10 November 2007

"Apples & Thyme" A Foremothers Celebration

Well, today the Bella View is taking a bit of a journey out of Italy.
Although I do try to religiously stay on my subject of Italy and particularly about this area if I can, I do occasionally slip off track. Today I'm joining in a celebration of our mothers and grandmothers who have inspired or lead the way in our journey with cooking. Although, I am not a food blogger per se, (lack of discipline), I am passionate about gastronomy and a food blogger groupie to boot. Jeni of the Passion Palate Tours and blog found her way to my site, as we have a common interest in Italy, and invited me to join in this special tribute to our original cooking inspiration with whom we grew up. Jeni and her co host, Inge, of Vanielje Kitchen have put this event together. Both of these women have very interesting lives and blogs, worth having a good read through. I couldn't resist this invitation as my mother was definitely the homemaker in our home growing up and always had something aromatic and delicious going on in our kitchen. These days Fabrizio's mother has become a source of cooking inspiration as her Piemontese specialties were famous for many years in this valley from the 30+ years of running "La Baita". It's always a treat to eat her cooking and even better to learn a few tricks. That, of course, is another post or two.
Today, I am going to share a pie recipe that has been a perennial favorite for many years not only in my family, but I even put it on the menu of our Irish restaurant O'Sheas, that operated at Copper Mt ski resort for many years before changing into something else. My F&B director put it on the menu as "Grandma Kirkpatrick's Sour Cream Apple Pie." That was a nice touch. My grandmother Delsie, would have been so please. We sold a lot of pies over the years and I had quite a few requests for the recipe. Grandma K was a decent cook, quilter and chicken farmer. I remember her getting up before it was light to fry a chicken to put in grandpa's lunch bucket so he'd have a decent meal at the coal mines. Grandpa did all of his chores before and after his shift at his mines and grandma did all the chores in between. They all worked very hard and my mother did her fair shore too.
My mother, Dora Ada,(pronounced as one word, Dorada, or there was heck to pay) though, really is the inspiration for this post and she really was the "pie queen supreme". The title of this event, "Apples and Thyme" is appropriate for me because apple pie was my mother's old faithful standby recipe that never failed to please. The rest of us in the family had our different favorites, mine was fresh sour cherry and my youngest brother's was blackberry. Not sure about my the other two brothers, but I think peach was in there and I know coconut cream, chocolate, pecan, pumpkin and lemon meringue were highly regarded also, but often times it was just humble double crusted apple pie filled with some of southern Illinois's finest sweet and tart apples. Apples that were in abundance during the winter when the summer's fruits had to be brought out begrudgingly, one by one, from the freezer on special occasions when we had company until the spring and summer rolled back around and the strawberries and rhubarb heralded a new fruit pie season. I learned early on about how to be organized so that when unexpected company arrived you could whip up a Dora Ada Gulley highly coveted pie and be loved even more than she already was. You see my mother's pie crust was tender, light and flaky and always the first to disappear at the church pot luck, as was her fried chicken and pretty much anything she brought to the table. I remember vividly on more that one occasion her being asked which were her offerings and then hearing it discussed in detail about the merits of making sure you got to sample something that she brought. there always seemed to be a buzz about which ones were her dishes and a beeline to the buffet table. My mother was quite modest, even painfully shy when she was younger, but when it came to her cooking and her pies, the light came on her face and she glowed with the adoration she received from her appreciative family and friends. She wasn't a fancy cook, just a good cook. She made sure things were presented appealingly ans season well. She had lots of practice over the years. She never failed to tell me how she could put a meal on the table by the time she was 8 years old. I, of course, never really got much of a chance to help out in the kitchen, other than making the ritual uninspired green salad. Mom was in her element in the kitchen and didn't have much patience for those of us that weren't focused or an overnight sensation. I really only found my way around the kitchen when I got a bit older and she was ill and Dad was fairly hopeless in the kitchen, other than sampling, so I started to find the cooking actually quite interesting and fun. I think my desire to cook for a crowd gelled, when my mother had to fly out to be with my older brother for unexpected surgery just before Thanksgiving one year when I was about 16 and we had a house full of guests coming over for the feast. I had had some other take charge group cooking experiences at summer camp so when Mom and Dad decided that "the show must go on", I rose to the occasion. Mom painstakingly put together the involved Turkey dinner set up and I got to help along the way with lots of instructions and even more of her expertise back up preparation, so that when the crowd showed, the feast came off quite well and I finally understood what it felt like to be the center of adoration for all of that good food, even though I knew it was Mom's signature on everything. I merely orchestrated, but it felt good.

Mom and I discovered a common interest during those turbulent teenage years and one that bound us together ever after. We talked a lot about food after that, about canning, whole whet bread, about what it was like growing up on the farm and all the work involved with that. I gleaned a lot of information and we had an endless supply of conversation. A few months before Mom died, I was visiting from Colorado and made her and my brother's family a fresh strawberry and kiwi tart with a layer of dark chocolate ganache on the bottom and sliced fruit arranged on top and glazed to shine. I had been working professionally for a number of years and Mom had seen me in action and had eaten my cooking, and quick with a compliment. This time when she ate my tart after complimenting about how fancy it looked and how special it was, I waited with baited breath till she took that first bite, because with pie crust or "pate brisee," you can never be too sure that the end result will be the perfection that you were striving for till you eat it. She ate it and commented, "well, Marla Sue, you don't have to take a back seat to anyone else's pie crust. Your crust is flaky and delicious. " I was so proud, and still am for such high praise from my mother, the Maestra! So the trick that she taught me that made my results become consistent winners with pie crust is handle the dough as little as possible, use cold water, and refrigerate the dough before you roll it out and that has made all the difference. I have used a variation on her recipe, using all butter as she used vegetable shortening as it yields a sturdier crust that froze well. She use to have a stack of pie crusts that she had made production line style and kept in the freezer next to the fruits of the summer to put together a fast and easy dessert. If she wanted a double crusted pie, she partially thawed one crust in order to get it out of the pan for the top. Since the pie pans were all the same size, it fit perfectly on top of a piled high fruit pie.

The following recipe makes 2 - 9-10 inch pie crusts even though you only need one for the filling. Freeze the other in a flattened disc for another time or used it in a day or two for a savory crust. I'm making an Alsacien onion tart tonight. My "pie" in the picture is in a small fruit tartlette pan, because I don't have my pie pans here in Italy and I thought we would go for smaller potions as there are only the two of us tonight. It makes a very impressive pie, but don't let the lack of the right pan stop you. Enjoy this pie and a tart another night.

Sour Cream Apple Pie
2 c (200g) all purpose or pastry flour
15 T/ 1 3/4 stick (220g) butter, cold, but not hard
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 c (118g) water

Cut the butter into the flour mixed with the salt, till crumbly. The finer you make the crumb the easier it is to mix and roll later. Too big of clumps of butter can make weak and greasy spots in your final crust. You can handle the flour and butter now a fair amount, but work quickly so the butter doesn't get to warm and start to smear. Add the water and mix quickly and gingerly with a rubber spatula till just clumped together into big clumps. Gather together pressing together till it starts to take shape. Loosely divide into two equal parts and form into a ball and flattening into a disc. Yo will find that it is quite crumbly and difficult to keep together. Lightly press together till it holds together. Some loose bits left are OK and wrap both pieces up in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for an hour before rolling. You might find that you are more successful if you roll your discs out between two sheets of plastic wrap. work quickly so the dough doesn't get too warm and the butter doesn't smear. Roll to slightly larger than your pie pan. If it is too warm and sticking to the plastic wrap, slide the dough onto a cutting board and place int the refrigerator for a few minutes, until the plastic peels away easily. Lift the plastic wrap and flip over into your ungreased pie pan and peel the remaining sheet of plastic off and fill with the filling, before topping and baking. If you haven't prepared your fruit yet, refrigerate your dough until ready to fill. You could also refrigerate over night and fill the next day, or freeze the dough, but I do prefer the dough fresh for the best flavor.Topping
1/3 c flour
3/4 c sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon (optional)
1/4 c butter, cold not hard

Blend the flour, sugar, and cinnamon together.
Cut in the butter till crumbly. This time big clumps are good.
I usually use my fingers after the initial cutting in to get the correct coarse clumpy texture.
Set aside till ready to use.
You can refrigerate or freeze this topping to use on top of all sorts of pastries, danish, muffins, coffeecakes. It's a great thing to have on hand for a quick finishing touch.


6 medium sized tart apples ( Macintosh, Granny Smith,etc) , peeled, cored, quartered, sliced
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 c sour cream (no such thing here, thick yogurt works nicely, and creme fraiche)
3/4 c sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
pinch salt
2 Tb flour

Mix the egg, vanilla and add the sour cream till blended.
Blend the sugar, cinnamon, flour, salt together.
Add the flour sugar mix to the sour cream mix and thoroughly mix.
Toss the apple slices in and mix to coat.

Fill the pie shell with the apple mixture, making a tall mound in the middle. Cover liberally with the crumb topping. Bake in a preheated 375 * F (190*C) oven for about 50 minutes, or till brown and bubbly underneath the topping.

*I usually place a cookie sheet tray underneath, as most pies can boil over before you know it and it is easier to clean a pan that an oven. I also have a silicon sheet that I use between the pan and sheet tray for an even easier clean up.


The Passionate Palate said...

Marla - what wonderful memories and influences you have. It sounds like you lived up to your mom's abilities! Brava!!! Your pie looks wonderful. Thank you so much for participating in our event,

african vanielje said...

Marla, the women in your family sound fascinating. Isn't it amazing how the kitchen so often becomes common ground when other avenues of communication are strained. I'm not surprised yu earned high praise from your mother as your recipe and pie look absolutely luscious. Thanks for sharing with Apples & Thyme

Bella Baita Marla said...

Thanks for stopping by for a read.I have much to catch up on both of your blogs and recipes to try too. I'm glad I joined in.

Anonymous said...

I am really enjoying the Apple &Thyme posts. They are all wonderful and yours is no exception :)

Bella Baita Marla said...

Why thanks Maryann.

Anonymous said...

What a thoroughly enjoyable read this was!

Laurie Constantino said...

Turbulent teenage years - HA! Weren't they?? The pie looks spectacular -- though, for me, anything with baked apples tastes good -- especially when it's mile-high like yours. Thanks for posting the recipe. Oh -- and Piemonte? One of the best places ever; I really like it there.

Michelle | Bleeding Espresso said...

Lovely memories and photos (especially of Mom!) and a pie that has my mouth longing for just a taste. Or two ;)

I'm in Italy too; I'm surprised I haven't come across your blog before, but I'll be back :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Marla, the pie looks delicious.

Bella Baita Marla said...

Hey, thanks for all the nice comments and finding your way to my blog. Piemonte is a great place to live and I'm trying to show what our area has to offer. It's nice to travel through everyone else's blog also. I see I have some catching up to do. Sognatrice, I've enjoyed your blog, Bleeding Expresso, I love the title. I am quite fascinated by your cookbook, Laurie, as it's been on my "to do" list for years. I like African Vanielje's cookbook on her blog. That's seems like a great way to organize one self for starters. I'm thinking to put together a family collection to get some practice before organizing the rest of my ideas. That's right after I get my web site and all related webs updated to keep Bella Baita bringing in the guests,and keeping us out of trouble! No rest for the wicked!

Cakelaw said...

I can so relate to your story of your Mom being a good cook and being mistress of the kitchen - same with my Mum! Great recipe too - looks delicious.

Julie said...

Oh wow, what awesome looking pies! I'm not surprised that you mom was the pie master! Lucky you that she passed down those mad pie skills! Thank you for sharing your recipes!

Bella Baita Marla said...

Cakelaw and Julie, thanks for stopping by and commenting.

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