Thursday, September 3, 2020

Piathlon the 7th: or, Brandy Raisins and Happiness

Guess what today is!

Today is indeed the seventh Pieathlon! This is how I felt when Yinzerella announced that more pie is coming!

In this world where time has no meaning, getting a surprise notice of impending pie was one of the few reminders that the seasons have continued apace since I started avoiding people like my life depends on it. This week has been a long year, and this year has been a short month.

And so, let’s have a look at the recipe we got this year!

Honey Fruit Pie
Pie dough for a double-crust pie*
2 c dried fruit
¼ c honey
Grated rind of one orange
½ c orange juice
¼ c water
1 tbsp cornstarch, mixed with ¼ c water
1 tbsp brandy
1 egg white
1 to 2 tbsp caster sugar

Mix the fruit, honey, orange juice, and orange rind in a small or medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer 10 minutes. Add the cornstarch and water, stir until thickened. Mix in the brandy and remove from heat. Set aside to and wait until it cools (don't skip the waiting!).
While it's cooling, roll out the dough into two sheets. Lay one of them into the pan.
When the filling is cooled, spread it into the pan. Wet the outer rim of the bottom crust to better glue it to the top. Put the top crust on and cut vents in it. Brush with the egg white and sprinkle with the caster sugar.
Bake for 15 minutes at 400°. Reduce heat to 350° and bake 25-30 minutes more.
Serve warm or cold with whipped cream or ice cream.

*3 cups of flour and 1 cup of butter make the right amount.
If you don't have caster sugar, put a spoon of granulated sugar in a blender, food processor, or coffee grinder.

Source: Dick Emery's Cook Book, Dick Emery, 1979 from Jenny at Silver Screen Suppers
That lady on top who looks like she is the casserole queen of every potluck is also Dick Emery.

It just figures that we got a really delicious recipe the year we can’t see anyone. Jenny of Silver Screen Suppers decided to be really nice to the lucky recipient of her recipe, and it looks like this year it is me! No one ever sends in a boring recipe to the Pieathlon, and this time we got one of the good ones instead of one of the terrors! I almost feel bad about the recipe I sent in after getting something so lovely. Surly of Vintage Recipe Cards got to make a pie out of breadcrumbs and vinegar. In these plague times, I can’t go out and make weird recipes with friends, so Surly gets to experience the joy of strange kitchen journeys! I never sadistically pick recipes from the more horrifying pages of "books" like Fifty Exciting New Ways to serve Pickled Herring, but I like to pick something that is weird but possibly good. 

Seriously, our only misgiving is that a pie this full of dried fruit may be a bit too full of fiber. But who is this Dick Emery?

 We had a look, and it turns out Dick Emery is a very British comedian. One of his sketches ended with the punch line "I was on my tea break!" I was watching videos of him for a long time for the cultural insight into Britain and also because he's actually very funny. Anyone who says "I was better in drag than in combat gear" already recommends himself.

Anyway, when Yinzerella asked if anyone had any dietary restrictions to keep in mind while reassigning recipes, we asked for something that didn’t have expensive ingredients and got exactly what we asked for. The dried fruit was cheap, but you know what was a bit of a squeeze?

This stuff is white gold, people!

We’re using not just a pint but a pint and a half of flour for this. And that’s before we get into the extravagant deployment of butter. We haven’t even gotten to the contents of the pie and this recipe’s already used some of the most precious rarities in the store. Now, this house doesn’t have one of those lovely pastry blenders for us to use, even though it has whatever this thing is:

If you have ever used one of these, please tell what you used it for!

So we attempted to use knives instead. Pie recipes always say “Cut the butter into the flour with a pastry blender or with two knives” without explaining how to make two knives do the job. We tried anyway and didn’t get very far:

It's barely different than when we dropped the butter in there.

As it happens, we had two oranges on the counter, only just barely reaching the end of their prime. We couldn’t find a grater for the rind, so we ended up attempting to use a knife instead. It didn’t go very well.

Did you know that you can just use your fingernail to gouge the pith off of the peels you've cut? I didn't until I had to.

The oranges did not quite have half a cup of juice to squeeze out of them, so we added water to make up the difference. However, we did add another step: Since pie-making was interrupted, this whole thing went into the refrigerator to infuse overnight. So while the orange juice is more watery than Dick Emery intended, maybe it drew out enough whatever-oils from the rind to make up for the loss.

Remember a few years ago when those "fruit waters" where you float a fruit salad in a water dispenser were really popular in fancy lobbies?

Anyway, on day three, we finally got to the making of this pie! We start by using some more of our precious flour to prevent this pie dough from sticking to this random wooden pull-out board in the kitchen. One may joke about how that pile of white powder resembles cocaine, but in these pandemic times I think a five-pound sack cocaine might be easier to get.

Actually, we were very pleased that the pie dough landed very easily onto the pan. Look at it! It’s not a crumbly, sad mess but a single beautiful sheet majestically draped over my friend’s mom’s pie pan!

And I did it using that can of cooking spray instead of a rolling pin!


While we used to spend forever patching various torn-up pieces of dough into a single pie crust, this time we only had to mend one little tear right on the rim.

And so, at long long last, we get to the actual making of this pie! We wanted to have everything ready to forestall any absent-minded forgetfulness. It’s easier to remember to add something if it’s sitting right in front of you, measured out and patiently waiting. First, we made caster sugar. Now I have to admit, as someone who does not speak British I’ve never heard of the stuff before. I happened to be talking to someone online when the recipe arrived, and asked “Have you ever hear of caster sugar?” And so, my friend looked this foreign term up online and read what he found into the phone. That led us to this encounter between a coffee grinder and a couple of spoons of sugar.
I didn't know it was possible to grind your own coffee but somehow never get a rolling pin.

Meanwhile, the orange peels had softened and plumped quite a bit in their unexpectedly-long stay in the refrigerator.

We introduced the orange peels and the water containing them into the blender that has aided so many batches of banana bread. (Quick aside: Using a blender on your bananas makes the lightest, loveliest banana bread you can imagine. If you’ve been making banana bread, try it with your recipe of choice.)

This blender looks like it should have died after three smoothies, but it has lasted long enough for the logo to start wearing off.


Judging by the tiny rind-shreds splattered onto the blender lid, the blender managed to grate the rind much better than we ever could have, even if we’d had a orange zester.

Meanwhile, we get to the star of this pie: enough dried fruit to keep even the most frustrated person regular for a week!

The store-brand cranberries are a reminder that once upon a pre-plague time, some supermarkets were open 24 hours and you could get your groceries at a reasonable hour like 3AM.


After dumping everything in the pot, we decided that maybe we should cut the dried apricots down a bit. I’m sure there’s a faster way than scissoring each apricot-puck one at a time. As someone who went to cooking school, I should probably be a bit embarrassed at this. However, the apricots got cut up just fine, and I didn’t have to dig around for a cutting board.

At this point I had doubts about this recipe. It seemed straightforward enough when we read it- we’re cooking the dried fruits until they’re nice and squidgy (that’s a British term so it’s appropriate for this British recipe), then putting them in a pie crust and baking until it’s, um, baked. But staring into the pot, that looked like a tiny puddle of juice and an overwhelming amount of dried fruit to re-squidgify.

The orange juice is under there somewhere.

As things started to boil, the contents of the pot took on an unnerving resemblance to the cover photo of a terrible cookbook.

Be warned: the cover shot may look fit for human consumption, but this book would have you putting cut-up weiners and hollandaise sauce on English muffins.

After a few minutes of simmering allowed the smell to permeate the house, someone in the next room called out “Is that orange peels?” I find it interesting that (to more educated noses than mine) orange peels smell distinct from the rest of the orange. Within ten minutes, the kitchen smelled utterly delightful, and we were ready to add the cornstarch which we had already measured and set out because we are prepared like that.

Bombs awayyyyy!

The last thing to add was the brandy. We’ve previously noted that Europeans seem more prone than Americans to adding a splash of liquor here and there as flavoring, and this recipe is no exception. Now, we could have gone to a liquor store and gotten one of those mini-bottles, but this turned up waaay back in the cabinet.

I know some of you may cry out that using this weird safety-orange synthetic stuff where the recipe says to use brandy is an unacceptable substitution, but I have 2 excuses: 1) it says brandy on the bottle so at the very least it meets the legal bare minimum to be thus labeled, and 2) there’s a damn plague on and I am not going to die just because I had to make a liquor store run.

Anyway, we expected there to be apricots (or at least artificial apricot flavoring) in the brandy, but we  did not expect to see some very peculiar things listed with the ingredients:

If you know why, please share.


Dairy-infused artificial brandy aside, we soon had a triumphant steaming mound of dried fruit ready to bake!

This pie was going so swimmingly compared to our many prior disasters. Everything had worked like the recipe had said it would. We'd had all our ingredients nicely laid out in a line on the counter because with a dishwasher we can just put all the little containers on a rack and forget about cleaning them. And the pie was shaping up to be something utterly delicious. Look at how nicely the top crust is draped on top of the pie! I used to be terrified of making double-crust pies. It was a miracle if I could get the rolled-out dough on top in less than five ripped pieces. And now, this one just laid on top as easily as dropping on a wet dishrag.

Fittingly for a British recipe, we owe our pie success to Delia Smith's tutorial video.

With great happiness, we cut the requisite vent-slits on top. We got a lovely circle of them instead of random lines, but didn’t quite manage to get it centered.

Now, some people may notice that the pie crust looks like it’s sort of bubbling up a bit. What's actually happening is that the crust is melting over all those steaming-hot raisins. If we had a working printer here at Our Kitchen of Cookrye, we could have printed the recipe out instead of hastily scrawling notes onto a pad. Then we would have noticed a crucial half-sentence:


The crust was melting into gravy, but we nevertheless attempted to brush on the egg white. In our haste, we accidentally shook the bowl and dumped all of it onto the melting pie. Not wanting a pie baked under a layer of scrambled eggs, we tried to get the excess off.

The paper towels blotted away the excessive egg white successfully, but tore the pie a new one.

At this point, seeing all of our time and effort melting into failure before we could even get it into the oven, we couldn’t even sprinkle on the caster sugar- though we tried. We were so sad to see the pie turn into a sad melting mess that even loading the long-wished-for automatic dishwasher could not dispel the despair.
Well this is a literal steaming-hot mess.

Miraculously, the pie emerged from the oven looking like we had never failed. Sure, the top is a little warty, but it didn’t disintegrate into an oozy mess before it had a chance to bake. We even got a lovely brown top from the egg white. After seeing the pie nearly dissolve into ooze before baking, we were  little wary of cutting it to reveal what may lie within. But if we had not succeeded at pie, we had at least made a pie-shaped object.

While the crust may have turned into a soggy ooze as we frantically rushed the pie into the oven, it managed to harden enough to defy steak knives.

The second slice (and every one thereafter) lifted out a lot more nicely, so we'll show that one instead. Even before eating it, I did like that you actually cut this pie instead of scooping out a runny filling.

All right, herewith follow the first impressions. One other person in the house tried it and said “It’s very… interesting. I’ve never had anything like it. It’s very tart.” I thought that was a polite way of saying it wasn’t good, but he did get a second slice.

As for myself: I’d been worried that watering down the orange juice would make it bland, but it mostly tastes like orange and brandy (which by the way was a lovely addition), with cranberries thrown in. I’d recommend using fewer tart dried fruits than I did. With that said, this much pie got eaten in one night:

That's a lot more than a courtesy taste.


However, we all agreed that it seemed like it’d be really good with ice cream. And the recipe itself also says to serve with ice cream. Or at least I thought it did. Had I the means to print the recipe, I would have seen that it clearly specifies whipped cream. But the ice cream has whipped cream in it, so we’re going to claim recipe fealty on a technicality. (So there's an unexpected upside to not having a working printer: you sometimes end up with more ice cream!) 

We eyed the bananas that had gone from green to brown on the counter without ever stopping at yellow and decided that this tart pie would be ideally served with banana ice cream from our Depression cookbook. (We’d already been planning to make ice cream, and hence had the cream waiting in the refrigerator, but the pie prompted us to make ice cream sooner than expected.)

Now at this point, one person in the house who’s been getting proficient with a 3D printer saw the finger-slicing spike with which one operates the mixer and offered to fix it.

Whipping cream should not threaten to slice your fingers.

Isn’t the new button lovely? It fits onto the bare lever with such perfection, and it is just the right size to almost but not quite kiss the handle when you have the switch all the way at one end.

If you think I get too excited about kitchen appliances, wait until I get the sewing machine back from the shop.

After leaving the ice cream to freeze overnight, we found that sometimes the freezer in this house works a little too well. It was a frosty banana rock. But we managed to gouge out a few puny ice cream curls from the top of it- barely enough for those who think “pie a la mode” should be mostly pie and just a hint of a la mode. 

And this pie is perfect for ice cream. The tartness goes perfectly with the frozen sweetness. Another person in the house tried the pie on top of a big bowl of ice cream and simply left the kitchen saying “Yes.” You might think that the ice cream merely hides the pie's failures the same way cream cheese icing will "fix" your broken cake, but the two just go together and become something amazing. The tart filling with its concentrated flavor and the flaking-off pie crust contrast beautifully with the cold, sweet, smooth ice cream. In this plague, go ahead and eat a pie sundae.

Thank you for following me on this lovely pie journey! We're going to close with a big thank you to Yinzerella for organizing this. If you haven't seen what everyone else made, be sure to have a look!