 Tblsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. sea salt
2 Tbslp. molasses
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp. cloves
1/4 tsp. nutmeg

Ingredients for mascarpone cream:
4 oz. marscapone
1/4 c. honey
1/2 cup heavy cream, whipped until soft peaks form
Roasted pumpkin seeds (for garnish, optional)

Directions for pie:
1. Prepare Nothing-in-the-House pie crust. Chill dough for at least one hour. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Then roll out single crust and fit into a greased and floured 9-in. pie pan. Flute crust decoratively (I tried out a braid and I liked it!).
2. Place pumpkin purée in a large bowl. Add eggs and brown sugar and mix with a Kitchen Aid or handheld mixer. Add remaining ingredients and blend until mixture if fully combined and fluffy. Pour filling into pie crust and place in oven. Bake for 15 minutes at 375, then reduce heat to 325 and bake for 45 minutes or until filling only slightly wiggles in the center when nudged. Let cool and keep at room temperature or chill in the refrigerator if making ahead.

Directions for mascarpone cream:
1. In a medium bowl mix (by hand or with a mixer) together mascarpone and honey. Gently fold in whipped cream. Scoop on top of baked and cooled pie and garnish with roasted pumpkin seeds! Enjoy! 

Dang, this is a great pumpkin pie (you know it's good when it's got molasses, brown sugar AND bourbon!) with a good amount of spice that adds flavor without being too overbearing. I don't think I'll ever make another pumpkin version. For the Maine blueberry-cranberry pie, I essentially followed this recipe, but with the berries instead. 'Twas also quite tasty, and with the tartness of the cranberries, similar to a blueberry-rhubarb pie (one of my favorites), yet seasonally and regionally appropriate.

After dinner and some music playing, we set up our dessert buffet, which featured a cookie tray by Maria, a walnut torte by Robs and Tals, two varieties of chocolate-pecan pie, and various other treats. Afterwards we retired to the living room for more song-singing, joke telling, and an awe-inspiring dance performance by 3-year old Miles. You can see and read more about our Thanksgiving via MAV's blog 3191.

Big thanks to MAV, CDR, RTS, Robert, Talya and Jamie for being awesome hosts and all-around rad people. Looking forward to my 6th Portland Thanksgiving, which is now only 8 months away!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Me in ReadysetDC! or "Butter. Use It"

A few weeks ago I e-mailed creative lifestyle site ReadysetDC, thanking them for posting the Tarts by Tarts' Tart of Gold party and inquiring if they might do the same for our then upcoming Pi(e) Day event (a Pi(e) Day wrap-up coming soon!). I was excited and flattered when editor Jordan Culberson wrote back, asking if I might be interested in doing an interview about my blog and pie baking photo shoot to accompany their Pi(e) Day posting.

I of course agreed and then spent most of my idle moments leading up to the interview wondering what kind of pie to make--shaker lemon? pear tarte tatin? my grandma's lemon meringue?-- let alone what to wear (I almost e-mailed the Hairpin's Jane Feltes for advice on how to look cute but not too cute, tough but not too tough, and cool but not too cool).

But by the time the interview rolled around, I had finally settled on a black walnut pie with sorghum (recipe coming soon, I promise!), it was a sunny Sunday, and I had a lovely conversation in the Dollhouse kitchen with Jordan and photographer Nicole Crowder.

In addition to chats about Nothing-in-the-House and Tarts by Tarts, we talked about traditional pie recipes, the phenomenon of women's food and lifestyle blogs, baking tips, and favorite bakeries in D.C. (and realized there aren't too many. hmm.....) I only wish I had planned in advance so they could have tried some of the finished pie!

You can read our conversation expertly condensed by Jordan and view all of Nicole's beautiful pictures here. Thanks to both Nicole and Jordan for their time, interest, words & photos... the Dollhouse kitchen has never looked so good!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Happy Pi(e) Day!

Today is the day! All across the country (world?), it seems, folks are rolling dough, fluting crusts, and memorizing pi to the 50th decimal point to celebrate International Pi(e) Day 3.14 today! My friends Lora Smith, Ronni Lundy and I set up a little website to connect various Pi(e) Days, which you can find here (image below). We'll be posting documentation from each event--I can't wait to see what the folks in Greensboro, Burnsville, Chapel Hill, Durham, and Austin have whipped up!

Here in D.C. we will be celebrating with a benefit for D.C.'s community-powered radio station, Radio CPR (Find more here and here). Make your way to St. Stephen's church tonight for all-you-can eat pie (first come, first served), live old-time music, Radio CPR DJs DJing, and a Pi(e) Walk where you can win a pie to take home, all with your $5 donation!

 half-demolished pie buffet from Pi(e) Day on the Piedmont 2010

We've been getting a lot of great press about the event (ReadySetDC, Refinery29, Panda Head & the Washington Post, to name a few) and are very excited! Plus it's a beautiful spring day! Come on down ready to eat and bring a fork!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Apple Fried Pies

It's been a few years since my first fried pie making experience. I've eaten fried pies since then--most recently I had a DELICIOUS one filled with bacon, apple, gruyere and walnut, made by my friend Dale in Knoxville. But despite their relative ease in assembly paired with a whole lotta tastiness in a little portable pocket, I haven't dipped any fruit-filled pastry into hot oil since that 2009 Baltimore winter cook-out. 

I knew it was time, though, when Tarts by Tarts was preparing a Southern-inspired menu for our table at the DC Square Dance. Fried pies are iconically Southern, with Texas and Georgia being cited as epicenters in several of the recipes I consulted. They are also a self-contained individual serving (you could share, but I'd want my own), portable (slip it in your pocket and snack when you're not swingin'!), and impressively scrumptious. I mean you take already one of the best desserts in the world and then FRY it?! Wowee.

This time I combined recipes from Ken Haedrich's Pie: 300 Tried and True Recipes for Delicious Homemade Pie and Nancie McDermott's Southern Pies. Both called for a vegetable shortening-based crust, as did many of the other recipes I saw on the interwebs. Homesick Texan calls for lard, which I'm sure is just perfect, but I didn't have any on hand and was baking for customers, so wanted to keep the pies vegetarian. I cringe a little at the use of vegetable shortening in crust, but I was worried about a butter crust holding up and being able to withstand frying temperatures. I have since seen some fried pie recipes that use a butter crust, so I'd like to try that next time.

I also used dried fruit, which many fried pie recipes call for, because it packs a lot of flavor into a small area. This worked well with the apples, and I didn't miss using fresh ones, though I will definitely be making these Homesick Texan fried pies with fresh blueberries come summer.

Apple Fried Pies

For crust:
2 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
1 Tblsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
3/4 c. cold vegetable shortening, cut into pieces
1 egg, beaten
6-8 Tblsp. cold water

For filling:
10 ounces (about 3 cups) dried apple rings
1/2 c. orange juice
3/4 c. granulated sugar
1 Tblsp. fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg

About 2 c. canola oil for frying 

For crust:
1. Add flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to mix. Add the shortening and cut into the flour mixture by pulsing the food processor until  mixture becomes the consistency of cornmeal and peas. 
2. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together egg and 6 Tblsp. of cold water. Slowly drizzle half of the liquid mixture into the food processor, pulsing to combine with flour. Slowly drizzle in the rest of the liquid, stopping when the dough starts to form large clumps. 
3. Once the dough is able to come together, form into a ball and remove from the food processor. Wrap in plastic wrap and let it chill in the fridge for at least one hour.

For filling:
1. Place dried apples in a large bowl. Add 6 cups of cold water. Cover and set aside at room temperature for 4 hours or overnight to allow apples to rehydrate. (I let them sit overnight).
2. Put the soaked apples and water into a large stock pot. Add orange juice, sugar, lemon, cinnamon and nutmeg and stir until combined. Over high heat, bring mixture to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to low to maintain a simmer. Stir occasionally so the mixture does not burn on the bottom. Cook until the mixture becomes a thick syrup and the apples have slightly broken down (this takes about 45 minutes). Remove from heat and mash with a potato masher for a soft and syrupy but still chunky filling. Let cool.

To assemble and fry:
1. Remove pie dough from the fridge and roll out onto a lightly flour-dusted surface about 1/4 inch thick. Using a 5-5 1/2 in circle cutter (I used the top of a large jar), cut circles out of the dough. 
2. Before completely assembling the pies, pour at least 2 cups of canola oil (or 4 inches deep) into a deep and heavy saucepan. Insert a candy thermometer into the oil. Slowly heat on medium-low until the temperature reads 350 degrees F.
3. Place about 2 Tblsp. of the apple filling in the center of each circle (It is better to under-stuff than over-stuff). Moisten the edge of the pastry circle with your finger, then fold over the dough to form a half moon shape. Press the edges together and flute with a fork to seal completely.
4. At this point your oil should be hot enough to fry. When the oil temperature reaches 350 degrees, gently lower one pie at a time into the heated oil and cook until golden brown (about 2 minutes per side).  Using a slotted spatula, transfer to a paper-towel lined plate. Repeat with the remaining pies.
5. When all pies are fried, dust them with powdered sugar. Serving them hot and fresh is preferable, but they also taste great at room temperature and will keep for a day or two. 

There's something so good and so classic about these pies that it makes them hard to write about as the pertinent adjectives feel trite or overwrought. I'd also say that unlike other fried foods, these pies still taste great after a day or two, at room temperature or re-heated in the oven. I also ended up using the leftover filling with some leftover pie crust and baking a few extra hand pies a few days later. I still have some filling a-chilling in the fridge and was thinking of stuffing them into doughnuts...?

And don't be intimidated by the frying process (I definitely was at first!)--these pies are quite forgiving, and as long as you use a thermometer to keep your oil around 350 degrees F, you should be just fine. 

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Pie & Doughnuts for Woodsmen and You

A few weeks ago, I was scouring the Library of Congress Print & Photograph Online Catalog for work. I was looking for images of western culture and song--mostly cowboys and Texas fiddling and pow-wow drum, but I was having so much fun looking at those old photographs that I decided to put in a few search terms that were of a more personal interest, namely "pie" and "doughnuts" (another baked good favorite). The search yielded exciting results--historical images of a little girl feeding doughnuts to a bear cub, national doughnut queens and pie contests and socials. One group of photos combined these two queries--a collection of images by John Collier from May 1943 of Maine loggers and woodsman on a Spring pulpwood drive on the Brown Company timber holdings.

According to the photos' captions, the woodsmen ate four meals per day, with the two "lunches" at 10am and 2pm served "on location", cafeteria style into individual pie tins. Desserts included "several kinds of cookies, gingerbread, doughnuts, and two kinds of pie." Hmm... that dessert menu sounds familiar... Maybe we should start serving our doughnuts out of barrels too.


In the above picture, "Cookie" the cook's assistant is dishing out pie at the mid-morning lunch near where the men are working. Below, a woodsmen enters the Pie Enjoyment Zone during his mid-afternoon "lunch" by Long Pond. On the menu that day: roast pork and dressing, boiled potatoes, turnips, baked beans, hot cakes, hot biscuits, bread, butter, cookies, apple pie, orange pie, milk, tea, coffee, and water. These men must have been working hard. I also wonder what that orange pie was all about?


Based on the limited knowledge I have of New England foodways, mainly from folklore and literature (I'm thinking of Sarah Orne Jewett's The Country of the Pointed Firs, which is full of both doughnuts and pies!), pie and doughnuts were traditional rural foods, consumed for both dessert and for breakfast. I wonder when and where doughnuts became more of a standard breakfast item than a dessert?

This whole post wasn't just an excuse for me to use the pie blog plug my friend Amy's donut zine release party tonight, but I'll let these Maine woodsmen's pie-and-doughnut pairing serve as one. If you're in DC tonight and want to learn more about and of course, eat some doughnuts (some even filled with pie filling!), make your way over to the Velvet Lounge at 8pm for "Donut Go There" A Zine Release Party. Tarts by Tarts will be contributing some special edition doughnuts to the doughnut buffet, my friend Pete will deliver a west coast doughnut scene report, Amy will be speaking, bands are playing, I'll be performing this little doughnut ditty, and you can get your hands on one of these zines, free with admission. There wont be pie, but who doesn't love doughnuts?

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Swing Your Tartner!

I love square dancing. I actually grew up doing more contra dancing (which I also enjoy) --my parents would take my brother and I to them when we were little, and once we even had one in my dad's studio behind our house. I remember sneaking up to my bedroom to put on a dress so I could "twirl" like the big girls. I have since contra danced in Michigan and Maine, Maryland and Vermont, but when I moved to North Carolina a couple of years ago, I veered more toward square dancing than contra, and when I moved back to DC in June, I was super excited to find a burgeoning square dance here, organized by the DC Square Dance Collective. One year after the first event, the dance has now has turned into quite a phenomenon, as the largest square dance in the country, and a huge all-ages party on a Saturday night.

I can't remember who approached who, but somehow with the organizers we arranged for Tarts by Tarts to sell at the March dance, which happened this past Saturday at St. Stephen's church. And what a dance to pick! It was a completely packed hall, with the Horse Flies playing, Nils Fredland calling, the first anniversary of the DC dance, and 435 people who came out to swing and do-si-do and do (as my friend Jamie calls it) that grand ol' right and left! 

For the occasion, Kari and I decided to dish up some Southern-inspired treats for all the ladies and gents. Here's our March square dance menu:

buttermilk cake doughnuts with cinnamon & sugar
sweet potato doughnuts with molasses glaze
assorted doughnut holes
chocolate chip cookies
salted oat cookies with white chocolate
caramel corn
popcorn with sea-salt, dill, and nutritional yeast (vegan)
apple fried pies
pecan-bourbon pie by the slice with whipped cream
almond flour coconut layer cake by the slice (gluten-free)

I'll be tellin' y'all more about the fried apple pies in a separate post, but I'd like to share the recipe for the pecan-bourbon pies, as it is corn-syrup free but still tastes "traditional"! Once again this comes from Nancie McDermott's Southern Pies. I'm going to have to take a break from her recipes soon or she might think I am stalking her! In any case, here it is...

Pecan-Bourbon Pie

Makes one 9-inch pie

1 lb. (2 c.) dark brown sugar
3 Tblsp. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 c. milk
3 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. bourbon, optional (I used Bulleit)
1 1/2 c. pecan halves

1. Prepare Nothing-in-the-house pie crust recipe as per the instructions. After chilling in the fridge, roll out crust and fit in a 9-inch greased and floured pie pan. Flute edges. 

2. In a medium saucepan, mix sugar and flour well. Cut butter into 4 chunks and add to the saucepan. Place over medium heat and stir constantly to combine butter with the sugar and flour mixture. Once butter is melted and all is well combined, remove from hear and set aside.

3. In a medium bowl, mix milk, eggs, vanilla and bourbon, if using. Stir well with a whisk until evenly combined. While stirring, slowly pour the warm sugar mixture into the milk-liquid mixture. Stir until well combined. Pour the filling into the pie crust and sprinkle the pecans evenly over the top.

4. Place the pie on the bottom rack of the oven and bake 40-50 minutes until the filling puffs (mine puffed quite a bit!) and center is firm and only slightly wiggles when nudged. It should be nicely browned and may develop "cracks". Once done, remove from oven and let cool on a cooling rack for at least 30 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature with a healthy dollop of whipped cream.

We had such fun meeting all the happy dancers...the only drawback was that it was so hard to just watch and not join in on the swingin'! I did manage to sneak out for a dance or two, while Kari graciously woman-ed the table. Thanks to all who came out and snagged some of our cookies & doughnuts, pies & cake, entertained us with stories of wild parties and the salty days in the Coast Guard (you know who you are, dance ranger!), helped us move the table to the front of the hall at the end of the night, and to organizer Bradley Kennedy for helping us set-up the whole occasion! Belles of the ball, all of y'all.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Tarts by Tarts at the DC Square Dance!

How 'bout a little pie to go with that swing? Tarts by Tarts joins in with the biggest party in town--the DC Square Dance--this Saturday evening at St. Stephen's Church (1525 Newton St. NW) in Mt. Pleasant, D.C. The dance kicks off at 8:30pm with the legendary Ithaca, NY band The Horseflies, and New Hampshire caller Nils Fredland. We'll be in the back, dishin' up Southern-inspired treats (fried pies, pecan-bourbon pie, and doughnuts are certainly on the menu) until the dance ends at 11:30pm.

Hope to see y'all room for somethin' sweet for you, and save a dance for us! See the Tarts by Tarts and DC Square Dance collective Facebook invites for more information. Yeehaw!