Every Day Pie

My Cousin Larry is moving to the South of France in just about a month. He’s looking forward to leaving Trump and all his madness behind. He makes a point to say that Trump is not the cause, but a symptom of much larger problem. I don’t disagree.

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Cousin Larry is probably the best family member to do “family.’’ He can be counted on to attend all family simchas, like weddings, baby namings, and bat mitzvahs. And he was key to the Weinberg Family Reunion in London back when I was pregnant with Beatrix. In August, when Lilli and I cat sat in New York City for a week, we met up one afternoon and saw the Calder exhibit at the Whitney. Afterwards, we took Lilli to a candy shop, and then journeyed to Dominque Ansel Bakery during which Cousin Larry and I discovered that our behavior around baked goods — and as it turns out, cruise ship buffets — was shockingly similar. It was as if we were related or something!

Larry’s also the family genealogist. So a few weeks back, when he was visiting Aunt Sydney to review old photos and the family tree he’s painstakingly put together, he made a point afterwards to come to our house for a meal and a nice long afternoon visit.

Because his wife Ashley is allergic to nightshades, I made a point to serve all sorts of things he usually has to avoid, like cauliflower stew and marinated roasted peppers with fresh mozzarella. We also had a farro salad with Castelvetrano olives, walnuts and golden raisins, and roasted broccoli.

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And then we had this lemon pie for dessert. As I’d mentioned back in the fall, I’ve been on a pie kick, and this has become my go-to “I’ve got nothing in the house, but I can make fantastic a pie in no time flat” recipe.  I’ve taken to keeping sweetened condensed milk and graham crackers on hand for this recipe. Lemons are something you should always have on hand. Limes will work too.

The crust is the same as for this peanut butter chocolate pie, and is originally from Food and Wine’s Desserts cookbook. I use it all the time now. I even purchased Kosher-for-Passover Graham crackers and brown sugar for the holiday. Now I can whip up pies on a moment’s notice for unscheduled visitors. Or just because.

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Because every recipe I’ve read for this sort of pie has you add room temperature eggs to the mix, do yourself a favor and take two eggs out of the fridge and place them in warm water as you make the crust. It will make things move along that much faster.

At some point we will make it to France to see Cousin Larry in his chateau. He’s already scoped out the best place to buy pastry for when we come.

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Lemon Pie

For the crust

One plastic package Graham crackers, broken

4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

¼ cup brown sugar

For the filling

1 can sweetened condensed milk

Juice of 2 lemons, plus their zest

2 eggs, room temperature

For the topping

1 cup heavy cream (Or use 2 cups if you want a very dramatic pie.)

2 Tablespoons sugar

Directions

Before you begin making your crust, place 2 eggs in warm water to bring to room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 350F.

In a food processor, pulse the Graham cracker crumbs with the melted butter and light brown sugar until the crumbs are moistened. Press the crumbs evenly into a 9-inch glass or metal pie plate. Bake the crust for about 10 minutes, just until lightly browned. Let cool.

Meanwhile, make the filling. In a large bowl, whisk the lemon juice with the lemon zest, condensed milk and eggs until smooth.

Pour the filling into the cooled crust and bake for about 20 minutes, until set around the edges and slightly jiggly in the center. Let pie cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until you serve it, at least two hours.

Make the whipped cream: Using a mixer, beat the heavy cream until soft peaks form, 2 minutes. Beat in the sugar until stiff peaks form, 1 minute. Mound the whipped cream on the pie.

Serve.

 

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Borei Pie HaGafen

For many American Jews, the Concord grape is synonymous with our traditions and holidays; a local ice cream chain, JP Licks, even sells a Manischewitz grape sorbet during April to celebrate Passover. In fact, when Rich and I were first dating, his Nana Parr – one of the best bakers I’ve ever met; I have the sugar cookie recipe, and will post it, promise – thoughtfully gave me a bottle of the sweet wine for the holidays. Granted, my parents were never big Concord grape wine fans – they’d be much more likely to serve a newly discovered gem from the Golan or perhaps something from Napa – but the flavor reminds me of grape juice, which was always the kiddie option at our table. The irony, of course, is that this Jewish flavor is also the most American taste out there. The grape was developed only a couple of miles from where I’m writing this, about 150 years ago.

All this is to explain why I choose to forgo bringing last year’s perfect plum cake to my parents’ for Rosh Hashana this year, and why I instead brought this Concord grape pie, made with the white grapes from my CSA. Deborah Madison writes, “This pie is truly America’s own, made from our native Concords in the northeast and Midwest, or Muscadines in the south.”

Before you scroll down to the recipe and say, “No thank you, that looks like way too much effort,” hear me out. This recipe doesn’t need to be made all at once. In fact, you’re better off doing it in separate steps. I made the ridiculously simple crust, which requires refrigeration, on Monday night, and then made the pie on Tuesday. And that part about separating the grape skins? Rich came and helped me with that step, and we were done in less than 10 minutes. And the food mill, which I know I’ve made the case for in the past, once again serves its purpose in getting rid of those pesky seeds.

We ate this pie for dessert on the second night of Rosh Hashana, after enjoying a dairy meal which was washed down with our pomegranate cocktails. My mom had the great idea to serve it with a scoop of ice cream and sprinkle berries on top. I doubt our purchase of Friendly’s granola and honey frozen yogurt is going to save the company from bankruptcy, but the flavor worked perfectly for this dish. This pie, as my friend Audrey exclaimed while enjoying the final slice, tastes like the good parts of Passover. Obviously, this recipe won’t work Pesach, let alone you’d be hard pressed to find ripe Concord grapes in April, but you can certainly make this for Succot later this month.

Concord Grape Pie from Deborah Madison’s America: The Vegetarian Table

Makes one 9-inch double crust pie; serves 6 to 8

Pie Crust

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon salt

12 Tablespoons ( ¾ cup ) unsalted chilled butter, cut into small pieces

6 to 7 Tablespoons ice water

Filling

2 ½ pounds purple or white Concord grapes

½ to ¾ cup sugar

4 to 6 Tablespoons all-purpose flour, or 1 Tablespoon quick-cooking tapioca

Grated zest of 1 lemon

1 to 2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice, to taste

1 egg, beaten with 2 Tablespoons heavy cream or milk

Directions

To make the pie crust, stir together the flour and salt in a bowl. If you have a pastry blender, cut in the butter until the mixture forms coarse crumbs. Without a pastry blender, using two knives or your fingers, cut the butter until the mixture forms coarse crumbs. Using a fork, stir in the water one tablespoon at a time, adding only enough for the pastry to hold together when pressed. Gather the dough into a ball and divide into two pieces, one slightly larger than the other. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate.

To make the filling, pluck the grapes off their stems. You should have about four cups. Pinch them out of their skins, putting the insides into a saucepan and the skins into a bowl. Put the pan over medium heat, add ½ cup sugar, and cook until the grapes turn white, about three minutes. Pass them through a food mill placed over a bowl to rid them of their seeds, then add the skins to the pulp. Taste and, if it seems sour, add the remaining sugar while the pulp is still hot. Whisk in the flour or tapioca (use the larger amount of flour if the grapes were watery) and add the lemon zest and lemon juice. Let the mixture stand while you roll out the pie.

Preheat an oven to 450 degrees F. On a lightly floured board, roll the larger piece of dough into an 11-inch round. Ease it into a 9-inch pie pan and press it gently against the sides. Add the filling and brush the edges with water. Roll the second piece into a 9-inch round, set it over the filling, and crimp the edges. Make two slashes on the top for vents, and brush with the egg mixture.

Set the pie on a baking sheet in the center of the oven. After 10 minutes, lower the heat to 350 degrees F and bake until the crust is nicely browned, about 25 minutes. Remove to a rack and cool. Serve warm.