Pie in the Sky

19 Dec

Pies are on my brain today for a number of reasons. In culinary school, I just started a 9-day lab segment of Pies  and Tarts. It is only apt and fortuitous that at the same time I am venturing into food blogging, that I am studying pies. Almost two years ago and a few months into my unemployment,  I dared myself to make an apple pie on a lark. I had been to the local library, a favorite hangout spot at the time, and spied a tome on pies. It got me thinking, and hungry for the homiest of treats. Little did I know at the time that baking a double crust homestyle apple pie would constitute the first (and tentative) step on my path to culinary school. Once again, it was the symbol-laden apple that gave Eve the self-knowledge to walk away from  the prestige and pay of a “garden” career.  (Never mind for my purposes that Western art confused its horticulture and the serpent’s fruit was likely a pomegranate.)

Growing up, I never ate a homemade pie, let alone made one or witnessed one being made. Ours was a cookie and cake household. Cookies were always from scratch, and often of the Tollhouse variety; cakes were another story. Sometimes Betty and Duncan were known to make cameos. Pies on the other hand were usually brought to us via the freezer section of the Blair Park Giant. You can be sure that there was either a “Mrs.” or a “Sara” somewhere on that box of apple, French Silk or pumpkin pie.

So what I missed as a kid was that sensation of rubbing the finest damp sand through your fingers after sprinkling cold water onto cut butter and flour.  Of rolling crust apprehensively until you realize that the dough may be stronger than your resolve to see this project through. Of trimming off the dough’s hem, and heaping fresh-cut fruit from the farmer’s market tossed with flour, sugar and spices (and in this case rosemary and pine nuts) inside. Of rolling out that second crust, and playfully stenciling pie vents and other hieroglyphics of your choosing. And finally, of  brushing that pie with an egg wash as delicately as you would brush a baby’s inaugural strands of hair. When that pie came out of the oven, redolent of honey with a slightly resinous aftermath, golden brown and endearingly lopsided, I knew it had been worth taking the dare.

My mother was skeptical of the herbaceous element added to the apple, but the rosemary only acted as salt does for chocolate. Instead of delivering the familiar flat, one-dimensional sweetness that we associate with canned apples or frozen pie, or the cartoonish pow of the Batman & Robin duo of cinnamon and nutmeg when it is (all too often) overdone, for the first time I tasted earthiness and experienced the apple as crop and not as candy. The rosemary not only added an exotic perfume to the pie, but for me, it transformed the apple into a new and more complex fruit, with possibilities that I had never previously contemplated. Instead of a whisper of a girl sitting bashfully in the corner, the apple became a little more editorial and edgy–an otherwise quiet beauty with razor-sharp cheek bones that made you steal a second glance.

I also have another kind of pie on the mind…pizza pie. Last night, my husband and I ate our last fill of an American Flatbread. The Clarendon location of the small chain has been forced to shutter. This is the second “pie”  place on my regular rotation that I’ve lost in a month (a few weeks ago Charlotte’s Pie Town also closed and then reopened as a trattoria). We received an email calling for loyal customers to come by before Christmas Eve, the last day of service, to help the staff go out with a “bang” of revenue. I have other pie joint favorites, but I always looked forward to Flatbread’s unusual and inventive combinations of fresh local vegetables as toppings. I never thought of combining kale and butternut squash, and after tasting the two together, I don’t know why I didn’t. The kale’s tougher texture makes spinach seem wimpy (sorry Popeye), and adds a pleasing bitterness that compliments the tender sweetness of the squash. I will always remember in particular one special of the week–a curried carrot flat bread that used a carrot puree in place of sauce. It was just the right balance of sweet and heat that made you question for a moment the utility and supremacy of tomato sauce on pies. We chose to say goodbye with the short rib and chipotle bbq sauce special and an old standby of the punctuated equilibrium flatbread ( “Kalamata olives, clay oven-roasted sweet red peppers, handmade Cherry Glen Farm’s goat cheese, fresh rosemary, red onions, mozzarella and garlic “). Farewell Flatbread. Clarendon and Courthouse will surely miss the good cheer of the staff as well as the quality of your “pies.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: