One of my mom’s best Christmas gifts to my sister and myself after we became adults was a copy of her best recipes in a binder. My mother and her mother were both excellent cooks who don’t usually use a recipe, so it’s very valuable to have this reference when I’m not sure how much of something to put in a dish and mom isn’t sitting by the phone eagerly anticipating my call.
All our childhood favorites are there (Grandma’s secret recipe meatloaf, beef or chicken and noodles, hamburger gravy over mashed potatoes, chicken and biscuits, lasagna), as are a few recipes she adopted as we got a bit older (Susie’s Italian potatoes, shrimp toss, and pepperoni bread). My favorite, of course, is the recipe for apple pie, and it can be used for peach pie as well.
I picked up a handful of peaches at Walmart last week thinking I’d like to make a pie sometime soon, but they needed to ripen a bit before I could work with them. Ever try slicing a hard peach for pie? Yeah, not fun. You can tell a peach is ready to be made into pie if you squeeze it and it’s just a bit soft. So, Monday, I squeezed the peaches gently and they were ready, so I cleaned off a work space and got started.
1. The first step for me when I make pie is to take off my rings! I am a newlywed, so it’s hard to be separated from my wedding band for even a short time, but I have a braided band, and it would be very hard to clean if I got dough all over it. Making pies and meatloaf are the only only times I take my bands off.
2. Rings set aside, I preheated the oven to 400F and gathered materials: pie pan, 2 large bowls, paper towels, paring knife, measuring cups and spoons, wooden spoon, pastry mat, rolling pin, and ingredients (peaches, tapioca, cinnamon, sugar, water, flour, and crust mix). If I were making the crust from scratch, I would use mom’s recipe, which only uses flour, crisco, and salt, but because I was pressed for time, I used a box of Betty Crocker crust mix. My grandmother would roll in her grave if she knew I did this, but as I know how to do it the “right” way, I don’t mind taking the shortcut when I’m rushed. I bought a boxed crust for the first time a couple years ago when no matter what I tried, I couldn’t get the crust I was working on to roll out right. I went through four pounds of flour before I finally broke down and bought a boxed crust and it’s rolled out perfectly every time since. True bakers will tell you boxed crust doesn’t taste as good, but I don’t see much difference, honestly.
3. I find that the best way to peel ripe peaches is to make one long cut from the stem down under and back up to the other side, like you’re cutting it into a left half and a right half, then making small cuts from the top of the peach to the bottom, making wedges. Once the wedges are cut, the skin peels off easily. Then, pull each wedge away from the pit, gather the fruit in one bowl, and throw the pits and skins away or compost them. I worked on paper towels, but you might want to use something a bit more absorbent or washable. There was a LOT of juice.
4. Before I finished the filling, I got my crust started by chilling some water in a dish with an ice cube. Grandma always used to say that the colder the water, the better, and I have noticed that crust rolls out much easier when I use ice. With the boxed crust it doesn’t matter as much, but old habits die hard.
5. I followed the apple pie filling recipe and combined 3/4 cup of sugar, 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon, and 3 tbsp tapioca with the fruit and stirred. Some people do not like cinnamon with peaches and use a different filling recipe, but I love it. When the peaches are evenly coated, the filling is ready. Set aside.
6. I poured the crust mix into the other bowl, added the water, and mixed in a circular motion until the ball of dough formed. Grandma always said to handle the dough as little as possible so the crust doesn’t get hard. Make sure the water and the mix combine completely, but don’t over do it. The smaller the amount of water you use, the flakier the crust will be and the less you handle it, the softer it will be. I separated the dough ball into two pieces, a slightly larger piece for the bottom crust and a smaller piece for the top crust.
7. I love my pastry mat. If you don’t use one, you should consider it for the ease of cleanup it provides. Mine is made by Magic Dough and it has markings for tarts, pies in four sizes, and pizzas as well as conversion charts. Before you put dough on the pastry mat, coat both your mat and your rolling pin lightly with flour. I put my dough ball onto the floured mat and rolled evenly until the edges of my crust covered the 9″ pie marks on the pastry mat. To place the crust into the pie pan, I folded it in half, and lifted it halfway into the pan before unfolding and pressing into place. If you notice when you start to fold the dough toward you that it’s breaking, your water to dough ratio is not quite right. Try adding a little bit of flour and rerolling.
8. I added filling to the pan, then repeated step 7 to make the top crust. I bet you know where I put that one. I can never manage to do fancy fluted edges on my pies. My sister is an expert at it, but I just roll the bottom crust over the top crust and squeeze so it’s sealed. Remember where I said crust isn’t a big deal for me?
9. I had a little bit of crust left over, so I decided to have some fun. When we got married, I bought a fruit shape cutter at Five Below to make hearts out of the pineapple and watermelon. The set also comes with a star, sun, flower, circle, and a few other shapes. I love stars, so I played around with the star cutter and dressed the pie up. I made sure there were holes in the top, evenly spaced, to allow steam to vent, and then into the oven it went.
10. The pie baked for 30 minutes on 400F, then 60 minutes on 350F. And there you have it! The joy of my Monday, a delicious taste of summer! (I bet you can guess that I already need to make another one…)