Calico Palace Apple Pie

Calico Palace Apple Pie
Calico Palace Apple Pie

When I was a child, our family vacations always involved a lot of driving.  We drove from Michigan to destinations like Maine, Florida, or Nevada.  Us kids would sprawl out — as much as possible– in the roomy back seat of the family car and pass the time playing road games and reading.  For some reason I can’t remember, I read Black Beauty –repeatedly–, but my sister, who was 7 years older and therefore more sophisticated, read books like Calico Palace, an historical  romance set in the Gold Rush of California.  Her rapture, punctuated by sighs, made me anxious for the days when I’d be old enough to read books about love instead of books about horses.

I eventually did get to read Calico Palace, and I have read it many times since.  Both the love story and the history of California of the mid-1800s made an impression on me.

When I started baking pies regularly, I suddenly remembered an important plot point in Calico Palace that involves an apple pie technique taught to the heroine, Kendra, by the handsome stranger.  I won’t give away the plot, but the apple pie tip was this:

“May I give you a hint?” asked Ted.  He took up the box of raisins.  “Soak a few raisins overnight in wine and add them to the pie filling.” (p25)

Calico Palace Pie is my version of apple pie with wine soaked golden raisins. It’s a good book and, according to the testers, a 5-star winning pie.

Rhubarb is Coming!

Now that’s it’s April, we cannot help but stroll around the garden and look for plants coming up. This week on one of our quick walks, we were pleased to see the rhubarb making an appearance.


Rhubarb is a wonderful and amazing plant. Its sturdy stalks grow from rhizomes– short, thick (in this case) creeping rootstalks. Planting rhubarb ensures production for years to come. I learned from wikipedia that rhubarb is normally considered a vegetable, except in the United States where it was classified as a fruit to avoid the higher vegetable tariffs.

It’s important characteristic to me is found in its nickname of “pie plant.” The last few years have found me testing various rhubarb pies, including a “regular” rhubarb, a rhubarb custard (with a single egg added) and the popular strawberry-rhubarb pie.

I’ll certainly bake some of those recipes again this season, but I have other plans for rhubarb too. I’m looking forward to baking rhubarb kuchen, blueberry-rhubarb, and rhubarb with candied ginger.

I’ve got the inspiration, and I’m working on the recipes. All I need now is for the rhubarb stalks to make reach glorious full-size.

Discovering the Secrets of Shortbread Crust

Peach Shortbread Pie. Photography by Diane and Doug Russell.
Peach Shortbread Pie. Photography by Diane and Doug Russell.

The first time I read the ingredients and instructions for making shortbread crust for a pie, I had serious doubts about its possible success.  Like most pie crust recipes, the shortbread crust recipe has just a few ingredients, five to be exact: flour, sugar, salt, butter, and egg yolk.  The proportions did not seem to be very “wet” at all; what would make this crust stick together?

Shortbread crust was a different type of pie crust from the “regular” recipe I usually make.  The ingredients mix up sort of powdery.  It doesn’t form a ball; it’s not really a dough.  It is not rolled out, but instead the mixture is gently pressed into place in the pie pan.

The recipe calls for setting aside 1/4 of the crumbles for topping the pie.  That’s also a very nice feature on a finished pie.

Like all pie pastry, this recipe requires patience, and, in this case, a bit of adventure when dealing with the unexpected.  The technique is really not all that difficult, and the resulting pie crust is wonderful.

My adaptation of the recipe is a little bit wetter and a little bit easier to handle.  Plus it makes enough shortbread crust for 2 pies.

Shortbread Crust

2.5 cups flour
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 salt
1 cup unsalted butter, chilled and cut into pieces
3 egg yolks, beaten to blend

Blend flour, sugar and salt in a bowl. Add butter pieces and cut in with pastry cutter until a coarse mixture forms. Drizzle yolks over surface and mix with a fork until crumbs form. Do not form into a ball. Pat 3/4 of the mixture over the bottom and up the sides of a 9 inch pie pie. You could use a tart pan; I never do.

My two favorite fillings so far are apples or peaches. Watch for both of those recipes to come.

Thoughts on Delivery Day

Pie in boxFriday has been my traditional pie delivery day.  I picked Friday because it worked well in my schedule.  I also thought having a pie on hand for the weekend would make the weekend even better for my customers.

I do deliver on other days of the week.  On Wednesday morning, I dropped off a pie that a young woman had got as a birthday gift for a friend.  She wrote that her friend had been “drooling over” my email messages, and so she wanted to surprise her for her birthday.  She was sweet enough to send me a follow up message and let me know the pie was a “huge hit”– the kind of stuff I always love to hear.

Baking pies is good time, but delivering a pie is pure joy.  People are always happy to see you when you are holding a pie!  So much of what we have in our lives is meant for anyone, but a pie baked just for you– that’s the kind of gift that means the most.

My first Instructable: Caramel Apple Pie with Homemade Caramel

Look at Caramel Apple PiePrompted by a Pi-Day challenge, I made an Instructable for making Caramel Apple Pie with Homemade Caramel.  It’s a multi-step process that results in a delicious and impressive pie, if I do say so myself.

Jim lept at the opportunity of helping me out with this, which was absolutely great of him, because the task took up a good chunk of a whole day.  And that was just the making the pie part!  Baking a little slower to that we could pause for many photos stretched out the activity.

In the end, I was delighted with the results.  Both the pie and the Instructable came out great.  Like caramel and apples, Jim and I make a pretty good combination!

In Search of Coconut Custard Pie

Coconut Custard Pie, photo by Diane and Doug Russell

One of my customers asked after a Coconut Custard Pie.  He made it clear that he was interested in a “custard” pie, not a regular coconut pie.  I did a little research, and then I asked if he meant a baked custard pie rather than a pudding-type cream pie.  And indeed the baked coconut custard pie is was what he’s interested in.

Here’s the recipe I’ve developed, based on one taken from my Desserts book in the Favorite Recipes of America series, circa 1968. The recipe itself is amazingly simple. Use fresh packaged coconut (as opposed to the open bag from the back of the fridge) for the best results. Tasters described the custard as “just right” and “firm, but still tender.” This pie needs to be refrigerated, but a taster suggested enjoying the pie at room temperature.

Coconut Custard Pie

3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 tablespoons flour
2.5 tablespoons melted butter
1.5 cup skim milk
.5 cup of heavy whipping cream (unwhipped)
Unbaked pie shell
.5 cup of coconut

Beat eggs and then add sugar and flour.  Stir in melted butter, milk and cream.  Pour into pie shell.  Sprinkle coconut evening on the top of the pie.  Bake at 425 F for 20 minutes; reduce heat to 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes more.

The Why Not Pie Blog

I’m really excited about launching the Why Not Pie Blog.

This venue will give me the space to post recipes, comments, stories and conversations and wax on eloquently about pie.

Pie is nothing new.  As a foodstuff, it’s got a long and glorious history — one that even pre-dates the US of A, the place that considers pie as American as itself.  Certainly pies were around in the Middle Ages, when they were known as pyes.  According to both Time Magazine and Wikipedia, pies were prepared in ancient times by both the Greeks and the Romans.

Pie is nothing new for me either.  I’ve been baking pies for more than three decades, but I’ve only gotten serious about pie in the last two plus years since I started Why Not Pie.  In that time, I’ve tried dozens of recipes and made hundreds of pies.

One of the best things about pie is sharing it.  Making a pie for someone else is an act of generosity, care,  and kindness, and it’s something I really enjoy.

This blog is one more way to share the joy of pie!