Saturday, December 20, 2008

Pie was locavore before locavore was cool.

Pie is in tune with the seasons. This means apple pie in the fall, strawberry-rhubarb in late summer, peach in June. And in America, pie is as regionalized as dialects, serving as a landmark of place and history. The Pennsylvania-Dutch have the molasses-based shoofly pie, while Boston has its cream, and the South its chess, buttermilk, and sugar (essentially pecan pie without the nuts). Pie was locavore before locavore was cool.

Read the whole lovely piece by Vincent Rossmeier here.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

This is how you SHOULD roll...

I could have really used this video over the Thanksgiving holiday.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Look! It's a pie on your head!

There's a pie on your head, literally.

It's going to be a long, cold winter. You might as well have pie.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Crack Pie

Recently, a friend mentioned that she had eaten a heavenly slice of crack pie.


Crack Pie?


Creamy and silky, rich and intense, buttery and super sweet, and topped with a big dose of crack.

That would be the top of the pie that often CRACKS during baking. Or perhaps it is because this pie is as addictive as CRACK?

I've had it at the Momofuku Bakery, the same place my friend tried it. Yes, crack pie is good. Very good. And yes, crack pie is addictive.

But Crack Pie is simply a riff on that Southern classic, Chess Pie which is probably one of the most basic pies in the pie universe, and a very old recipe indeed. And like most old folkloric things, the name Chess Pie is highly debated.

According to this website, The original cook book diva and the original "Martha," Martha Washington, wife of that president dude, documented the pie in the mid-1700s in her classic cook book, Martha Washington's Booke of Cookery. Here is Martha's recipe, spelled out in all its convoluted old fashioned early American English language glory:

To make very good chee[secakes without] cheese curd
Take a quart of cream, & when it boyles take 14 eggs; If they be very yallow take out 2 or 3 of the youlks; put them into [the] cream when it boyles & keep it with continuall stirring till it be thick like curd. [Then] put into it sugar & currans, of each halfe a pound; ye currans must first be plumpt in faire water; then take a pound of butter & put into the curd a quarter of [that] butter; [then] take a quart of fine flowre, & put [the] resto of [the] butter to it in little bits, with 4 or 5 spoonsfulls of faire water, make [the] paste of it & when it is well mingled beat it on a table & soe roule it out.. Then put [the] curd into [the] paste, first putting therein 2 nutmeggs slyced, a little salt, & a little rosewater; [the] eggs must be well beaten before you put them in; & for [your] paste you may make them up into what fashion you please..

But unlike the mind teaser directions above, the Chess Pie is actually super simple to make: butter, sugar, brown sugar, eggs, a wee bit of corn meal flour, and either heavy cream, buttermilk or milk depending on the cook's signature. Some add a bit of vinegar as well. The fancy bakery in New York City that calls it CRACK PIE sometimes dusts theirs with powdered sugar, but you can do as you wish.

Some folks add vanilla to theirs, some add chocolate or fruits like pineapple or coconut. My mother makes hers with lemon, another classic Southern version. In fact, my mother's lemon chess pie is so lemony it makes my mouth pucker. I'm certain there are other variations on a theme out there though, such as coffee, liquor flavors or who knows what else. There is even a version called polka dot chess pie that contains raisins and chopped nuts.

Me? I just like plain old chess pie.

So here is a much more modern, and much easier to follow recipe for Crack (aka Chess) Pie. The two things to remember? 1. the more you mix the filling, the more of a chance the pie will crack on top. 2. Do not over bake. Just like Pecan Pie (which is really a riff on chess pie with the addition of pecans), when a knife inserted into the center just comes out clean, the pie is done baking.


1 9" unbaked pie shell
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon fine cornmeal
5 eggs
1/3 cup whipping cream
1 tablespoon cider vinegar (optional)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
1/2 cup melted butter


Combine granulated sugar, light brown sugar, and corn meal.

Beat in eggs one at a time.

Stir in whipping cream, cider vinegar, vanilla extract, and melted butter.

Pour into unbaked pie shell.

Bake on middle rack at 400 F for 10 minutes. (this helps create the CRACK)

Lower heat to 325 F and continue baking for 45 minutes more.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

My Pecan Pie

I'm a southern lady at heart and by birthright. And although my family may not have been some weird religious nuts with distinctive black and white modest dress sense who crashed on Plymouth Rock back in the old fashioned days, The Castons have been rocking it here since well, since before the revolution. You know what revolution I'm talking about. That does not make me better or worse, nor any more or less American than you.

I do know one thing though: southern lady cooks are often a passionate sort and prone to pride, especially when it comes to their pies. It's a cultural thing. I'm no exception. My grandmother Keeter on my mother's side (we just called her Nana) was a terrific cook and could whip up a batch of chicken n' dumplings without messing up her new manicure while making the dough or bake a pie with her eyes closed. Ditto for my Grandmother Caston (Meemaw, that's what we called her). And my Aunt. And my Mother. And well, you name it.

And although my mother makes a mean Lemon Chess pie, a delightful Pumpkin Chiffon, and is one of the finest bakers and makers of just about any other dessert you might name, I think my pecan pie is better than hers. There, I've said it. Sorry Mom, I love you, and your pecan pie is mighty fine, but it is just too rich. I mean, I adore the fact that you don't use that nasty corn syrup crap in yours, but an all brown sugar sweetened filling is just too sweet for my taste buds. It's so sweet it hurts. And not in a good way.

So here I present my version of perfection, still based on Mom's recipe but a little bit better: Lizzy Caston's true Southern Pecan Pie.

Some factoids:
  1. Pecans are native to North America, roughly west of the Mississippi and South of the Mason Dixon
  2. Early Spanish and British explorers took the pecan from the New World back to the Old World and in places as far away as Asia in the 1600s, but pecans never really caught on outside of America.
  3. Pecan trees are a type of Hickory tree, and the wood is much valued in furniture, for flooring and in smoking meats, especially hams.
Now, onto the pie. I have been perfecting this recipe ever since I started baking at the tender age of 12. It has taken me years, and after a deviation from my Mom's recipe, and then into a bad phase of using corn syrup (gasp!), I finally found this recipe. It comes from one of my favorite food writers of all time: John Thorne. If you haven't read his books, you should. They will make you a better cook and a more informed eater. I promise. Plus, Thorne's recipes are flawless.

So what's so special about Lizzy's Damn Pecan Pie? It's honest. It's simple. It contains no foods with weird ingredients like Crisco, "Vanilla Flavoring" or HFCS. It is rich without being overwhelming or cloyingly sweet. It is velvety, and nutty and buttery and crumbly all at once. It honors Southern cooking at its core. It's damn American, that's what. Happy Thanksgiving!

The secrets? An all butter crust using the best butter your can find, high quality pecans, fresh eggs, real vanilla extract and a splash of bourbon. That would be SOUTHERN whiskey from Kentucky. Although any old dark moonshine will do. It just adds a little something extra. I think people from Louisiana might say, lagniappe. Hell yeah.

Oh, but the biggest tip? Use cane syrup in lieu of corn syrup. Yep. Cane Syrup. Made from sugar cane. It used to be a standard ingredient in the U.S., and is still easy to find in the South where it is cheap, as well as England. It gives the pie just what it needs without that nasty corn syrup film on the tongue and chemical taste. I like this brand which you can find at New Seasons in Portland or in any store that has it's own "British Foods" isle. Sure, it's expensive, but I don't care. I will not compromise on my pecan pie.

Make sure to bake gently and bake with love. Don't over bake. When a knife inserted in the center just comes out clean, you know it's done.

Miss Lizzy's Pecan Pie with Cane Syrup

makes 2, 9" pies

1 1/4 cups cane syrup such as Steen's 100% cane syrup of Lyle's syrup

1 cup light brown sugar

4 eggs

4 tablespoons butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 Tbs. Bourbon

2 cups coarsely broken pecan pieces

2 9" unbaked pie crusts

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Bring syrup and sugar to a boil in a medium saucepan and allow to boil for 2 or 3 minutes. Let syrup cool slightly while preparing the rest of the ingredients. Add butter to syrup and stir. Let cool until warm, but not cool. If the syrup is too warm it will cook the eggs and you don't want that because then you will have a sweetened scrambled egg pie with pecans and that is just gross. Beat eggs well, and slowly pour into lukewarm syrup, stir with a big spoon or rubber spatula to incorporate. Add vanilla, Bourbon and pecan meats.

Pour into the pie shells and bake about 45 minutes or until set. While the pie is baking I like to lick the extra filling left in the bowl. Disgusting? Naw, just delicious.

Each pie makes 16 servings.

Serve with a dollop of unsweetened or lightly sweetened whipped cream if you wish. Why unsweetned whipped cream? I don't know, it's just the way I grew up with it and the way I like it best.

Pie Problem Hotline

My fellow pie enthusiasts:

The High Holy Days of Pie are fast approaching. I know things on the pie-off blog have been a little bit dormant since the Big Day. Your dedicated Pie Commissioners take their roles seriously, but we do have day jobs. However, we are here to help guide you through this important Pie Season. Sort of like the Butterball Turkey advice line, but for pie. We are here to answer your pie related questions.

Please submit your pie questions in the comments section below, and we will respond as soon as we can.

Pie Commissioner Gretchen

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

President Elect Barack Obama Talks Pie (we knew it!)

Hat tip to Reid Beels. Thanks Reid!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Portland Pie-Off Presidential Endorsement

The Portland Pie Commission is pleased to announce the endorsement of Senator Barack Obama as president of the United States of America.

What's more American than pie? Pie is egalitarian, diverse and a dessert for the common wealth. Pie is positive, pie is meant for sharing and pie brings people together. Pie is for change.

This past summer we helped put together the first ever Portland Pie-Off. This grass roots event brought together over 149 people and 49 pies for an afternoon of goodwill, community and good eats both sweet and savory. Call it community organizing if you will, but I think we can all agree, in an era of deep commercialism and negative campaigning, the Pie-Off owes its success to certain shared ideals and values and the hard work of all who participated. Community effort made the Pie-Off a success and it is this same community that has the will to band together for positive change in our nation.

For it's these ideas and values of this community commonwealth, be it free shared pie on a summer afternoon—pie for all!—or the guarantees in the Bill of Rights that we, as Americans own together. Barack Obama is a candidate that shares in our ideals that this great nation holds the common commitment to own our problems and differences and can and should work together for collective responsibility. In a sea of phony rightist rhetoric that protects the political and monetary interests of a few, seeks to limit freedoms, and builds its platform on tyranny and hypocrisy, Obama refuses to abandon the core of American civic purpose that has made our nation a great one.

We ask you, fellow Americans and pie lovers to vote for more pie on November 4th, 2008. We ask you to vote for Barack Obama.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Eugene man sells truck for pies

I was visiting my parents this weekend and my mom handed me a newspaper clipping (all pie stories involve mom somehow.)  Anyway - I just had to pass this story along to the rest of you:

Sunday, August 31, 2008

What are people saying about the Pie-Off?

The Pie-Off was all about YOU, and congratulations, you made it happen! Here are some links from around the tubes reporting on the Pie-Off:

OurPDX sounds like they had fun!
Dieselboi brought meat pies: impressive
Gary Walter gives the behind the scenes scoop
Judge Bogdanski had a good time
Melissa Lion didn't get a ribbon, but she's reveling in her sticker
Holy Pie! says Jenny Cook
Zoe gives it up about her S'Mores without Fire Pie
Zoe's pie is featured on Slashfood Tuesday morning!
Tyesha reports in with some kind words and good times
Lily submitted a gorgeous sweet potato pie
The Grand Prize winner chimes in: could she be any more humble and sweet?
The Vig was in the howze: and it sounds like he had a great time.

Links leading up to the Pie-Off:

Gary's workin' the pie lead in.
Jack gets prepared. Twice.
Metblogs gives a day-of shout out.
Jenny Cook plans to bring it!
Cami Kaos says, "Go now!"
Willamette Week loves pie, too
Just Out says prepare your pie tins
You know your County Commissioner is cool when he shouts out for the Pie-Off
The Pie-Off makes the list for Ready, Set, Mom
Florid Disposition prepares for the Pie-Off.
PDX Pipeline pipes up about the Pie-Off.
There's been a lot of talk over at Yelp: bring it on!
GayRightsWatch cheers for the Pie-Off
Betsy works on her strategy.
Lelo talks about Pie.
Slashfood blogs about Portland, Oregon's first Pie-Off
Pagent offers up his idiot proof crust
Recovering Straight Girl anticipates the wonderfulness

If we're missing your link, please leave a comment and let us know, we'll add it to the list.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Congratulations to the Winners!

49 pies were entered, over 125 people came. Pie was eaten, and if you were a judge, that would be 49 bites of pie. At least. And there were winners! Congratulations go out to....

Best Crème Pie
Michael Baden for Strawberry Balsamic Pie

Best Custard Pie
Michael Arnovitz for Summer Grapefruit Pie
Michael included some notes with his entries, and about this winning entry said: A Southern American pie typically made with cornstarch and “Jell-O” products. I decided instead to swap out the Key Limes in my Key Lime pie recipe and use grapefruit instead. Crust is graham crackers, sugar and butter. Filling is condensed sweetened milk, fresh squeezed grapefruit juice, grapefruit zest, eggs. Topping of heavy cream (whipped).

Best Pumpkin Pie
Melva Carlson
Melva was the lone entry in this category, but according to the judges, this was a dang good pie.

Best Nut Pie
Michael Arnovitz for Musician’s Pie
Based on a traditional Catalonian (Spanish) recipe. Back in the day, Catalonian musician’s were often paid with dried fruits and nuts. This pie’s filling is made from dried dates, apricots and figs. The topping is a combination of cashews, pine nuts and almonds. Pastry is flour, sugar, salt, butter and vanilla. Filling was dried figs, dates & apricots, butter, peach nectar, brown sugar. The topping was almonds, pine nuts, cashews, butter, brown sugar, corn syrup, cream.

Best Fruit Pie
Laurita Carleton for Peach Blackberry Pie

Best Local Pie
Laurita Carleton for Peach Melba Cheesecake Pie

Best Mash-Up Pie
Zoe Richter for S’mores Pie

Best Faux Pie
Kathleen McDade for Dr. Pepper Pie

Savory Pie
Tricia Butler for Tomato Pie
This was the sneaker category: we didn’t plan for it, but we had quite a few people bring some great entries so voila! This category winner may not have received a ribbon, but they did receive the Pie Cozy.

Prettiest Pie
Laurita Carleton for Peach Melba Cheesecake Pie

Most Original Pie
Kathleen McDade for Dr. Pepper Pie

Best Pairing with Pie
Jenny Cook for Rosemary’s Baby (Blueberry Rosemary) + Wine

Best Overall Pie
Tricia Butler for Tomato Pie
And the best part? Tricia posted the recipe on her blog a little while back, so you can make it too. Or you can buy one at her booth at the Montavilla Farmer’s Market.

More photos and news from the first ever Portland Pie-Off to come: uploads to Flickr from the event? Please tag them with mmmPie.

Game On!

Today is the day. I am live tweeting my pie baking this morning. Follow the action here.

Friday, August 29, 2008

If you'd like to fill out your entry form before you come, feel free.

We'll have these at the Pie-Off for each entry into the competition, but if you'd like to fill them out ahead of time, feel free. Please check the correct category both on the top and bottom portions. The circle is for judging purposes only. Just print it out, fill it out, and bring it with you with your pie. mmmPie!

Have you saved room for pie?

Okay pie enthusiasts - tomorrow is the big day! Are you ready to bring it? Are you freaking out a little bit because you have been running your pie hole, talking smack all over the internet and now have to deliver? I feel your pie anxiety. I do.

Sadly, I have no advice to give you - because I don't know what I'm doing. I've learned not to let that stop me. All I have to offer are a few more photos of winning pies from this year's Oregon State Fair. Study them.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Political leanings and pie choices

What kind of pie do you think Barack Obama would say is his favorite? What kind of pie do you think John McCain would say is his favorite?

Carla posed the very important pie question to the candidates running for Portland City Commissioner. Amanda Fritz says her top pick is pumpkin, made from homegrown pumpkins, while Charles Lewis loves a good apple or strawberry-rhubarb.

I've been pondering these important questions lately. Friends have chimed in with answers of apple or berry for Obama, and crisco crusts or easily palatable pies like peanut butter for McCain. What do you think presidential candidates would choose as their favorite pies? What do these choices say about the candidates?

Yes, it's deep topics here at the Pie-Off blog: 2 days until the big day!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Keep your fingers crossed

Let's hope this woman doesn't show up at the Pie-Off. She went 8-for-8 on her pie entries: blue ribbons baby! Christine Anderson, we salute you!

Are you coming to the Pie-Off? A little FAQ

With the Pie-Off just around the corner, here's some information to help you plan for what we hope will be a really fun event.

What are the categories for the pies?
There are 8 categories to enter, and 12 categories to be awarded.

Can my pie be entered into more than one category?
Certainly. You may have a berry pie made from local berries, thus you can enter it into both the local and the berry categories.

What if I don't bake a pie? Can I still come to the Pie-Off?
Yes! The Pie-Off is for lovers of pie as well as pie makers. However, the more pies that are brought, the more there is to share.

Are we going to eat the pie?
Hells to the yeahs! After judging and awards, the pies will be available for eating, first come first served.

Are there prizes? Awards?
There are some very impressive ribbons. And the coolest pie cozy ever.

What's with the parking at the event?
It's a really popular area of Washington Park. You can see a map here. There will be a place to drop off pie while you go park, but we'd suggest to not be late!

Do I need to sign up to bring a pie?
Not really, but it would be great to let us know you're coming over here at Upcoming.

Should I bring anything else with me to the Pie-Off besides my happy pie-itude? (that's a new word, feel free to use it)
Yes! There will be time for pie judging when attendees are encouraged to hang out, socialize and enjoy the park. If you'd like to enjoy a picnic, bring your own chairs, drinks, blankets, and have a nice time. The site is really nice. And remember, if you're bringing a pie, please bring serviceware for it. We'll provide plates, forks and napkins.

Where do I go if I have a complaint?
The Pie-Off is brought to you by the Pie-Off Planning Commission. It's all about fun. We are not raising awareness and we are not trying to sell anything. We just love pie, and summer, and all the great local produce. And we are doing this completely as volunteers. Please keep this in mind.

State Fair Pies

We took a little trip to the Oregon State Fair on Sunday. The fair is a time-honored tradition in my family. We usually go every Labor Day but this year that just wasn't going to work out, so we went early. We'll be going again on Wednesday night to see Garrison Keillor who will hopefully give us a few verses of Beebopareebop Rhubarb Pie.

There have been a few changes at the fair this year. I couldn't tell if some of these changes were because we were attending earlier and some displays that normally would have gone bad by Labor Day were still fresh. The Home Arts exhibition in the Jackman-Long Building has switched up a few things. You can now walk through some of the quilts instead of straining your neck to see them all hanging from the rafters. There were also three refrigerated cases of home-baked pies. My little pie-loving heart skipped a beat. I've never seen pies on display at the Jackman-Long Building before - but there they were in all their fluted edged or latticed topped glory.

Take a gander at how fabulous they all look together and imagine how amazing all the pies are going to be at the Pie-Off! Think about how fantastic your pie is going to look with a blue ribbon laying next to it. That moment is just days away...

Sunday, August 24, 2008

I come from a town called Pie

East of Arizona, Southwest of Albuquerque, there really is a Pietown. And in that Pietown, there is a cafe that sells, you guessed it, pie. And every year? Yes, they have a pie contest. All in Pietown, New Mexico.

But what's really intriguing to me, is the kind of pie they make. Apple pie, with green chiles. Now I love apple pie. And I love green chiles. But I can't say I've ever had the two together. Here is the recipe from the Daily Pie Cafe, in Pietown, New Mexico:
4 large granny smith apples, peeled, cored and sliced
1 c. sugar
3 T. flour
2 t. cinnamon
¾ t. nutmeg
½ c. green chili, hot or mild to taste
3/4 c. pinon nuts
1 T lemon juice

Put apple slices into large mixing bowl. Top with seasonings, chili and pinon mix well. Set aside to blend flavors while the crust is being prepared.

Pastry crust (makes four crusts)
This recipe will use two crusts.
The other two can be frozen for future use

2 ½ c. flour
¼ t. baking powder
1 t. salt
½ c. salted butter
½ c. shortening
1 egg
1 T. white vinegar
1 c. cold water

Combine flour, baking powder and salt. Cut in butter and shortening. In separate bowl, mix egg, vinegar and water. Add to flour mixture and blend with hands until dry ingredients are moist (more water may have to be added).

Divide dough into four sections. Roll out one section on a floured board to fit 9” pie pan. Put crust into pan. Place apple mix , mounded in the center. Top with one rolled section of crust. Flute edges, cut vent holes into top crust. Brush with egg wash and sprinkle natural sugar on top (optional). Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes, then 400 degrees for one hour. Pie is done when juices bubble thick around the outer edge.

Oh what I'd give to try this pie. Here's to Pietown! Here's to Pie!

Friday, August 22, 2008

OMG! Ribbons!

Did you think we were kidding when we said there would be prize ribbons? We were very serious - and here is the proof. You know you want one so bad you can taste it.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Unusual Pies

Sure, everyone has heard of blackberry or peach, pecan or cream pie, or even Shoo-Fly pie. But how many of you have ever had tried the joys of unusual pies?

While a mouthful of Sawdust Pie sounds like punishment, the meringue filling of coconut and nuts actually sounds quite good.

Or how about the cheesy Ricotta Pie?

Then there is the British oddity of Treacle Tart Cornflake Pie. Treacle tart being a classic British treat made with a type of sorghum syrup. Although, we have no idea how, when or why the Brit's adopted the cornflakes and decided to put them in a pie. Odd? Yes. Intriguing? Certainly.

It might look like a key lime pie, but don't be fooled. That's an Avocado Pie. Yes, sweetened avocado. Hmmmm...

Have any other weird pie recipes? Sure grasshopper pie sounds weird as does Shoo-fly pie. But I think most of us figured out around age 5 that neither contain real grasshoppers nor flies.

Oh, yes, you're really coming to the Pie-Off!

We're getting excited about the amount of attention the Portland Pie-Off is getting with some of ya'll. Check out this wonderful post by Media Chick about her preparation for the Pie-Off. And Gretchen has been trying her hand at pie for the very first time: I'd say her first pie was pretty beautiful. I wonder if it was tasty?

Are you ready for the Pie-Off? Are you practicing? Researching recipes? Planning on bringing the classic family recipe? Bring it on!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Pie-Off Venue

The key to success is often attributed to location, location, location. I think we've scored a nice little piece of real-estate for the pie-off - the Elephant House at Washington Park (aka picnic site D). Just take a look:

And there are a couple of nice grassy areas on both sides of the Elephant House perfect for bringing some lawn chairs or blanket and socializing with your fellow pie lovers (and competition that should be squashed like a bug! Oh wait, I'm not sure what took hold of me there.)

The pie-off is a family friendly event. Bring your kids. There is a very fun looking playground right next door that has that comfy foam flooring underneath so when you fall and bonk your head - the ambulance doesn't have to come.

There is parking nearby as well, but on a lovely Saturday afternoon it can get a little scarce. I suggest you carpool with friends (which will also provide the opportunity to sabotage their pie. Wait, again, I'm not sure what got into me.) We will secure a spot in front of the Elephant House for you to drop off your pie, chairs, and whatever else while you find a place to park.

Do you have questions? Post them in the comments and I'll try to answer them.

Pie in the Face Wednesday - Classic Pie'd

Probably one of the best pie fights in film history. It's a Three-Stooges Pie Fight of Course!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Blueberry pie is bona fide health food

Care for a blueberry?
This month, thanks to the work by Yale University's Griffin Prevention Research Center, thousands of stores will be posting numbers about the nutrition information of your food choices. According to National Geographic Magazine, "the Overall Nutritional Quality Index scores foods from 1-100, based on nutrients, vitamins, sugar and salt as well as impact on blood pressure and other health concerns."

Pie makers? Blueberries scored 100. And apples? 96. Clearly, pie is health food. Get bakin'.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Pie Practice

Maybe some of you out there are thinking to yourself, “Self, I really want to go to this pie-off thing because it sounds really fun but I don’t know how to bake a pie.” Well, take heart. The pie-off embraces all skill levels. I myself have only made two pies in my life. It was about 10 years ago and they were hardly from scratch – and I am an official Pie Commissioner.

So on Sunday I dusted off my rolling pin and baked a practice pie. I’ve never made pie crust from scratch and this was my biggest source of pie anxiety. So many people have conflicting theories on what makes the best pie crust. How does a pie novice decide what to do? My fellow Pie Commissioners both swear by this person, her recipe and technique. Seemed like a good starting point to me. My mom gave me the last harvest of her backyard rhubarb. So I was good to go.

Except, I still needed to buy a pie plate. When presented with the various pie plate options at Kitchen Kaboodle, I made a snap decision and purchased a Pure by Chantal pie plate in ivory. It’s environmentally friendly, but I made my decision solely on looks. It was cute and it was mine.

Here's a little pictorial diary of my first homemade pie from scratch.

Behold, the Pie-Cozy

I announced on Twitter last week that my mom was making a pie-cozy tote to give as a prize at the Portland Pie-Off. The overall reaction was, "what is a pie-cozy?" This surprised me as my mom has been carrying pies to potlucks, picnics, and family dinners in pie-cozies for as long as I can remember. I thought every home had one, but a Google search only turned up one other pie-cozy and it is butt-ugly. My grandmother made our pie-cozies and I guess took the pattern with her to her grave. My mom is an amazing seamstress and was able to re-create the wonderfulness that is a pie-cozy. And if you are lucky, you can win this very pie-cozy at the Pie-Off:

A fairly simple item. The pie-cozy looks like this.

It opens up at the top like so.

Then insert your pie (works well for casseroles, too).

Pull the drawstring closed and carry with the handles.

Butter or Shortening? The Debate Continues

A long standing, and often passionate issue among devoted bakers (read: **crazies**), is the use of butter vs. shortening in pie crusts as well as margarine and Lard (leaf lard vs. suet? You decide). In fact, I can think of nothing that induces more pie-in-the-face online and offline mayhem than these few simple ingredients.

Take this heated online debate.

My favorite quote with such adamant use of ALL CAPS and !!!! POINTS!
"I always use LARD and ICE COLD water!. it is better than anything else I have tried. Regarding kosher baking, 'CRISCO' is certified by the OU and is better than margarine. 86 the butter and margarine for pie crust!"

Local food writer and avid baker, Nancy Rommelmann weighs in with her personal experience here.

Moi? Well, I fall into the butter only camp. It's taken me several years to perfect my recipe (including a hands-on class with Shuna Lydon herself), but Crisco just doesn't do it for me in both baking satisfaction and taste and lard is too alienating to vegetarians and my Jewish friends. However, I won't judge anyone if they want to use the solid-greasy, chemically produced trans-fat laden Crisco stuff. Seriously.

My Mom, an excellent pie baker if ever there was one, even uses these weird pre-made pie crust sticks. So weird that you can't even find them online. She's the only one I know who uses them. Her pies, including the crust, are always excellent BTW.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Greetings, and Happy Lemon Meringue Pie Day to you!

Special thanks to Philadelphia, not just the city of brotherly love, but also the birthplace of lemon meringue pie. Elizabeth Coane Goodfellow invented the tangy sweet treat. But the most recognizable element of the lemon meringue pie is the meringue, right?

It turns out the precursor to the meringue was something called Snow Eggs, a popular dessert in Medieval and Renaissance Europe. In case you'd like to try it out, here's the handy 17th Century French recipe...
Snow eggs
Boile some milk with a little flower water well allyed, then put it in more than half of one dosen of whites of eggs, and stir well all together, and sugar it. When you are ready to serve, set them on the fire again and glase them, that is, take the rest of your whites of eggs, beat them with a feather, and mix all well together; or else fry well the rest of your whites, and powre them over your other eggs. Pass over it lightly an oven lid, or the fire-shovell red hot, and serve them sured with sweet waters. You may instead of whites, put in it the yolks of your eggs proportionable, and the whites fried upon. The cream after the Mazarine way is make in the same manner, except you must put no whites of eggs on it."
---The French Cook, Francois Pierre, La Varenne, translated into English in 1653 by I.D.G., with an introdution by Philip and Mary Hyman [Southover Press:East Sussex] 2001 (p. 98-99)
Now that's an easy one, right?

Happy Lemon Meringue Pie Day to you!

Sade Sings Cherry Pie

With a sultry voice and jazzy guitar rifts in the background, this sexy songstress makes me wanna whip out the apron and get to bakin'. Cause we all know nothing satisfies like Cherry Pie!

As Sade sings,
"oooh You're as Sweet as Cherry Pie"


Thursday, August 14, 2008

Pie: the Ultimate Communication Tool

Sssshhh. Listen carefully. Pie is talking to you. What is it saying? Is it the last piece of peach pie calling to you from the kitchen? Perhaps. The siren-song of pie is impossible to ignore. Listen closer. Pie has more that it wants to say.

Pie is an amazing creative outlet: a place to experiment, explore, and perfect skills. You can tell a lot about a person by the pie they bake. And if you can’t bake a pie, you can paint it. Pie can let others know how you feel about them. If someone bakes you a pie, you can be fairly certain that they love you.

And if that weren’t enough - pie can also illustrate concepts. That’s right. I’m talking about the Pie Chart. From Wikipedia:

A pie chart (or a circle graph) is a circular chart divided into sectors, illustrating relative magnitudes or frequencies or percents. In a pie chart, the arc length of each sector (and consequently its central angle and area), is proportional to the quantity it represents. Together, the sectors create a full disk. It is named for its resemblance to a pie which has been sliced.

Blah, blah, blah, clinical language, blah, blah. Let’s take a look at the pie chart in action. For those of you who have been RickRolled – a pie chart can help you understand what just happened to you.

If you seek more song clarity in pie form (as well as lesser, more inferior charts), why not check out the song chart pool on flickr.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Pie tastes better on environmentally responsible plates

I hate Styrofoam. No, I seriously hate Styrofoam. At an event last summer, I was hot, I was parched, I needed some liquid libations. I approached the booth featuring hand squeezed lemonade, and discovered my only option was to drink it out of a Styrofoam cup. Despite my rapidly decreasing loveliness wilting in the heat and my approaching puffiness from dehydration, I declined the lemonade. I just can’t do the Styrofoam. That’s petroleum. Things just don’t taste good when they’re served on or in things that are bad for the environment. At least that’s my humble opinion. But you know the great thing about this whole blog post? We have options.

OPTIONS! If you’re having a picnic or a get-together or an event, you don’t have to go the bad-for-the-environment route. There are so many other ways to do right by the planet. With this in mind, our friends at Verterra have generously offered plates for us to use at the Portland Pie-Off. Yeah, Verterra! Why are they better than Styrofoam? Oh, let us count the ways….

Verterra plates are made from leaves. And they can biodegrade in less than 3 months. There’s a lot of other really great things to be said about them, and you can read about it here. And you can see their lovely products here. We’ll be using these at the Pie-Off.

But the really great thing? These plates are reusable before they are composted. If there is a community organization that would like these plates after the Pie-Off, just let us know and we’ll make arrangements for you to pick them up from the event and continue their life, serving good foods, hopefully as good as the pies are sure to be at the Pie-Off. And when they eventually are at the end of their lives, we’ll know they compost back into the earth. Doesn’t that pie taste even better now? Mmmmpie.

Special thanks to our friend GreenSmith on Twitter for making this sponsorship possible!

It's Pie in the Face Wednesday!

***Please note, The Pie-Off Commission as the officially designated group of the Portland Pie-Off does not condone, promote or otherwise approve the use of pie-in-the-face tactics or shenanigans and hereby declares the Portland Pie-Off as a pie-in-the-face free zone.*** However, it's always fun to watch other people get creamed.

Below is a classic video of homophobic actress and washed up Hollywood star Anita Bryant getting pied by gay rights activists. Politically Pied!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A Slice of Nostalgia

If pie isn’t the poster child for nostalgia, I don’t know what would be. Pie represents the very definition of nostalgia: a longing for the past, often in idealized form. Pie is about mom, and holidays, and socials, and comfort. My dad likes to tell a story about when he would take the train back and forth from college in St. Louis and home in Tacoma. He would have a big ol’ slice of apple pie in the dining car and back then the perfect compliment to apple pie was a slab of cheddar cheese. My dad always tells this story at Thanksgiving, as he cuts a slice of cheddar to go with his apple pie. Lots of people have romanticized stories about pie and I suspect that is a big part of why we love pie so much.

I love this photo for a lot of reasons. I am a big fan of the automat, although I have never actually been in one. To me it represents the anonymity of the big city. The automat was a place you could go, put a few coins in the vending slot and get a meal without dealing with wait staff or cashiers. Anonymous and efficient. But what is behind that sea of little vending windows? Pie, of course. Pie like mom used to make. A little slice of comfort to ease the workday troubles of the common man.

Portland used to have a fine establishment on NW 23rd called Quality Pie. QP was a great 50s style diner frequented by people from all walks of life. And I do mean ALL walks of life; high school kids, cops, drag queens, neighborhood folk and stoners. It was a great hang-out. My in-the-know friends took me there late one night when I was a very sheltered 19 year old just starting art school. I think they thought the clientèle would shock my small town sensibilities. I may have been small town, but I knew a great pie joint when I saw one. Small towns are all about great pie joints and the characters that inhabit them.

Big town or small town, one thing is universal - the comfort of pie. I think this bit that's a regular feature on Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion radio show sums it up:

It's at times like that, you want Beebopareebop Rhubarb Pie. Yes, nothing gets the taste of humiliation out of your mouth like Beebopareebop Rhubarb Pie.

But one little thing can revive a guy,
And that is home-made rhubarb pie.
Serve it up, nice and hot.
Maybe things aren't as bad as you thought.

Mama's little baby loves rhubarb, rhubarb,
Beebopareebop Rhubarb Pie.
Mama's little baby loves rhubarb, rhubarb,
Beebopareebop Rhubarb Pie.

(c) 1999 by Garrison Keillor

Faux Pie or Mock Pie?

One of the more serious discussions of the Official Pie Commission Summit was whether or not to allow "Faux", (aka Mock, or "fake") pie in the Pie-Off. After 3 seconds of serious debate we concluded that faux pie is not only perfectly acceptable, it even deserves a Pie-Off category all its own.

What's Faux Pie?

Unlike its high-falutin' cousins the galette, the tart and other fancy pastry crusted delectables, Pie comes from humble origins. For our pie-baking forbearers, pie was a way to use what was available at hand during the seasons and stretch expensive ingredients like butter, sugar and flour so that several hungry people at one table could all enjoy a slice.

As the age of industrialization, and America's love affair with all things packaged and quick-Mix took hold, the "use what you have on hand" pie tradition continued. Sometimes with some funny, yet tasty, results.

Sure to piss off pie purists, slow foodies, and other gourmets, we here at the Pie-Off love the faux pie. We love it for its slice of cheesy Americana and what is sure to be in certain households and church potlucks, long standing tradition. Faux Pie, we salute you!

I present for your inspection, the most well known, and probably the oldest of the faux pie family, "The Mock Apple Pie." Although attributed to an inventive cook in the late 1800s, it was the Ritz cracker people in the 1930s who really figured out they had a good thing on their hands and began to market the pie out of it. Who doesn't remember growing up staring at the Ritz box and wondering, "can you really make an apple pie out of Ritz crackers?"

Here is the recipe in all it's crackery buttery (or margarine induced if you wish) glory.

Yet mock apple pie is but one of the many other faux pie offerings out there.
There are several versions of Mock Pecan Pie. This one made with oats, while another is made with high fiber pinto beans!
Pinto beans are also the main ingredient in Mock Pumpkin Pie

Of course there are quick and easy candy bar pies and other no-bake cheaters delights, featuring that favorite dessert of yore, Jello Pudding-Mix!

Got any faux pie recipes of your own? A favorite faux pie memory? Feel free to share it in the comments below. See you at the Pie-Off!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Confused about Custard, Confounded by Cream

I've received several desperate sounding emails asking the following questions. Below is a typical example:

"Dear Pie Commission,

What's the difference between a Custard and a Cream Pie? Aren't pecan pies and pumpkin pies simply custard pies, so why the separate categories in the Pie-Off?


A Confused Pie Lover"

Here are your answers:

Custards and Cream Pies are often, but not always, in the same cuisine family but it's the cooking techniques that make them different.

The main difference between cream and custard pies:
1. Custard pies both filling and crust are baked together.

2. Cream Pies use a pre-baked pie shell and the fillings are cooked separately then put into the finished shell, or in some cases use uncooked filling made with whipped cream, or using thickeners like gelatin in lieu of actual custard.

See, pretty simple. Except there are exceptions. Read on...

A custard is simply a preparation made with eggs, milk or cream and/or other liquids and heated until thickened. The cooking temperature and time, amount of eggs and other ingredients, will all dictate how thin or thick the cooked custard is. WiseGeek has a pretty good definition of custard. A custard may be simmered on top of the stove, baked or baked in a water-bath. Some custards have the addition of cornstarch, tapioca or gelatin as thickeners, but French cuisine codes are strict: Jello? Cornstarch? Sacre-Bleu! C'est nes pas une creme! (translation, "That's not custard!"). Don't mess with the French and their goddamn rigid food rules.

Anyway, some things in the custard family include flan, creme brulee, the Italian dessert known as zabaglione or the related French version dessert/sauce Sabayon. Puddings are custards, but not the British term "pudding", which simply refers to a type of steamed cake. Panna Cotta (or "cooked cream") is also a custard.

And speaking of Jello. Jello pudding mix is a custard and may be used in pies, it's just a bastardized processed food version that may require cooking, or in the case of Instant Jello Mix, no cooking is required at all. However, when used in pies, Jello pudding mix actually becomes a cream pie since it is usually put into a pre-baked pie shell. Confusing, isn't it.

Let's explore a bit further which should help explain...

Custard pie examples include the chess pie family, pumpkin, pecan (really just a chess pie with pecans), buttermilk pie, Kentucky Derby pie and shoo-fly pie. Key lime pie is a custard pie, but lemon meringue is not (see below). Many custard pies were quite popular in the days of yore but outside of South have now sadly fallen out of favor in mainstream American cooking. This is a shame since custard pies are very easy to make and are quite delicious!

Cream pies are filled with pre-cooked flavored custards (American term: pudding or pastry cream) with an endless variety of flavors including chocolate, vanilla, coconut, banana, lemon, and so on. Lemon meringue pie is actually a cream pie since the filling is cooked beforehand and put into a pre-baked shell, even though the end pie is quickly finished in a hot oven to cook the meringue. Other cream pies use uncooked fillings that are thickened by whipped cream, gelatin, or the like. To make things even more confusing, uncooked pies that contain no dairy, such as my favorite "unbaked blueberry pie", are still considered part of the the cream pie family. Go figure.

As for separate categories of pumpkin, pecan and custard pies in the Pie-off, pumpkin and pecan pies are so loved and iconic by pie makers that they deserve their own categories.

Regardless, I hope this helps explain the cream vs. custard pie questions. We here at the Portland Pie Commission look forward to trying your own versions at the Portland Pie-Off!

Happy Baking,


The Art of Pie

One of my all-time favorite painters is Wayne Thiebaud. Mr. Thiebaud's oeuvre (big word alert) includes a wide variety of subject matter, especially.... PIE.

"It started out just as a sort of crazy problem to set for myself to orchestrate abstract elements with the subject matter. As soon as I did that, as I say, I couldn't help but look at it and laugh, 'That certainly has to be the end of me as a serious painter--a slice of pie.' But I couldn't leave it alone...It just seemed to be the most genuine thing which I had done." - Wayne Thiebaud

I know I sound cliche here, but aren't these paintings delish?

Pies, Pies, Pies - 1961

Lemon Meringue Pie - 1964

Pie Counter -1963

Neapolitan Pie - 1991

Refrigerator Pies - 1962