Sunday, July 21, 2013

Eating Our Words: A Progressive Dinner

Apple Cider Doughnuts for a Progressive Dinner

As I previously mentioned, this spring at NELP I taught a Food Writing Society to a wonderful group of five talented women. The final project of the society was to create a culminating event that would allow us to share our work with the rest of the community. We wanted to convey the principles of our class-- that food is a language and that exploring the foods of our required authors (Thoreau and his beans and bread, Sarah Orne Jewett and the pies in The Country of the Pointed Firs, Wallace Steven's "Study of Two Pears," etc.), informs our reading of the text as well as our "reading" of the food. We also wanted to communicate our belief that food is an important foundation for intellectual thought and writing, and can be a symbol for relationships, identity, history, and culture. At NELP and in many of the communities that we inhabit, food is the nexus of social life.

Hand Drawn Map for Progressive Dinner
Menu for Literary Progressive Dinner
With these goals in mind, we collaboratively developed a progressive dinner, "Eating Our Words," that would allow us to recreate and share the foods of our authors in different settings around Camp Kabeyun. We started with chowders, beans, and bread in the dining hall, and via a map, lead everyone on a self-guided eating tour. 

NELP Eats Donuts on the Dock

Homemade Apple Cider Donuts at NELP | Nothing in the House

There were stops at the herb garden for a sampling Alymer's elixirs, from the Nathaniel Hawthorne story "The Birthmark," a recreation of Phoebe's kitchen from Carolyn Chute's novel Merry Men, a half-bushel of cornmeal-- weekly rations for four slaves, which Frederick Douglass writes of in his Narrative, and pickles on the dock as per the Lloyd S. Barrington poem, also from Merry Men. It all culminated in the Bowden/NELP family reunion, inspired by Country of the Pointed Firs, with pies and Emily Dickinson's coconut cake, and a reading of the student's work.

Eating Donuts on the Dock on Lake Winnepesaukee at Camp Kabeyun

Merry Men Pickle Barrel at NELP

Though we had to change some plans due to windy and rainy weather--we had wanted to have our "doughnut island" on the floating dock (mostly to see who would swim for a doughnut) and our Family Reunion in the meadow-- the dinner was wonderful and left me inspired and full. I think we met our goals of prompting others to consider the importance of food in literature and our own lives.

Typed Quote from Carolyn Chute's Merry Men
I was so impressed and thankful by the work of the society members-- Abby, Ariella, Brooke, Emily, and Madalyn. They put in a lot of time and hard work in the kitchen and the typewriter to pull it all off. In the words of Sarah Orne Jewett, "The feast was a noble feast," with "an elegant ingenuity displayed in the form of pies, which delighted my heart."
 Typed Quote from The Country of the Pointed Firs

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Cheap Tart Bakery's Dinah Grossman on Rhubarb

Diced Rhubarb in Bowl with Sugar and Zest

When I embarked on my Chicago Pie Tour back in March, one pie slinger I sadly missed is the suggestively named Cheap Tart Bakery. Owned and operated by pastry chef Dinah Grossman, Cheap Tart offers up sweet and savory pies, galettes and tarts, hand pies and pie pops, all made-to-order with seasonal, local ingredients and available for delivery within Chicago's city limits. For all you Windy City dwellers, that means you could have fresh Ginger Cream Pie, Apple Tarte Tatin, or Maple Pecan Pie Pops (and much more) appear on your doorstep in 48 hours.

Though I didn't get to make an order when I was there, Dinah has written up a lovely little post about her love of rhubarb which developed while she was growing up in rural Maine. Then, she shares her recipe for a beautiful Rhubarb Tart.

Cheap Tart Bakery's Rhubarb Tart
"Before starting my pie business, I didn’t give much thought to why pie was the thing I always chose to bake. I liked to eat it, of course, and I enjoyed the tactile elements--rolling out the crust, with its pale flecks of butter showing through, slicing ripe peaches, squeezing the pits from juicy tart cherries. But perhaps more that those things I found it comforting to have a pie nearby. It wasn’t so much that pie reminded me of someone in particular (I do not come from a long line of pie makers), but through its ingredients, a pie connected me to a sense of place. I just felt better with on around.
I grew up in rural Maine, surrounded by acres of woods, fields, and orchards. In our family we mapped much of that land by referring to perennial edible landmarks--the blackberry patch, a particular apple tree, or the place where the rhubarb reappeared every spring. I would keep a watchful eye on these particular locations, making sure I knew when the blackberries or apples were almost ready so I never missed them at their peak. Often, impatient for the fruit to ripen, I would sample a berry or apple too soon, the intensely sour bite of the juice becoming, over the years, as welcome a taste as the mellow sweetness that followed a couple of weeks later. To this day I prefer fruits with a pronounced acidity, which explains my affinity for that tartest of pie ingredients: rhubarb.

Of all the edibles whose progress I monitored, rhubarb could be counted on to appear first and was ready to be harvested long before anything else. It was also plentiful, the long stalks and elephantine leaves growing at a pace even our steady pie baking couldn’t match. During rhubarb season a pie was almost always on the kitchen table. And not just at our house. For many of our neighbors, too, a rhubarb pie became as ubiquitous as the salt and pepper shakers on the counter. When only a slice remained in the Pyrex plate, someone inevitably walked outside and pulled another armful of stalks from the ground to be baked into a replacement.

Cheap Tart Bakery's Rhubarb Tart

Aside from pie, I enjoyed rhubarb best pulled straight from the ground, the end dipped in a small bowl of dark brown sugar. As kids, my ordinarily health-conscious mother would let us take our treat outside, where a stalk of rhubarb dipped then chewed and sucked on, became an activity as well as a snack. My favorite spot to sit and chew was inside a horseshoe of lilac bushes growing around an enormous rock in our yard. Surrounded by the heady smell of those pale purple flowers, the sweet and sour rhubarb would take on another taste altogether.

Like all favorite foods my love for rhubarb is inextricably connected to these memories. It is impossible to make a rhubarb pie without also remembering the cold, day-old slices eaten in my neighbor’s kitchen, how somehow the sweet-tart filling and crisp edges of crust tasted better a day after the pie was made. I can’t rinse a haul of farmers market rhubarb without also remembering the feeling of walking barefoot through the tall, wet lawn by our barn to pull up the shiny stalks, the squeak and snap as each came away from the plant. It’s been more than ten years since I lived near that patch, but as I bake my way through a third year of business I’m reminded of why I chose this pastry among all others to guide me. In a third floor Chicago apartment with no balcony or back yard maybe I can’t grow my own fruit, but I can mark the seasons by making pies from rhubarb, then strawberries, then peaches. If I can’t ground myself through the ground, I’ll do it with pie."

Post and photos by Dinah Grossman of Chicago's Cheap Tart Bakery. Find Cheap Tart online and on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Cheap Tart Bakery's Rhubarb Tart Slice

Rhubarb Tart
From Dinah Grossman of Cheap Tart Bakery

For crust:
8 Tblsp. unsalted butter, cold, cut in the 1/2'' cubes
1 1/3 c. + 4 tsp. pastry flour
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1 Tblsp. granulated sugar
1 Tblsp. apple cider vinegar
1 c. ice water

For the filling:
4 c. rhubarb, cut into 1/2'' chunks
2/3 c. + 1 Tblsp. granulated sugar
Pinch kosher salt
4 Tblsp. tapioca powder
1/4 orange zest
2 Tblsp. fresh squeezed orange juice (about half an orange)
1 Tblsp. all-purpose flour
1 Tblsp. whole milk or cream for brushing

For crust:
1. In a bowl of a food processor combine the flour, salt, sugar, and butter. Pulse until the butter is broken down to the size of small peas.

2. Add the cider vinegar to the ice water and stir. Add 3 Tblsp. of the water/cider mixture to the food processor and pulse to moisten the flour mixture. If the mixture still looks dry and powdery, add more water a teaspoon at a time. The dough should just hold together when you squeeze a small amount in your hand, but it should not be sticky and should not form a ball in the food processor. When the mixture looks crumbly and slightly darker in color, it's done.

3. Dump the crumbs into a big mixing bowl and pack them into a rough ball. Wrap the ball in plastic wrap and use the plastic to help you flatten the dough into a disk. Refrigerate at least 1 hour, preferably overnight.

For filling and assembly:
1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl except 1 Tblsp. of the sugar an flour. When the rhubarb pieces are coated in the tapioca/sugar mixture, set aside.

2. Toll the pie crust into a circle about 1/8'' thick. The crust should hang over the edges of the pie pan by about an inch and a half all the way around. Place the crust in the pie pan, and sprinkle the Tblsp. of flour and 2 tsp. of sugar on the bottom.

3. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Add the rhubarb mixture to the crust, mounding the filling slightly in the center. Starting with the edge of the crust farthest from you, fold the edge over the filling, then rotate the pan slightly and fold the crust over again, repeating all the way around. The crust will overlap at each fold. Brush the crust with the milk or cream, and sprinkle the remaining teaspoon of sugar over the top.

4. Bake at 400 for 25 minutes with the oven rack on the bottom rung. Reduce oven temperature to 375 and bake an additional 20-25 minutes (moving the tart to the middle rack of the oven), or until the crust is a deep golden brown and the juices are bubbling. Cool completely before slicing.

Related recipes:
Four and Twenty Blackbirds' Rhubarb Pie
Rhubarb Meringue Tart with a Pecan Shortbread Crust
Simple Rhubarb Tart

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Orange Creamsicle Pie

Orange Creamsicle Pie

Orange and cream--one of the best summer flavor combinations out there. When I was little, I used to enjoy it by way of a Dairy Queen Orange Mr. Misty Float-- an "orange" slushy with a scoop of vanilla soft serve; and of course, in the form of a Creamsicle. Not to be confused with the Dreamsicle, with its ice milk center, the more rich Creamsicle boasts a vanilla ice cream middle, coated with orange-flavored ice. 

Though the Creamsicle is an emblematic hot weather treat and National Creamsicle Day is apparently celebrated on August 14th, I made this pie version back in April, before I went away to the woods. There at the start of spring, I was still working through the box of Florida citrus I'd bought from a local school fundraiser, and needed to make a pie for my CSA members. I found this take on the Creamsicle, from Joy the Baker and adapted it only slightly. It's essentially an orange 'n' cream icebox pie and is just as refreshing at its popsicle counterpart. I think one member even put it in the freezer for a bit--the only thing missing was the popsicle stick.

Orange Creamsicle Pie

Orange Creamsicle Pie
Adapted from Joy the Baker

For crust:
1 1/2 c. graham cracker crumbs
5 Tblsp. unsalted butter
1 Tblsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt

For filling:
3 1/2 Tblsp. cornstarch
1 c. sugar
1 Tblsp. orange zest
1/2 c. fresh squeezed orange juice
3 large egg yolks
1 c. milk
1 c. sour cream
1/4 c. unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1 c. heavy whipping cream (for whipped cream top)
Confectioner's sugar, to taste

For crust:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Pour graham cracker crumbs in a bowl and add melted butter, sugar, and salt until well mixed. 

2. Pat the buttery crumbs into a 9-inch pie pan, pressing mixture into the bottom and sides to form a pie crust. Place in oven and bake until crust is lightly browned, about 10-12 minutes. Place on a cooling rack and let cool to room temperature before adding the filling.

For filling:
1. Combine cornstarch, sugar, orange juice, zest, egg yolks, and milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Cook until thick, stirring constantly.

2. Add the chunks of butter and stir until they are completely melted. Let cool for 15 minutes, then add the sour cream, stirring to incorporate. Pour filling into the cooled graham cracker crust and place plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the pie. Place in the fridge and chill for at least 3 hours. 

3. Just before serving, whip the whipped cream in a small metal bowl with a few tablespoons of confectioner's sugar, if desired. Spoon on top of the pie, and serve still chilled.

Orange Creamsicle Pie

Related recipes:

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Happy 4th of Pie!

4th of July Illustration by Elizabeth Graeber

Happy 4th of Pie/July! I'm out of the woods and back in our nation's capital and (somewhat begrudgingly) back on the intewebs! I have a lot to write about here-- progressive literary dinners, doughnut islands, students' pie poems, and father/daughter-made rhubarb custard pie at a Maine blueberry farm. But today, I think I'm going to make some sort of icebox treat, go to a few cookouts, share some favorite 4th of July pies past, and pass on the word that Elizabeth and I are running a little sale on the Pie Almanac, offering free shipping anywhere in the U.S. today! Just use the code HAPPY4TH at the checkout over at her Etsy shop.

And if you're still looking for the perfect 4th of July recipe, here's a few favorites from Independence Days past...

Berry Tartlets, seasonal and patriotic (and July's feature in the Pie Almanac)!
~ Blueberry Icebox Pie, good for a hot day like today (or try it with strawberries)
~ Lime & Rasperry Italian Meringue Pie, fresh fruit AND meringue--together at last!
~ Sour Cherry Pie, if you can get yer paws on those ephemeral tart cherries
~ Gooseberry Apricot Pie, last year's selection
~ And a Surry County Peach Sonker with Dip, because the New York Times is on it

Hope your day is fun and delicious! And if you make any pies, these or otherwise, I'd love to see 'em...

Pie: A Hand Drawn Almanac by Emily Hilliard, Illustrated by Elizabeth Graeber

Illustrations by Elizabeth Graeber