Tag Archives: South Dakota

SUNDAY FAMILY DINNER

Since our move to Los Angeles, Sunday dinner with the family has become a tradition that we all enjoy and do all we can to avoid missing. The dinner was originally Carol’s suggestion, and her rules were very simple: We would rotate between our house and her house. The host was responsible for the main meal and the visitor was responsible for an appetizer with drinks along with dessert.  The rules were modified when, as is our wont in this competitive family, the appetizers grew ever-more complex and caloric. They were tasty, but it became clear that our bathroom scales could not sustain the weekly onslaught to our “diets”. Thus, the appetizers were downsized to crudités or nuts. Even with this revision, there is plenty to eat, and the food is always thoughtfully planned, cooked and anticipated. Every week, my grandson begins to ask around Tuesday or Wednesday what’s planned for Sunday. The pressure is definitely on.

Even though the food is always excellent, for me – and I think for others – the highlight of the evening is the conversation. Everyone brings us up to date on their activities and news of the past week. Then we review activities of the week ahead so that schedules don’t conflict and duties are assigned. What follows is a lively, free-ranging conversation in which everyone contributes. We steer clear of politics, not because of differences but because we’re mostly politicked-out by the weekend. New movies and music are popular topics, especially with the teenagers. Current events and community activities are also included in the discussions. This last Sunday was a little melancholy. We were still enjoying the excitement of high school graduation and the anticipation of the next chapter in a young life. But the euphoria was tempered by the realization that our granddaughter would not be part of the conversation in a couple of months. She would be clear across the country, engaged with new challenges and new friends. Perhaps that made the conversation this last Sunday even livelier than usual. Still, we’ll have the rest of the summer to enjoy our granddaughter before she is off.

Carol made a delicious meal: roasted pork, glazed carrots from a recipe by Ina Garten, a savory rice pilaf, and a salad that included watercress, fresh cherries, and strawberries all from the farmers market that morning. It was my turn for dessert. Cherries are just about finished for the season, so I thought of Black Forest cake, but some of the family doesn’t like cake. Stone fruits are just beginning to reach their peak at the farmers market; there were apricots, peaches, many varieties of plums, pluots, and nectarines – no lack of choices for a juicy pie. Everyone likes pie, so the basic choice was made. Looking for ideas, I turned to the beautiful cookbook, Four and Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book, written by the two sisters, Emily Elsen and Melissa Elsen, who left successful New York City careers to start their famous pie shop in Brooklyn, now with at least three outlets in the city. The sisters hail from Hecla, South Dakota (population 227) just down the road from Frederick (population 199) where my mother grew up. That makes their terrific pie recipes (and images) more neighborly and not so “big city”. I chose their version of nectarine and blueberry pie. I found both the nectarines and blueberries at one of our family’s favorite stands at the farmers market. I made a few changes in the recipe (of course) but this is essentially the recipe from Emily and Melissa.

RECIPE

Nectarine and Blueberry Pie

Ingredients

  • 3 cups sliced nectarines (about 3-4 fruit)
  • 3 cups blueberries
  • zest from ½ lemon
  • juice from ½ lemon, strained
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • dash Angostura bitters
  • two rounds of pie pastry for a nine-inch pie (I used prepared pie crust from the frozen food section of the grocery store)
  • 1 egg whisked with 1 tablespoon water and pinch of salt for egg wash
  • turbinado sugar

Method

  1. In a large bowl, combine the nectarines, blueberries, lemon zest, lemon juice, nutmeg, cinnamon, salt, and bitters. Mix gently and set aside while you prepare the pie crust.
  2. Roll the pastry dough if necessary to fill a 9-inch pie pan. Arrange one of the rounds in the pan and chill for 15 minutes in the refrigerator. Then add the fruit mixture to the chilled pie shell.
  3. Top the filling with the remaining pastry round or you may cut the round into strips to make a lattice top. Crimp the edges of the pie and, if you are using the whole round, cut several vents near the center.
  4. Using a pastry brush,, paint the top crust with the egg wash and sprinkle generously with turbinado sugar. Chill in the refrigerator for 15 minutes
  5. In the meantime, arrange the racks in the oven so that one is at the lowest level and one is in the middle of the oven. Place a rimmed baking sheet on the lowest rack and preheat the oven to 425°F.
  6. Place the pie in the middle of the baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes. Then lower the oven temperature to 375°F, transfer the pie and the baking sheet to the middle rack, and bake for an additional 30 minutes.
  7. When the pie is golden brown, remove from the oven, transfer the baked pie to a cooking rack, and cool completely.
  8. Serve warm or at room temperature. Add a scoop of ice cream if you wish.
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THE PIE LADY

Susan has long been known as the pie baker in our family. Her crusts are always flaky; no one else can seem to master the skill. She says that it is something her mother taught her, and that the only secret is to keep everything cold.

Because of her reputation, she was drawn to a new cookbook on Sarah’s shelf when we were in San Francisco. The book is titled, The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book, (Grand Central Life & Style, New York, 2013).  It won an award by the James Beard Foundation as one of the best cookbooks of the year. The recipes sound wonderful, and the illustrations are beautiful. On top of that, the authors are two sisters, Emily and Melissa Elsen, from South Dakota who have gained fame in Brooklyn running a pie shop with the same name as the book. The two women hail from the little town of Hecla, population 224 ±, located just a few miles northeast of one of the main metropolises of South Dakota – Aberdeen. That’s where many of my relatives live and close to where both of my parents grew up, so it has some personal interest.

I ordered a copy of the book so that Susan could study it while we were in Los Angeles with our grandchildren there. I was hoping she would be inspired to bake, and I was not disappointed. She baked two pies that both disappeared quickly.

Cover of the cookbook

Cover of the cookbook

The first pie was a lattice-topped peach pie. Susan usually makes her crusts with vegetable shortening, but this time she followed the cookbook and used pure butter. It turned out not to be as flaky, but the flavor was outstanding. Judge for yourself about the beauty. Peaches came from the local farmers market.

Lattice-topped peach pie

Lattice-topped peach pie

A slice of peach pie

A slice of peach pie

The second pie was a black bottom lemon pie. Susan again used pure butter for the crust. For the filling, she made ganache and a lemon curd according to directions  from the cookbook. The only change to be made was that the recipe called for 30 minutes in the oven. In the end, it took twice that much time, although that could have been because of the oven. In any event, a warning to watch the baking time, and make sure that the lemon curd has set up at least three inches from the edge of the pan before you take it out to let it continue cooking while it is cooling.

Black bottom lemon pie

Black bottom lemon pie

A slice of black bottom lemon pie

A slice of black bottom lemon pie

Glad the Pie Lady has not lost her touch, and with this beautiful cookbook, she may continue to surprise us with new delights.

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