Thursday, March 20, 2014

Easy As Pie, Pie.

My maternal grandmother a.k.a., "Gram," was a spunky woman. She lived well into her 90s and was one of the most beautiful people I've ever met -- inside and out. Her blue-gray eyes could twinkle their way into even the hardest of hearts, and her sense of humor was one to envy. She was a huge fan of piano music, Klondike bars, and her lunchtime soap operas. She adored the holidays, sitting on the porch in the sun, and going out to dinner. And she loved her family. She also had a pretty fantastic memory, despite the fact that dementia had started to take over her mind. When I'd talk to her on the phone, we'd always pick up where we'd left off. I'd tell her about life in the big city and how things were going with my job and such, and she'd usually end our conversation with, "Just wow the whole world, honey child. Just wow them."
Circa 2002
Speaking of "wow" -- Gram sure knew how to cook. My sisters and I grew up eating delicious meals at her farmhouse and then in our own kitchen when she came to live with our family for several years. Some of my favorites were her beautiful roasts served on heirloom china, sticky-sweet apple dumplings made from scratch, smoky stuffed peppers, and her Pennsylvania-style pan-fried chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy...yum. Gram was always in the kitchen. I have so many memories of her there -- peeling potatoes, standing over the stove, doing the dishes, etc. If there was something delicious roasting or baking in the oven, Gram was probably responsible for it. 

Not too long ago, my mom sent me a treasure: Gram's composition book from her freshman cooking class. It's dated 1930-1931, in her delicate handwriting.  I carefully turned the fragile, faded pages and took a step back in time:
Gram's piece on "Strawberry Shortcake" earned her an "Excellent," and the pages with recipes for "Cinnamon Rolls" and "White Taffy" were covered in splatters -- and then a few of my tears. As I read her notes and recipes, I could almost hear her voice. I wanted to make something out of her book immediately, but "Orange Ice" and "Sour Cream Devil's Food Cake" would have to wait for another day and a trip to the store. As I neared the end of the notebook, I found a few short recipes that were crossed out and unfinished. I'm not sure what her plan was, but I took it upon myself to finish her recipe for "Chest Pies."

Chest Pies
1 c nuts
1 c b. sugar
2 eggs
1 t vanilla
1 c raisins

But that's all she wrote down.

It sounded like a great start to me, but I was pretty sure that the ingredients for a crust (butter and flour) should probably be included, too. Gram's apple dumplings had the flakiest of crusts, and whenever she'd make them the aroma of cinnamon and sugar would fill the house. So, cinnamon needed to be added to the recipe, for sure. I used vanilla sugar instead of vanilla and kept the raisins and nuts. I'm not certain if she was going to add fruit to her recipe, but I thought apples would be a nice nod to her amazing dumplings. But what about the eggs? There's a terrifically simple pie recipe where you put everything in the pie plate and top it with a batter--made with butter, flour, sugar and an egg--that miraculously turns into a crust. I'm not sure if that was where she was going with the "Chest Pies" recipe, but that's where I went. So, without further ado, here's my tribute to Gram's "Chest Pies."

Easy As Pie, Pie
Ingredients:
1/2 cup chopped pecans, toasted
1 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup dried cranberries
3/4 c butter, melted
4-6 apples (peeled, cored, sliced)
1 tsp lemon juice
1 TBS vanilla sugar (you can find this in most food stores)
1 tsp cinnamon
1 cup flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2  cup white sugar
1/8 tsp cinnamon
Kosher salt
1 drop almond extract
1 egg, lightly beaten

Minimal MESS/ingredients/clean-up: Category 2

To Do:
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. While it heats up,  place a small cookie sheet with the pecans in the oven to toast them. 
  • Place raisins and cranberries in a small pan, cover with water and gently simmer until they start to plump up. Drain. (Note: if you have cinnamon sticks on hand, put one in the water, then discard when you drain.)
  • Melt the butter and set aside to cool.
  • Place the apple slices in a large bowl and sprinkle with a bit of lemon juice. Add the teaspoon of cinnamon and the vanilla sugar and toss gently with a wooden spoon until all of the apples are coated. Stir in the raisins and cranberries and the now-toasted pecans and gently mix together.
  • Pour the fruit mixture into the bottom of a 9-inch pie plate. (I used a deep dish one.)
  • In another bowl, mix together the flour, sugars, cinnamon, pinch of salt, almond extract, egg and melted butter until well combined.
  • Pour the batter over the fruit and spread evenly across the top.
  • Bake for about 40 minutes, or until golden brown.
  • Enjoy as is, or top with fresh whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

I wish Gram was around to test this recipe, but I'm pretty sure she'd think it's wow-worthy...I hope you like it, too.

xoxo


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