Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Stress Cannot Exist in the Presence of Pie!




As I flip to the first page of my notebook, I note that it all started in early January 2009.

The "it" being my obsession with pie. And not just your usual 9-inch pie.

Small pies. Pies about 3-inches in diameter.

My mom, the inspiration for this blog, had been hospitalized after a fall.

Each night after visiting her, I found myself heading to the kitchen first for a glass of wine then reaching for the flour and butter and my favorite rolling pin.

I'm not sure why I reached for the cupcake pan instead of the faded pink pie plate that had been hers before we moved her to the Alzheimer's facility.

Somehow I felt the need to reinvent the pie.

Month's later people would ask me if I became obsessed with pie because I was simply tired of all the cupcake shops that had opened nearby or of reading about the latest cupcake craze in almost every food magazine and newspaper.

Maybe. But although not a fan of the three-inch high frosting on some of these cupcakes, I actually do like them. And I admire the cute shops and acknowledge all the work that had gone into testing those recipes and opening those shops.

My first attempts at putting dough in muffin pan and filling with fresh peaches, and a bit of ginger were not attractive although tasty. The bottom of each pie had big dimples as though I had pushed my finger into the bottom while they baked.

As January turned into February, I tried all kinds of crimping to the edges of the pie: checkerboard, flute, point and scallop, among others -- because I'm a double-crust girl at heart. Nothing against crumb toppings or pumpkin pie but double-crust will always be my first choice.

Some of the crimping looked good but others simply failed and my top crust popped off the bottom crust like a jack-in-the-box albeit with oozing peach juice instead of a clown.

I experimented with different sized cookie cutters -- I wanted my final product to be about 3-inches in diameter but that meant starting with either a five, four or 4.5-inch cookie cutter. I tried all the combinations.

I haunted cooking stores and checked out every pie book from my library.

In mid-February, my mom passed away. As we dealt with all the details of dealing with my dad, organizing her service, etc., my pie experiments stopped.

But I didn't quit thinking about them. In odd moments I would research pie on the Internet or browse my local bookstore.

In April, I began to fill the notebook again.

Now I began to focus on perfect cooking times, different fillings, the perfect crust.

I decided I wanted people to be able to eat the pie as they would a cupcake -- straight out of the bag without a fork and plate.

That meant a sturdy dough that wasn't all butter or shortening but yet still flaky and tender.
The perfect dough ended up being a combination of butter and cream cheese.

For awhile I tried different combinations of flour but then decided I wanted to make the recipe accessible to all and not dependent on hard to find specialty flours.

I tried to eliminate the gap between the top crust and my fruit fillings. Sometimes I was successful, sometimes not. Organic fruit seemed to cook down the most. I turned to the experts to find a solution including Rose Levy Beranbaum and Shirley Corriher as well as the online chat help at the King Arthur Flour Company!

I tried their solutions but in the end, decided that I would mound the fruit as high as possible, stretch the top crust over it and be done with it. My testers liked that they could bite into the pie without fruit squirting all over the place.

In June I contacted the farmers' market in Palo Alto. This market is one of the premier markets on the San Francisco Peninsula with its primary focus on agriculture. But they do have a few bakers and other specialty products in the market.

Many board meetings and taste tests later; they invited me to join the market in September. After suffering through the food safety exam required by the county and my hunt for a commercial kitchen, I was in business.

So, let me introduce individual pies or as I named them, ipies. You can see more about my adventures at the farmers' market at theipiestore.com

I've really enjoyed talking to folks at the market about their favorite pie memories. I notice that most people walk up to my stand and announce that they are a pie person. I love that.

It is almost like a code word that helps me to identify them and actually, it kind of does. It tells me a lot about them. It tells me that they are optimistic at heart because I believe pie is optimistic.

And as I learned over these long and fun months of testing and retesting,"stress cannot exist in the presence of pie" as declared by playwright David Mamet and confirmed by me.

1 comment:

  1. Devon Wortz-CarterApril 15, 2012 at 3:22 PM

    Hi Patricia! I love reading your full story of how you came to pie making. I was intrigued by hearing part of the story as you shared it in our class at SFSU. My own pie story is also connected to my mother, and a long lineage of master pie makers (and bakers) in my family. While I definitely inherited the family baking gene in all other areas of baking, the 'perfect pie crust' gene seemed to have skipped the current generation, including me. When my Mother was first diagnosed with cancer, I went on a pie baking spree/obsession. Baking pies has since become one of my favorite meditation tools! I'm also from the Midwest. I grew up in East Moline Illinois. Devon Carter

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