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A Slice of Pie on Every Plate

by Julie Goldstein

 

Savory, sweet, or a blend of both, pies can be filled with just about anything — the possibilities are truly endless.  While Americans are accustomed to the sweet versions, pies were not always baked in this manner. They were mostly savory meat pies. In fact, few menus today would feature this kind of older pie.

Pie, said to have derived from the word magpie (which means indiscriminately collected), was often used as a vessel for miscellaneous food scraps to be baked in. The intended purpose of the pastry shell was not to serve a crispy contrast to soft fillings but actually as the baking pan itself. A coffin, meaning a basket or box, was the original term for a savory pie with tall sides filled with meat; the dough was made solely of flour and water. There were no exact recipes for the dough used to make pie crusts, they were essentially hodge-​​podge pastes slapped together with a goal of a thickness that could carry the weight of a heavy stuffing. Another type of old-​​world pie was called a trap, a shallow topless meat pie with an inedible crust. Often the crusts were too dense and tough to consume and were therefore discarded.

During the Renaissance, butter was added to pastry dough in what was called “short paste,” a closer relative to the flaky crust we are now fond of as well as a predecessor to puff pastry. During this time it was not uncommon to see live birds fly out of a baked pie as a form of entertainment for the wealthy. There are published recipes describing how to bake such a scene by cutting the right sized hole in a baked pie and filling it with live pigeons or other smaller fowl.

Some historians trace the origins of pie to the ancient Egyptians around 9500 BC. These early precursors to pies were called galettes, a rustic open-​​faced pie made with honey, oats, and barley. The Greeks adapted galettes (although some historians believe they were the first to develop pie pastry), while the Romans continued to spread the craze across Europe and consequently to the Americas.

American pies developed from the English settlers who typically made shepherd’s and cottage pies (lamb or beef topped with mashed potatoes). When pilgrims came to the New World they baked some form of a pie filled with the ingredients that surrounded them in their new environment. Fruit fillings were often highlighted in these early American pies.

Modern pies are easier to make, especially with the advances in culinary technology and precise recipes. Mini pies, turnovers, and empanadas have become major recent food trends and chefs have become increasingly creative with fillings and accompaniments.

However you make your pies, sweet or savory; à la mode, hot, or cold, enjoy them with family this holiday season. For a Thanksgiving twist, add this easy-​​to-​​bake sweet potato pie to the dessert display. It is sure to please!

Sweet Potato Pie with Concord Grape Syrup
and Sweetened Sour Cream

Makes 2 9-​​inch pies

This is a fantastic fall recipe. If you are unable to find concord grapes, try using cranberries and increasing the quantity of sugar.

For the Filling:
2 large sweet potatoes
3/​4 stick of butter
2 eggs, beaten
1 1/​3 cup sugar
1 cup whole milk
1 tbsp cornstarch
2/​3 tsp lemon zest
2/​3 tsp vanilla extract
Cinnamon, nutmeg and any other spices you’d like, to taste
Pinch of salt

1. Boil the potatoes skin-​​on until soft.
2. Peel them and mash with the butter. Add the eggs and milk.
3. Combine the sugar and cornstarch and mix in to the potato mixture.
4. Stir in the vanilla, lemon zest, and spices.
5. Pour the custard into pre-​​baked pie shells and bake until set, 20 – 25 minutes. Let cool before serving.

For the Pie Crust:
1.5 sticks of butter
24 Graham crackers
1 cup of sugar
A pinch of salt

1. First, melt the butter.While it’s melting, grind the crackers until fine (if you don’t have a food processor try placing the crackers in a sealed plastic bag and pressing with a rolling pin).
2. Measure out 3 cups of crumbs and place in a bowl. Combine with sugar and salt. Stir in the butter until well combined.
3. Press an even layer of pie crust into two 9-​​inch pans.
4. Pre-​​bake in a 350 degree oven for 8 – 10 minutes or until lightly browned and firm.

For the Concord Syrup:
3 cups concord grapes (approximately 2 large clusters)
1/​4 cup sugar (taste the grapes first; they may need a bit more or less, depending on the sweetness)
Lemon zest, to taste

1. Rinse and carefully pick over  the grapes.
2. Place in a pot with the sugar and lemon zest. Simmer on medium-​​high until the juices are extracted and skins are limp, about 10 minutes.
3. Remove from heat and pass through a mesh strainer. Check the consistency, if it seems watery, simply pour the syrup back into the pot and simmer on med-​​high heat until it thickens. Keep in mind that the syrup will thicken as it cools. Let cool.
(This also makes an addictive grape soda when added to sparkling water).

For the Sweetened Sour Cream:
1/​2 cup sour cream
Honey, to taste

1. Combine the two ingredients. Adjust flavor to your liking.

For a perfect apple pie with cranberry caramel recipe,
email jntgoldstein@​gmail.​com

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