Friday, November 19, 2010

Pies and Pumpkins!

It was one of those beautiful, warm, November days in Northern California that make me totally forget those harsh Indiana winters of my childhood.

Even though I had baked Friday night for the farmers' market and had sold ipies all morning at the market, instead of feeling like I wanted to flop on the couch and stay there -- I just had to take advantage of the beautiful weather.

And since my motto is to always: eat more pie, what better place to visit than Pie Ranch in Pescadero -- a quick jaunt over the mountains to the coast.

With the top down on the Mini Cooper and a large Starbucks coffee in the cup holder, I headed to the ocean.

The fields were still full of pumpkins but I could see the Christmas tree farms starting to take over and claim their season.

It was a bit hazy at the coast but still warm. The air smelled like brussel sprouts, artichokes and salty sea air -- almost like being at the farmers' market but without the ocean.

Pie Ranch is so named not only because the land is triangular shaped, but also because it is a place for "pie in the sky" thinking regarding social change. Pie Ranch is a working farm and is dedicated to hosting youth from regional high schools to participate in farm-based programs and activities.

But best of all they raise the animals necessary and grow all the crops necessary to make a pie!

They sell their goods to farm stands as well as to two bakeries in my area -- Mission Pie in San Francisco and now Companion Bakers in Santa Cruz.

Old school sandwich board signs announcing "pie and coffee" clued me in that I must be getting close. Their farm stand is actually a beautiful old barn a few miles from the historic town of Pescadero.

Inside, Megan and Lizzie were further proof of my claim that "pie is optimistic" -- they cheerfully greeted each customer and were quick with offers of help in selecting the right pie -- which after all is a critical decision at any time.

I had on my ipie cap and Lizzie recognized me from the Palo Alto Farmers' Market -- she works for a local farmer -- Green Oaks Creek Farms -- who also sells at the market.

The pies that day were baked by Companion Bakers. I actually thought the pies on display were fake they were so beautiful. Offerings included cranberry pear with a beautiful lattice crust, pumpkin pie with a crumble topping and a prebaked pie shell filled with the last fruits of the season -- strawberries and blueberries.

I picked out a small strawberry mini Galette and a very cute Pie Ranch t-shirt which was emblazoned with Eat Pie across the back -- kindred spirits!

On the way to Pie Ranch I spied a small table set up on the side of the road with a sign proclaiming Local Honey. I hoped they would still be there on my return trip.

And I was in luck -- Wayne and his son Dillan were doing a brisk honey business. Turns out they are part of a co-op that help local beekeepers gather and sell their honey. He offered tastes of eucalyptus, lavender and orange honey. I bought a large jar of the orange blossom.

As I tasted and chatted, I found out that Dillan helps his dad sell honey each weekend because he is saving for a new car. He currently owns a Hornet (not kidding). His dad was enthusiastically also trying to sell bags of bee pollen extolling its healing properties for everything from weight loss to sexual dysfunction (!).

On my way home I detoured from the ocean highway through the small town of Half Moon Bay. In one of the local bakeries I came across a cookie that I haven't seen in awhile -- a pumpkin cookie.

And how appropriate in the land of pumpkins! After all Half Moon Bay is known for its Pumpkin Festival held each October and now in its 40th year.

Pumpkin cookies are similar to big soft sugar cookies but are jazzed up with spices generally found in pumpkin pie with a texture somewhere between a cake and a cookie.

Once home I scoured my extensive cookbook collection for a pumpkin cookie recipe to try. I was surprised to find that most modern cookbooks lack a recipe for this homely cookie. I then turned to my older cookbooks and found that recipes for the lowly pumpkin cookie was a regular in The Joy of Cooking, The Fannie Farmer Baking Book and Maida Heatter's Book of Great Cookies. Later, I also found a recipe in the 2001 cookbook by Nancy Baggett, All-American Cookie Book.

It was interesting to note that the recipe for pumpkin cookies was often next to recipes for pineapple cookies and banana cookies -- also cookies you don't see much anymore.

These cookbooks all described the cookie in similar ways but I think I liked Marion Cunningham's description from her Fannie Farmer Baking Book, "Thick, soft, substantial and inexpensive." Not that's my kind of cookie!

It was also interesting to note that these cookies were known as "rocks" -- not because they were hard as a rock but because of their shape. And this batter takes well to add-ins -- pecans, cranberries, etc. Most of the cookies were iced with either a cream cheese or simple confectioners sugar glaze.

Although I am a fan of plain, old-fashioned cookies, I wondered how I could modernize this cookie from our past. Then I thought of the honey I had just purchased as well as all of those pumpkins I had seen.

I decided on pumpkin seeds (pepitas) candied with some of the honey I had bought with a bit of cinnamon added. I put together a batter using the pumpkin rock recipe from The Fannie Farmer Baking Book as my guide and added the cooled candied pepitas to the batter.

Delicious! But of course, I fiddled a bit more with it -- I tried different shapes by using a cookie scoop and then a pastry bag to pipe the batter. I even added a cup of chocolate chips to the batter.

But in the end my simple Pumpkin Rocks with Candied Pepitas was the winner.

Candied Pepitas

2 TB butter

1 cup of raw, shelled pepitas

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 TB honey

1. Melt butter in saucepan over low heat

2. Mix pepitas and cinnamon in a small bowl then put in saucepan

3. Saute for 3-4 minutes until pepitas are brown

4. Add honey and saute one more minute

5. Turn out in one layer onto cookie sheet and let cool