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Posts Tagged ‘pear’

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I’ve always been crap at making pie crusts. Fillings, I’m good. Like the above. It has organic apples and pears in it, plus I threw in some brown sugar (didn’t measure), cinnamon (ditto), and gooshed the whole thing with some of the crab apple liqueur I made last fall. It all went into a really wide pan and got sauteed for something like five minutes—long enough for everything to get juiced up and friendly but not so long that the fruit would start to fall apart.

When I make crust, I usually ease back on the fat because I used to have a weight problem, and even though I know in my brain that I don’t have one now,* an old self-image is not something a  person shakes off easily. So even when life’s going just swimmingly, when it comes to cooking for myself, I carefully measure and am all organized and I skim back on the butter. Like a lot. And I use the pat-in-the-pan method, pressing the pie dough into the pan instead of rolling it out. If I didn’t, it would crack like the Mojave in August.

Last week, though, I was chilly, exhausted, and generally fed up with life. Life was going sinkingly. I cook when I need normalcy, so enter pie. And I broke out a new recipe: Martha’s pate brisee, which calls for two sticks of butter—a goodly amount, as Martha would say. Please know I did not use two sticks on a pie I was going to eat myself. But I did dump in a bunch, and fairly indiscriminately. Into the Cuisinart went the flour and salt, then in went the butter. Plop, plop, plop. Blitz, blitz, blitz. Ice water, more blitzing.

I thought not. I simply did. It needs this, and it needs that, make a mess, well done, into the fridge to firm up.

Suddenly this…I was able to roll out.

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I didn’t say I was any good at it, but I WAS able to roll it out.

I pricked the crust with a fork (what pastry chefs call “docking,” to keep the crust from puffing up in the oven) and then I spread a raw egg white across the bottom. I read somewhere that that keeps the bottom of the crust from getting goopy from the filling and not cooking. Call it the barrier method.

The recipe said I could split the dough in half and make a top crust, too, but I only have one pie pan: deep dish. So I sort of folded the upper part of the bottom crust over the fruit, brushed it with an egg wash, sprinkled it with sanding sugar, and put it in the oven.

It was tender and flaky and lovely—the best crust I have ever made, the bouncing baby of enough fed-up-ness and enough experience to let my hands do the thinking. And enough butter.

Go Martha, and go me.

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*A weight problem, not a brain.**

**Well. Depends on the day.

 

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I picked quinces from a lone tree on Route 35 yesterday, because this is what crazy people do in their downtime, and I have the oven heating up right now so I can bake my little tart crusts for them.

Let’s back up.

Last year around this time I took a jughandle* and ended up heading east on this same stretch of highway. Between two parking lots, one belonging to a repair shop and one belonging to a defunct Asian restaurant, I spied with my little eye a very weathered fruit-bearing tree. This is something that makes my heart race, and I have given up trying to figure out why. I didn’t know what the fruit was—it had a yellowish-green cast, so it was either pears, Golden Delicious apples, or quinces (all botanical cousins)—but by the time I had the opportunity to get back out there again, they’d all dropped and were gone.

Yesterday I went back, and they were so gnarled that even after I pulled them down I still wasn’t completely sure what they were. Either pears or quinces. Here’s 5-foot-3 me, jumping to grab equally gnarled branches to get a hold of the fruit as cars tear past me, their owners likely wondering what I’m smoking. I got six of them.

It wasn’t until they were in the warm car for a while that they gave me their name: quinces. (There they are above.) Swanky women in days past used to put quinces inside their dresser drawers; it was their version of potpourri. The quince and its cousins the apple and pear are in the Rose family. But unlike their cousins, the quince cannot be eaten raw.** You cook it in a sugar syrup with cinnamon, or in red wine. The flavor and aroma are exquisite, like an apple or pear that’s just returned from holiday on the Italian Riviera and is full of delicious secrets that it finally pens in its later years, then pokes into the fire. This is a fruit that most people haven’t heard of or seen, and it tends to be expensive. Oh, but not this time.

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Just ate one. Good stuff. I forgot to prick the dough (as you can see) before I blind baked them, so they came out more like flaky cookies than tart shells, but I can handle a flaky cookie.

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Next we have the fruits, literal and figurative, of a walk I took to the beach a couple of days ago. I have a modest apartment in the kind of town that manicures everything, even the lion statues that stand post at their driveways.*** Enormous 100-year-old seaside Colonials maintained within an inch of their lives. It’s nice, but I’m more comfortable with the rustic and unprettified. I found it without even looking, between two properties owned by summer visitors, just steps to the street. And that translates to The Apples Are Mine.**** They, along with the quinces above, are examples of unsprayed, unwaxed fruit—something else the average person doesn’t usually see. This is how fruit looked to our great-grandmothers.

And I was startled to find a bonus: a crabapple tree that had been grafted to this old apple tree.

Haven’t decided what to make with them yet, but they’re so fresh that I can take my time deciding.

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So there you have it: a blithe admission that I am not above foraging from abandoned or forgotten trees. Why should I be?

‘Wait, Maris—that’s it?’ says the observant reader. ‘You said three trees, and we know you’re crap at math, but…’

I didn’t forget. There’s one more: a persimmon tree, the only one I know of in my area. Today I went by to check its progress. Coming along nicely, don’t you think? 😉

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*It’s a way to turn around on NJ highways. Along with pork roll, makes out-of-staters scratch their heads at us.

**Maybe not ‘cannot,’ but if you did, you’d be sorry. It’s tough and astringent. Let’s say ‘you’re better off not.’ There.

***Maybe hyperbole, maybe not.

****And the deer’s. I was surprised to find scat under the tree, just a 1/2 block to the ocean. Amazing. Until about 3 years ago, I’d never ever seen a deer in my area, and certainly not so close to the beach. Times be changin’.

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So many of you commented on my last post (thank you) with thoughts on why people might choose what looks like quality versus what actually is quality; and it’s clear that the possible reasons, as well as solutions, to the question are many. One reason stuck out for me, though. Let me know if you agree or not.

It’s distance.

Most of us are just too far away from the source of our food—literally, figuratively, or both—so we buy what looks pretty and go about our day.

Distance, and the detachment that goes with it, is a big fat theme in today’s culture. We watch TV alone, instead of visiting friends. We grab fast food and eat it in our laps in the car instead around a dinner table with family. We message electronically instead of speaking face to face (and yes, I see the hypocrisy of kvetching about it on WordPress, but a girl’s got to start somewhere).

Moreover, with a few exceptions, we buy food from massive organizations located hundreds of miles away, run by those we’ve never met and whose philosophies may or may not match our own. And we usually don’t care. A few decades ago food manufacturers made sure to depict wheat and other natural ingredients on their packaging because they knew if they were going to woo housewives, they needed to reassure them that their products were the real deal. Those women grew up on farms, just like their forebears, and strictly trusted their own two hands and consciences or those of well-known neighbors for every single thing their families bit into. They weren’t going to trust perfect strangers. They were wary, and rightfully so—wild, in a sense, and in the healthiest way.

Now we’re tamed, and the worse for it. We don’t require it, so an assurance of integrity has gone the way of disco. The link from farm to fork has been broken.

I recently mentioned to someone that most chickens are raised poorly (to say the least) and he cut me off quickly: “I don’t want to know.”

Because knowing means responsibility—the word begins with ‘response’—and we don’t want to. It means wanting accountability, but we don’t insist on it. We don’t want to do something different when we’re all so cozy with our routine, so we cloak ourselves in the illusion of safety. I suspect a lot of us know it’s all going to bite us in the butt sooner or later, but we do it anyway.

So when faced with two bins of apples, the one on the left featuring unshiny, uneven fruit that was grown locally for flavor, and the one on the right featuring lip-glossy red fruit grown in North Jabibb and bred purely for durability, we pick the one on the right. And we give mediocrity another point.

Man. Now I’m depressed. But I have an idea on how to turn this around. You’ll likely come up with many more (and please fill us in).

For starters, we can support local farmers as often as possible.*

Here’s my thinking: Buying locally from a trusted source…

1) gives us a chance to be won over by quality goods. It starts with taste, and you simply can’t compare the taste of a sweet grilling pepper grown locally to one on a shelf at the supermarket. You just can’t. Don’t even try. And it’s more nutritious because it’s was picked so recently; its store bought counterparts lost nutrients during travel time.

Fighting personal insecurities that make us buy crap that looks good but isn’t…worries that, to our peers, we’ll appear inferior if we buy lumpy pears…that’s a bigger hurdle. But I believe taste will win us over. I fantasize about a day when buying misshapen local food is rad.** Then we’ll demand quality goods on an even wider scale.

2) forges a brand spanking new link to where our food comes from. Along with taste, the link will be soldered by a relationship between us and the farmers. A smile, a handshake, a joke, a story, a lesson—face to face!—these build trust. Introduce yourself at a farmers market and ask questions. Foster a rapport. It’s fun. Buy some of their eggs. Find out what eggs are supposed to taste like, go into a faint, and go back for more. When we buy from the big boys at a generic supermarket***, we’re supporting strangers who may or may not give a crap about us. When we buy from local farmers, we’re supporting neighbors that, if given the chance, will become our friends. They want to keep raising laying hens, they want us to have the best, they don’t want to give up their farms to developers because agribusiness pushed them to it. Choosing to buy locally means we can relax that we’re not being duped, and eat really, really well. And we’re supporting those who provide this goodness so they can keep on providing it.

200 years ago on my native soil a handful of farmers got tired of being the establishment’s lap dogs. They became makeshift soldiers, fought back with blood and won—won big.

A soldier I ain’t. But I can buy local eggs.

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North Bridge, Concord, site of the shot heard ’round the world and the start of the revolution. That’s a plow at his left side.

*If we buy organic, another 10 points for Gryffindor.

**I’m a child of the 80s. Obviously.

***Whole Foods is an exception.

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