[Plums, July 2008.]
It’s true, I haven’t been doing a whole lot of cooking lately. All I seem to want to do is watch the Olympics (swimming! and track is so soon!) and text message and go to the beach and eat cherry plums (see above) and go to baseball games (Sunday’s game made me, literally, unspeakably happy; there was lots of jumping up and down and shrieking) and maybe squeeze in a run here and there (hopefully a 9-miler this weekend) and maybe also pretend that I am not way (way!) behind on a few important things.
But yesterday at work I made two pies: one peach, and one peach-blueberry. The reason for this unexpected baking frenzy was that a new coworker showed up with a box-ful of deliciously ripe peaches that were about to turn — and there was no way I could have that. So I made pie (reason 5,839 why I love San Francisco: getting to bake in the office. And reason 5,840: people who bring in the bounty from their gardens (or trees) to share with their office-mates.). Unfortunately, I missed the pie-off but I’ve been remiss in my baking lately, to be sure.
It was tricky business, this pie-making, because some of the peaches had been frozen, and I didn’t have any cornstarch to help bind up the excess water I wasn’t able to drain out. My pies were not — how shall I say — as perfect as I would have wished, though the crust was incredibly light and flaky from all the butter (usually I make an olive oil crust, and I foolishly forgot just how delicious butter can be). Nor did I have a rolling pin (the kitchen here truly is well-outfitted but though we looked we couldn’t find one); I foraged in the fridge and come up with a bottle of Skyy Vodka ‘cosmopolitan mix’ that, when wrapped tightly in foil, was a fairly good substitute (hey, when in need …). But it was no matter, really. My coworkers seemed to like both of my attempts just fine, which was really all I was aiming for.
(Served with whipped cream and vanilla ice cream and a fresh pot of coffee, we thought about doing this at least once a week. We’ll see …)
I’ve been having a bit of a time lately — I’ll admit it. Part of it is that end-of-summer/school-is-starting melancholia that creeps up every year in August, even though I don’t go to school and it’s not like Northern California gets particularly cold in the winter (my coworker and I were just talking about this; is it something with the light? Or how the days are now getting ever so slightly shorter during the run-up to November?). I’ve been scattered, distracted. My head is in the clouds and my thoughts are elsewhere and I’m trying hard to focus on the stuff that needs doing: laundry, writing (a deadline on Monday, darn it!), work, getting up on time, etc.
But I should not forget that it is cooking that grounds me. Food brings me back, always — to myself, to life, to connection, to the very simple present moment. When I make pie dough, turning the flour and butter around in my hands, or slice fruit, or rub potatoes with salt and olive oil, it is that suspended moment of being there that is so important, and necessary. Life’s rush and worry and waiting can take precedence sometimes, and so it was good to be reminded yesterday to slow down and simply be.
Luckily, all of this being-ness also resulted in two pretty-looking pies. I found a recipe for peach pie on williams-sonoma.com (I like their recipes and have had a lot of success with them; they’re fairly simple and don’t call for a lot of fancy additions, so using good-quality ingredients makes a difference) and added a few of my own touches, such as a bit of cinnamon and vanilla. I think I’d bake the pie a little longer the next time — the bottom crust was not crisp, though that could have been due to the slightly soggish fruit — and definitely would use very fresh peaches rather than those on the cusp, but overall I’d have to give myself a ‘pretty OK.’ I think you could swap in any in-season fruit of your choice (I’d like to try those sweet little plums) and it would taste even better.
[Peach pie, taken with the old camera — can’t you tell?! — August 2008.]
Peach Pie, adapted from williams-sonoma.com
For the crust
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 cup butter
6 to 7 Tbs. cold water
For the filling:
6 cups peeled, pitted and sliced peaches (or plums, or apples)
2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar (or less, depending on how sweet the peaches are)
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla
2 Tbs. unsalted butter
Preheat the oven to 425 F.
Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Cut in the butter until the flour resembles coarse meal. Add the water a little bit at a time until the dough forms into a loose ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and place in the fridge for at least 20 minutes.
Cut the dough in half. On a floured surface, roll out one half into a 12-inch round, about 1/8 inch thick. Try to keep the dough as round as possible. Transfer the rolled-out pastry to a 9-inch pie dish. Roll out the pastry for the top crust;set aside.
To make the filling, place the peaches in a large bowl. Sprinkle with the lemon juice and vanilla and toss to coat well. In a small bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, and cinnamon. Add to the peaches and toss to combine. Pile the fruit mixture into the pastry-lined pan and dot with bits of the butter.
Carefully fit the pastry dough on top of the fruit, and crimp the edges with a fork. Cut several air-vents in the top and place on a baking sheet.
Bake for 25 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350°F and bake until the juices are bubbling and the top is browned, about 25 minutes more. Makes one 9-inch pie.