Sunday, September 19, 2010

Pie Revolution

I've talked about pie quite a bit on this here little blog. For years now pie has been ubiquitous in my kitchen. It started about ten years ago actually when I entered a local pie contest. The draw was the $1000 grand prize and I really, really needed the money. I spent a week taste testing the many varieties of apples in the valley to come up with the one that had the best baking qualities and most apple flavor. I made little apple dumplings with each kind of apple and labeled them. I made a number of apple pies that my family gladly ate and the feedback always sounded something like "More cinnamon!" "Even more cinnamon!"

All the Type A obsessing paid off when I won the grand prize with my apple pie in a field of 52 other worthy apple pies. The contest was followed by lots of pie baking- for charity auctions and a local cafe. The local Community Ed asked me to teach pie making classes. The next year I judged the pie contest and got to taste many kinds of apple pies side by side which is a very educational experience. Who knew a simple apple pie could take so many different variations?

Over the years there has been more pie contests, pie selling, pie judging, pie class teaching, pie book reading and of course pie eating. I developed my method for slab pies that I use for weddings and events that require many servings of pie for a crowd. It is no exaggeration to say that in the last ten years I have baked hundreds of pies.

Last year I was asked to give a speech about pie to a group holding a convention in a local hotel. I served them my pie and gave a short tutorial on pie making. In my speech (which I blogged about here) I tried to convey my understanding of what pie means in America. I truly believe that pie is the iconic American dessert and holds a long history in many American families.

So why, why is it now so difficult to find a good piece of pie in small town America? Or big city America?

Seriously. There is a LOT of bad pie out there! What is wrong? I understand that a two crust pie can be a daunting dessert for someone who hasn't learned the techniques. I have been there and made plenty of bad pie and trashed many kitchens in the process of trying to flute two crusts filled with fruit. But I'm especially peeved at the businesses who sell baked goods and chose to hawk flavorless, gooey, stale, tough pastries that they label "pie." Apparently the money brought in by taking advantage of people's quest for a taste of Americana is more important then the quality of that tradition. Factory made crusts and canned flavorless filling make an imitation pie-shaped product that can be produced quickly and sold cheaply.

I live in the fruitful Hood River Valley and we are now in the harvest season where every kind of orchard fruit is available at every turn of the road. I know of at least one farm stand that sells cheap pies that are made from apple fillings that come in five gallon buckets. The apples that go into those fillings are imported from China. To the fruitful Hood River Valley!

Hello???

At the farmer's market a few weeks ago I purchased a little pie from a pie company. They were selling stacks of these little pies and I thought I'd taste their product. It was terrible! Not one whit better then a frozen supermarket pie. It was obvious that they did not make their own fillings and the crust was bland and tough. But people were snatching them up at the market (like I did) looking for that taste of Americana.

But maybe it's just me? Maybe the general public thinks that bland, gooey and stale is the way pie is supposed to taste?

So I've had fleeting ideas about taking my pie to the farmer's market. The problem is there are no eight day weeks or thirty hour days which is what I really need right now to add that iron into the fire.

But...I did some experimentation with some little pies and there is another local farm stand that wants to sell them.

I started out like this with a little two crust pie but found it was too time consuming to make. If I am going to make any quantity of pie without a factory conveyor belt assembly line I need to figure out how my two hands can make these little guys quickly.



I decided to follow the model of that farmer's market mini pie but with a quality butter crust and freshly peeled orchard fruit.


By not taking the time to attach the top crust I could assemble the pies faster and make them look cute too. My right hand girl, Alyssa, is becoming very adept at rolling crust and making her own pies. With her I can have four hands at this mini pie business.


I think I may be on to something.

I took about a dozen and a half of these to the farm stand and they sold them all as well as a few regular sized pies (which sold as they were being unloaded from the car!)



So I am doing my part in my own wee corner of the world to bring real old-fashioned homemade pie back to America.
We need a pie revolution. No more flavorless, gooey, stale pie-shaped, food substances masquerading as American pie!

10 comments:

  1. Apparently there's an old precedent for bad apple pies:
    http://whatscookingamerica.net/History/PieHistory/ApplePie.htm
    (scroll down to the 1759 quote)

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  2. That is really interesting! And absolutely hilarious, chris!

    "They breath is like the steame of apple pyes."
    What a compliment.

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  3. You may now climb down off your soapbox.

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  4. But....but....
    I have so much more to say!!

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  5. Well...maybe nobody bakes/cooks anymore. Prepared food is a shopping activity. First rule of shopping is - lowest price. Now then, what do you get for lowest price???

    Hint: It has been going on for so long folks all think that is what pie tastes like. well made pie would taste so different that it would be classified as not a good taste. If data will help, drive around small town and check out the parking lots at all the local eateries. L I B parking lots are all full and folks are standing in line to BUY supper.

    Just some things I have noticed. Have a fun day - Bill

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  6. What a delight your website is! I'm glad I stumbled upon it...I too am "pie-woman" and cannot stand most other pies - bland, awful crust, puny amount of fruit...

    I hope to be a regular reader...(my limit is 4 blogs - I just don't want to fill up my hours with too much computer time).

    Thanks again

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  7. Welcome IowaCowgirl and thanks for the comment!

    I hear ya on the blog reading. Makes it hard to find time for baking!

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  8. I think your comments are so right. It's not just pies, it's all types of food. It's not just in the U.S.A. It's just as bad here in Australia. Trying to buy canned food ie fruit and veg that doesn't come from China is tricky. We find it impossible to buy Australian fruit juice and we live 2 hours from a huge fruit growing area. Anyhoo .. I think home make always tastes better...as my daughter says you can taste the love in it.

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  9. You are very right. Australia too? Sad.

    I actually have read a lot on this subject (processed foods vs. homemade and the trend away from home cooking) and have lots of opinions too! I have refrained from pontificating *too much* here though there are a few blog posts under Rants and Soap Box. Maybe I need to revisit...

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  10. Yes - it's true - I'm this behind on reading. BUT...

    AMEN, SISTER!

    I wish I were able to get my kitchen certified and could spend my time turning out some yummy pies and the like for local venues. Alas, the red tape in my corner of the woods prevents it.

    Your little pies are adorable, by the way!

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