Often, when I’m alone in the kitchen, my mind wanders to what it was like to be a home food provider in the past. What was it like to beat egg whites into a foam by hand or cook a stew over a fire instead of in the oven. Providing meals used to be an day-long affair, and every time I use my stand mixer or the food processor I say a silent thank you for the available technology and for the generosity of my family to equip my kitchen with such luxuries.
But sometimes when I’m kneading bread dough or rolling out a pizza crust with my floured rolling pin, I feel especially connected to my ancestors who used the same movement and the same tools to make the same dishes.
I think that is part of the reason that pie is my absolute favorite dessert-thing to make. If you’re making pie right — with a buttery, flakey pie crust and fresh fruit filling — there are no tools besides a cheese grater, a rolling pin and the oven.
My co-worker, Marlin Ross, recently turned 60, and he loves pie. So I made him one. And I made one for us too, so I could try a slice and make sure it didn’t taste vile before giving one away as a gift.
The peaches and the plums were not as ripe (and therefore sweet and flavorful) as I would have liked, but the crust was perfect, and it was the prettiest pie I’ve made.
Pies cannot be rushed. They take time and effort, but in my experience, people can taste the extra love and care put into them.
So, to make this peach and plum fruit pie, I started by putting a few sticks of butter and a mixture of water and vinegar in the freezer. Pie crust ingredients must be very cold.
Then I parboiled the peaches. Parboiling means to partly cook by boiling, or boil for a short time. It’s often used to soften the skin and flesh of fruits and vegetables to make the skin easier to remove, and is especially successful with tomatoes, to make a bruschetta topping, for example.
So I dropped the peaches in a pot of boiling water for one minute and then drained the whole thing and used a paring knife to cut the skin away from the flesh of each peach, while they were still hot.
Taking one stick of butter out of the freezer at a time, I grated it along a cheese grater. A friend told me about this method a year or so ago, and it is the best method for pie crust. I don’t care whether a recipe tells you to use a food processor or not, do this instead. After each stick was grater, I returned the butter pieces to the freezer and grated the next stick.
Then I mixed up some flour, salt and sugar in a large bowl.
I added my butter and used my fingers to rub the flour into the butter, breaking the pieces up. When it’s done, the largest butter pieces should range in size between oat flakes and peas.
Then I made a well in the center of the mixture and poured the cold vinegar mixture (from the freezer) into the well.
Again, I used my hands to bring everything together into a sticky, wet, shaggy ball.
I divided my dough. (Mine was divided into quarters, because I was making two pies, each with a bottom and top crust.)
I lined a dinner plate with plastic wrap, and I poured the divided dough onto the plate, bringing it together into a crumbly ball the best I could. I flattened it into a disk and wrapped it in plastic wrap.
All of the disks were then chilled for at least 30 minutes. This allows the moisture in the dough to distribute evenly, without overworking the dough.
While the pie crusts were chilling, I sliced up my peeled peaches and unpeeled plums and tossed them in a large bowl. (I just used the unwashed bowl of my pie crust.)
I added flour, brown sugar, cornstarch, coriander, nutmeg, ginger and cinnamon to the mixture and tossed it all until the fruit was coated. This went into the refrigerator to chill as well.
When the pie crusts were ready, I preheated be oven and greased my pie pans, I took one disk out of the fridge at a time and kneaded it on the floured countertop just enough so it came together in a smooth ball. Then I rolled it out into a circle, larger than my 9-inch pie pan.
To transport the crust without ripping it, place your rolling pin at one edge of the dough. Holding the edge of the pie crust against the rolling pin, roll the pin forward, allowing the crust to wrap around the pin. Then move the while thing to your pie pan and unroll it. (There’s a picture below that shows my top crust wrapped around the rolling pin.)
I added my pie crusts to my pie pans, pressing them down gently so they were snug with the bottom and sides of the pan. I trimmed the crust around the sides, so there was just a 1-inch overhang. I filled the pies with the fruit filling and then rolled out my top crusts.
I rolled out my top crusts over the fruit and trimmed the excess pie crust away, so the top crust was even with the edges of the pie plate. Then I tucked the edges of the top crust down along the sides of the bottom crust, on the inside.
I folded the edges of the bottom crust over and crimped it closed with my fingers.
Then I used a wet pastry brush to remove the excess flour from the top of the crust, and brushed it with an egg wash (one egg plus one tablespoon of water). Don’t forget your crimped edges with the egg wash! Then I sprinkled some cinnamon and sugar on top, and cut a few slits in the top crust to allow the steam to escape. This prevent the bottom crust from getting soggy.
This all baked for about 40 minutes, until the filling was bubbling and the top crust was golden brown!