20 January 2008

pies

B was browsing in the Strand bookstore a few weeks ago and stumbled upon an amazing-looking cookbook, The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook, written by two brothers who started a Southern foods mail-order business back in the 1990s and moved from shipping Southern food to writing about Southern food. The book is large, expensive, and gorgeously illustrated. B didn’t buy it then, but I subsequently checked it out at the library. We brought it north this weekend, and B decided to try two of the pie recipes today: sweet potato buttermilk pie and sorghum pecan pie.

The Lee Bros. seem to be anti-using any kitchen convenience invented after 1920. This means no Pillsbury crust (my favorite!). Their directions involve whisking egg whites with an actual whisk rather than an electric mixer (we forwent that injunction), and cutting fat into flour with a pastry blender (“until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs, with a scattering of pea-sized pieces throughout”). I make biscuits that way (rubbing the fat into the flour with my fingers), but pie crusts are a more daunting prospect to me, for some reason.

I’ve read about “tough” crusts and how to avoid them (although, come to think of it, I don’t really know what a “tough” crust would taste like, and I’ve never left a crumb of pie on my plate because the crust was too tough), by, for instance, keeping the ingredients cold, not handling the dough too much, having a light touch with the rolling pin . . . and it all seems sort of overwhelming.

Whatever.

I made one of the crusts the Lee Bros. way and ended up using the food processor to finish it up (I was having a hard time rolling out the pile of crumbs that resulted from tossing the fat/flour mixture with forkfuls of cold water). The other I did in the food processor from the start. They both eventually turned out fine. And, truthfully (so long as my touch was light enough!) I think they’ll probably taste about 100 times better than the Pillsbury crust (again: My favorite!), so no harm done.

B made the pie fillings this afternoon, and they, truly, are a sight for pie eyes. The sweet potato buttermilk pie is the color of a Buddhist monk’s robe; quite pretty. B and I tasted the uncooked filling, and it’s tangy and sweet, but not too sweet. The sorghum pecan pie is very dark (the Lee Bros. recipe calls for dark brown instead of light brown sugar and sorghum instead of light corn syrup), and it has a caramelized sugar smell that makes my mouth water.

We’re taking both to our friend Betty’s house, along with a pot of collard greens. She’s hosting a Southern-themed dinner party tonight: fried chicken, biscuits and honey, collards, grits, coleslaw, lemonade soda, coconut cake, pie . . . we are a-quiver in anticipation.

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