Tuesday, October 03, 2006

A Tale of Two Pies

Once upon a time…naw, too corny.

Recently, I haven’t been compelled to spend much time in the kitchen. But I got bit by a bug late last week after seeing the hazelnut-chocolate shortbread on Tartelette. Today is Sunday, which means the weekly family dinner. All the kids come home to visit, fill us in on their lives, and to get a hearty meal. We have always had the Sunday meal tradition, but when two of them moved out, it was only on the condition that they come back every Sunday. Naturally, they agreed.

I couldn’t decide which main dish to cook. It was a toss-up between Roast Beef Tenderloin with Wasabi-Garlic Cream and Pork Tenderloin with Gorgonzola Sauce. (somehow I think the wasabi sauce might go better with the pork and the gorgonzola with the beef, but I’ll stick to the recipe this time around). My plan was to hit the store and see which meat was available or looked best. Turned out to be pork. I also picked up some gorgeous pears on sale, and a big box of Ritz crackers. Ritz crackers, you ask? Yes. And therein lies the tale of two pies.

First the pears. Years ago, my father had property up in Clear Lake, California. Every September when he was visiting he would bring me home a lug or two of the local pears. They were dirt cheap, probably ten cents a pound. Of course, we were dirt poor at the time, so I made use of every scrap of pear. The lugs were overflowing and the pears were all ripe, which meant they had to be used immediately. And due to the large quantity, it meant everything pear: pear cake, pear butter, canned pears, and my favorite, pear pie. I don’t typically like fruit pies. You will never see me order an apple or cherry pie at any diner or bakery. I always go for the chocolate, the nuts, anything but the fruit. I have relented some over time, between my own pear pie and the apple pies we get at Bloomingcamp Ranch on the way to our annual Pinecrest summer vacation. But the pears were calling my name as I wandered through the produce section, and so I decided that in honor of the end of September, I would make a pear pie.

Pear Crumb Pie

1 pie crust, freshly made or from the freezer
1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
1/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup butter
21/2 pounds firm-ripe pears
1 T lemon juice
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 t cinnamon
1/4 t mace
1 T flour

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prepare or defrost pie crust (OK, I am not a good crust maker, so I do use a good frozen brand). Keep crust chilled while working on filling.
Combine 1 cup flour, 1/3 cup brown sugar, and butter in a small bowl. Using a pastry blender or your hands, cut the butter in until course crumbs form. Set aside.
Pare, quarter and core pears. Slice into large bowl and sprinkle with lemon juice. Combine the granulated sugar, cinnamon, mace and flour and pour over the pears, incorporating gently, so not to break the pears. Spoon into pastry crust, mounding them gently. Sprinkle with flour/brown sugar topping.
Bake for 40 minutes or until juices bubble up and top browns. Cool on wire rack. Serve with ice cream or whipped cream, or all by its lonesome.

Because this pear pie is a family favorite, it won’t last long, and since I am enjoying my time in the kitchen, enter the Ritz crackers. Believe it or not, Ritz crackers earned me my husband. He proved his mettle by eating anything put in front of him without complaint, enjoying every bit, and having a marvelous sense of humor. The story:

Back when I was a senior in college, my roommate Darlene and I had moved into a new apartment mid-year. The guys downstairs wasted no time in inviting us for dinner to fill us in on the neighborhood. I offered to bring dessert, which wasn’t too bright of me, since we had just moved in and didn’t have a whole lot in the cupboard. Short on time and money, I rooted around until a recipe leapt out at me…from the back of the Ritz cracker box. Mock Apple Pie. I figured it couldn’t hurt to try it. It was quick. It was simple. And I had all the ingredients.
Right as dessert rolled around, two more of the building’s tenants joined us. The pie was a hit, particularly with one of the latecomers (who would eventually become my husband). When I blurted out my secret recipe, everyone was astonished, but with good humor, they laughed it off. That was 27 years ago, and my husband swears I haven’t made the pie since that time, although I know I did once when my children were small. So I have made a Mock Apple Pie with Ritz crackers, and I’m gonna see if my kids notice. I even left out the apple peeler/corer/slicer doodad on the dishrack, just so they would believe it was an apple pie.

So if you are stuck sometime and need a quick dessert, this is the trick. A premade pie crust, a quick simple syrup, broken up crackers, and voila, a pie.

Mock Apple Pie

Pastry for two crust 9” pie.
36 Ritz crackers
2 cups water
2 cups sugar
2 t cream of tartar
2 T lemon juice
grated rind of 1 lemon

In a saucepan, bring water and sugar to a boil, and boil gently for 15 minutes. Remove from heat, add lemon juice, and let cool.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Prepare bottom crust. Coarsely break up crackers into crust (2-3 pieces per cracker). Pour cooled syrup over crackers, dot with butter, and sprinkle with cinnamon.
Cook for 30 minutes. Best served warm with ice cream or whipped cream.

Believe it or not, this pie passed muster. My youngest son did notice a different taste in the pie, which he couldn’t pinpoint, but had no idea that the culprit was Ritz crackers. One of his friends said it was the best apple pie he had ever had, but the kids’ friends, no matter how long we have known them, would never think of thumbing their nose at food I serve, so I can’t trust that comment.

I myself, loved the pear pie. I even sent over a piece to my dad for old times sake.


Ivonne said...

I for one am thrilled to see you back in the kitchen!

Helene said...

Those pies look very tempting! I am ready for pears!

Mrs. B said...

thank you Ivonne. today I am heading into the kitchen to make 6 crostatas for our book event in Seattle tomorrow. Wish you were here with me!