It’s Pi Day! (3.14), so in honour of that most famous of all mathematical constants we thought we’d do something completely irrational and post a couple of recipes. Pi(e) recipes, of course. And a story or two.
There weren’t a lot of male cooks around in the circles where I grew up (BBQ aside), but from the time I started Boy Scouts when I was 10 I’ve learned how to cook. Okay, not always well, and a fire doesn’t have a dial for temperature control, but like everything else, it takes some time to learn. By the time I started college I could cook and bake fairly well, despite the fact that my mother lovingly weighed me down with packages of freezerable food every time I went for a visit. When Marcia and I first moved in together I told her the kitchen was mine and she told me I was welcome to it (Marcia’s actually a very good cook herself, and one of our many shared activities is cooking together). Anyway, I digress.
I could make just about anything… but pastry. I tried a lot of different pastry recipes over the years; they all failed me. I also tried the advice of several different people… that failed me too.
Finally, one year for my birthday (a few years after graduating from college for the third time) my mother gave me a copy of ‘More Food That Really Schmecks‘, by Edna Staebler. Filled with both many wonderful, easy to make recipes and many wonderful anecdotes about her friends, family, and life in Mennonite country, this cookbook remains one of my favourites on a shelf now overflowing with cookbooks. I love it. In the middle of that book was… you guessed it… ‘Barbie’s Perfect Pastry’. I wasn’t hopeful, but I tried it.
It was great! It rolled out smoothly, held together well, and baked up perfectly. I was transformed. In fact I was so excited about it that I copied out the recipe and shared it with my sister Liz. She took a quick look at it, replied, “That looks just like Grandma’s old recipe.” and handed it back, nonplussed. What?? All those years and nobody told me… Oh well.
Here then is ‘Barbie’s Perfect Pastry’*
BARBIE’S PERFECT PASTRY
(makes about 4‑5 shells)
1 lb. (454 g) lard
6 cups (1.5 l) flour (3 cups all purpose & 3 cups cake and pastry if possible)
2 tsp. (10 ml) salt
1 tsp. (5 ml) baking powder
1 tbsp. (15 ml) vinegar
Blend the lard, flour, salt and baking powder with a pastry blender until the mix is fairly fine. In a measuring cup beat the egg with the vinegar; add enough water to make 1 cup. Add this to the flour mixture and blend gently with a fork. Don’t work it any more than necessary. Dough will be easier to work with if you refrigerate it at least an hour, preferably overnight. This also gives it a chance to `rest’.
That’s it. So simple, and yet so good. I’ve taught several people how to make pastry over the years, all of whom had trod a path similar to mine, and all of them had said the same things – they’d tried making pastry, it was too hard, etc. Don’t believe it until you’ve tried Barbie’s recipe.
Another recipe in ‘More Food That Really Schmecks’ is for ‘Mrs. Addison Eby’s Sour Cream Elderberry Pie’* But first, another story. If you’re not familiar with elderberries, they grow on a bush that can be 6’/2m or more high. When we lived in Ontario we had red elderberries and black elderberries; out here in BC we have blue elderberries. You can substitute blueberries in this recipe, but the elderberries have a delicious tang all their own. It’s worth the time it takes to separate the (tiny) berries from their stems.
Anyway, the first time I made this recipe was for a charity event at work: they were having a ‘bake sale’ in the lunchroom and different people brought in different treats every day. So far, so good. It happens though that at the time I was working for the Rabies Research Unit of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources Wildlife Research Branch, and at that time we were working on a project to protect urban raccoons and skunks in a section of Toronto from rabies by live-trapping them, giving them vaccine injections and then releasing them back into the wild. One section of the area I was covering contained a large cemetery, and since it was surrounded by houses it was a perfect place to set out some cage traps. Well, at the back of one yard and overhanging the fence into the cemetery grounds was a large black elderberry bush, full of berries. Nobody else was interested in them, so one day (with many thanks to the owners of the property and the elderberry bush) I gathered a whole bagful of berries and took them home. People loved the recipe, and I just never mentioned where the berries came from. It was growing in someone’s back yard, after all.
MRS. ADDISON EBY’S SOUR CREAM ELDERBERRY PIE
Pastry for 9 inch pie ‑ double crust
1 cup (250 ml) sugar (white or brown)
1 cup (250 ml) sour cream
2 cups (500 ml) elderberries
2 Tbsp. (30 ml) flour
Mix the sugar and flour; blend in the sour cream, then gently fold in the elderberries so they won’t break while you are doing it. Pour into the pie shell, cover with pastry, cut ventilation holes and bake at 425°F (230°C) for 15 minutes, then at 350°F (180°C) for another half-hour. This works well with a lattice pastry top.
Okay, one last recipe for now. This one is my own concoction so I call it, appropriately enough, ‘Mike’s Pumpkin Pie’. It’s best to make it in the fall when pumpkins are plentiful, but you can freeze your cooked pumpkin and make this recipe any time of year. If you’re one of those people who use canned pumpkin, well, there may be salvation for you in the next life.
Wash pumpkin and cut into quarters; clean away the seeds and stringy fibres. An ice-cream scoop works great for removing the seeds and fibres. Place the quarters in a low-sided baking dish containing ½” (12 mm) of hot water. Bake at 350°F (180°C) for about 40 minutes or until tender. Remove pulp from rind and mash or rub through a sieve or food mill. Alternately, you can add the pulp to a blender and blend on high, stopping occasionally to stir. Pour the purée into a large colander and let drain – preferably overnight. Pack 2 cups (500 ml) at a time into freezer packs, leaving ½” (12 mm) headspace. Seal and freeze. Keeps for 1 year.
MIKE’S PUMPKIN PIE
1 un‑baked 9 inch pie shell
2 large eggs
½ cup (125 ml) sugar
2 tbsp. (30 ml) molasses
½ tsp. (2 ml) salt
¼ tsp. (1 ml) baking soda
1 tsp. (5 ml) ginger
1 tsp. (5 ml) cinnamon
½ tsp. (3 ml) cloves
½ tsp. (3 ml) nutmeg
2+ cups (500 ml) of cooked pumpkin, mashed and drained
1 cup (250 ml) sour cream
½ cup (125 ml) milk
Prepare the pie shell with a fluted standing rim, and preheat oven to 450°F (230°C). Mix the eggs, molasses, sugar, salt and spices in a blender or mixer until well mixed. Add the baking soda, sour cream, milk, and pumpkin and blend well. Turn the mixture into the prepared shell, and bake for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 400°F (200°C) and continue to cook for about 30 minutes more.
So there ya go – a reason to celebrate this unique day of the year. Maybe next year we’ll talk about ‘peachzza’ or something like that.
*In lieu of permission for posting two recipes from Edna Staebler’s book (which I sincerely hope she doesn’t mind), I can only offer my gratitude and a further suggestion that you buy a copy of her book for yourself. Buy two and give one to a friend. You’ll both love it.
P.S. Some pie recipes call for a pie shell to be baked empty, with the filling added later. Lemon meringue pie is a good example of this. If you’ve ever tried this you know that without filling the pastry will shrink considerably when baked. While it’s possible to purchase steel ball chains or porcelain beads to serve as ballast while baking the shell, all I’ve ever used is a large bag of dried white beans from the bulk food store. After the shell has been baked and cooled, simply pour the beans back into the bag and keep them for next time. Paper, cloth or a perforated plastic vegetable bag is best. Also remember before baking to poke the base of the pastry a few times with a fork. Otherwise the gas released while baking can collect and blister the pastry, pushing it away from the dish.
P.S. II, the sequel. One last story. It happened one day that I was at a kitchen supply store at a shopping mall, looking for a new pastry blender. When I asked the clerk however, (and I dearly hope it was her first day) she replied, “Sorry. We don’t sell anything electric.” I tried again, describing the shape of the device and its use, but she just shook her said and suggested, “Maybe the Shaver Centre down the mall?” At least she was trying to be helpful. She gets points for that.
P.S. III, one more: You can read more of our Food posts and restaurant reviews here.