If polled, I think most people would agree that there isn't much better in life than a perfectly ripe peach.  Maybe this is because a perfect peach is so fleeting, the window of perfect eating is gloriously small.  Both over and under ripe peaches have their place fortunately, but for that split instant of perfection, one might wait all year.

Because I was raised in a rural, northern Wisconsin, our peaches came in lugs from Michigan or Colorado.  My Mom canned quart upon quart to last us a whole year, something she still does and shares with me.  It's a lot of work for something that can disappear so quickly - those glass quarts of peaches seem to be everyone's favorite.  

I used to just drink the canned peach juice after the peaches were gone, but in the great sugar diet reduction of the past few years, I tried hard to be okay with just ditching it.  Then I realized that I could be extending it by boiling the peach juice with ample amounts of ginger and then using it to flavor seltzer or other drinks.  I simmer it for 10 minutes or so, with as much finely chopped ginger as I feel like, then let it cool and strain it through a nut milk bag.  The summer I worked a little at my friend's cafe, we added some ginger-centric chai concentrate to coffee and were pleasantly surprised (but it was never on the menu).  A touch in your coffee is a unique twist that you might end up liking!  For me it was a flavor combination that at first seemed weird, but then I all of a sudden craved.

peach ginger syrup.

As a kid, it might not have solely been my job to run down to the basement shelves to pick out a jam when we were out upstairs, but it seems like it was.  And it also seems like my Mom used certain jars for certain things.  I haven't asked her yet, but I feel like the peach jam was always canned in round jars - and I had totally forgotten about this until I was down in my own basement this week wrangling up half pints.  I made small batches of


Salted Peach Jam (recipe in

Preserving by the Pint

), and just 2 1/2 jars of the

Peach-Sriracha Butter

I can no longer live without.  I canned the jam in round jars.  And I thought all the while of how thankful I am for my Mom and her habit of providing me homemade peachy things for pretty much my whole life.

salted peach jam.

Isn't that was preserving for yourself, you family, and friends is all about?  Little glimpses into the past, to remember those days when you put the fruit into jars in the first place, a look back on my own childhood completely full of peanut butter and homemade jam sandwiches and who I ate those sandwiches with?  Peaches then are much more than a once a year luxury; they hold some deeply rooted history underneath their fuzzy exteriors...


And speaking of fuzzy exteriors, I made a pie last week without peeling the peaches.  This was under advisement of

the Bojon Gourmet (Alanna Taylor-Tobin), who is writing her first book

.  Not peeling peaches for pie is a revelation, and I'm sold!  I also can hardly wait to see her finished book that will feature gluten-free baked goods.  It should be out next spring, and it's available for

pre-order on Amazon


The past several years, we've had a peach truck delivery at numerous locations in our area.  It's called

Tree-Ripe Citrus

, and you can find Midwest schedules and drop point locations


.  Their peaches come from Georgia, and are reliably good.  I split a case with my in-laws last Tuesday and Wednesday morning I came into the kitchen to find

my eater baby had bitten into 6 of them

.  Most likely, he was looking for the perfect peach because most of them were rock hard having just been picked.  He didn't yet know that he needed to wait and be patiently look them over twice daily, but maybe he somehow knew that in continuous trying he would find that perfect one.  The one to drip down all over him and the one that will start him on his way to his own memories of all things peachy.


New Adventures in Sourdough: Piecrust.

Several months ago, I wrote an article for the Daring Kitchen website on uses for discard sourdough starter. After that article, I was contacted by fellow Daring Baker, Shelly, about a new baking group that was forming. A monthly, no pressure challenge to bake up something using sourdough starter and then link up to each other to compare, contrast and congratulate. I was really excited, and then - sadly - I totally forgot about it.

Fortunately, Shelly sent me another reminder email. And also fortunately, the item this month was pie crust!

sourdough pie crust

When I clicked through to the link on Sourdough Surprises for a recipe suggested as a starting point for sourdough pie crusts, I was so happy to see Alanna's (the Bojon Gourmet) site pop up. The Bojon Gourmet has been one of my longtime favorite baking sites, and I also know from experience that her recipes are usually very reliable. In fact, I really thought that her all-butter pie crust was my favorite!

bojon piecrust.
Alanna's All-Butter Pie Crust.

I wondered if sourdough fortified pie crust would remind me of the fermented yogurt dough crust I've made from Sally Fallon's recipe. I actually thought about letting the butter come to room temperature and then mixing the crust more like a dough, and allowing it to fully culture (7 hours or longer) before refrigerating and continuing. Then, I decided that I would take a shortcut and just process everything in the food processor.

That choice eliminated the messy work of fraisage, or using the heel of your hand to scrape bits of the dough across the work surface to enhance flakiness. I used the food processor to first aerate the flours with the salt and sugar, then to cut in the butter, and finally to pulse in the sourdough starter. Then, I transferred the whole mess into a plastic bag, where I gently kneaded it into a ball. I let it sit for several hours in the fridge before taking it out to bake into a shell to house a banana cream pie.

banana cream pie layer

I'm certain that using the fraisage method to work the dough would have contributed to a more tender, flaky crust - but I actually really liked the quick, no mess version as well. It made a very stable crust for a baked shell. For the pre-baked shell, I preheated the oven to 350, rolled, crimped and then docked the crust with a fork thoroughly. Then, I lined it with parchment and filled with my pie weights: a few cups of red and white beans. Bake for about 20 minutes with the pie weights in place, then remove the weights and continue baking until lightly browned, another 10-15 minutes or so. Cool on a wire rack until room temperature and then fill with your choice of icebox pie favorites. This crust is substantial, nutty tasting and crisp - a great choice for a refrigerator pie.

To make my banana cream pie, I used a lighter pastry cream that I snagged a while back from a disappointing Epicurious recipe. It was billed as a light version of Boston Cream Pie, and let's face it, if you are making a Boston Cream Pie, don't go for a light version. This pastry cream has only 2 egg yolks per cup of milk (by contrast, I think Dorie Greenspan's has 6), making it a good, not-too-sweet layer to complement sliced, ripe banana.

There is no way I would use skim milk in a pastry cream recipe(I have to draw the line somewhere). I also doubled the volume, which is the perfect amount for a 9 inch pie.

Vanilla Pastry Cream - Light Version for Pie (adapted from epicurious)
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 6 T. sugar
  • 4 T. cornstarch (I would suspect arrowroot would also work well)
  • 1/4 t. salt
  • 2 c. whole milk
  • 2 t. butter (I eyeball this, just add a little butter)
  • 1 t. vanilla extract

Whisk yolks, sugar, cornstarch, salt and 2 T. of the milk together in a small bowl or measuring cup. Bring remaining milk to a bare simmer in a saucepan, and add the yolk mixture, stirring constantly. Boil until thickened nicely, about 2 minutes, but maybe not quite that long. Remove from the heat and add the butter and vanilla extract, whisking well to combine (and make sure the butter is fully melted in). Transfer to a bowl, and cover with plastic wrap, letting the wrap rest directly on the surface so that a skin doesn't form. Cool to room temperature.

banana cream pie

When both the pastry cream and the pie crusts are cool, spoon the pastry cream into the shell, and smooth gently with a knife. Slice bananas, (I used almost 2 for this pie), arrange them on top of the pastry cream so that they sit shoulder to shoulder and then top with lightly sweetened, whipped heavy cream. Stash in the fridge for a few hours prior to eating.

So, now for the links:

I hope to be able to make a better commitment to this baking group, and it shouldn't be too difficult since sourdough starter is always plentiful around my house!

Alone = Quiche.

Quiche. That misunderstood brunch or dinner delicacy that is wrongly accused of being girlie, chic (or chick?) food. Whenever I have the opportunity to make dinner solely for myself, I like to use it to my advantage by making quiche. It's filling, versatile, and uses up whatever needs using up - and it requires just enough work to make me feel like I'm worth the fussing over. Besides, I like eating it straight from the fridge for lunches too.

Most people would serve quiche alongside some kind of green salad, but not me. Since I usually partake alone, I fortify it with whatever veg I can, and chalk it up to a one dish meal - a casserole that is so much more attractive seeing as it comes at me baked into a pie. This leads me to believe I know why quiche has the bad-rap of being girlie food: usually it contains no meat. When my Husband (who was on his way out to a basketball game) saw, and likely smelled, the results of my casual labors coming out of the oven, he said "what! I like quiche" to which I responded "since when?" (that was code for "keep away from my leftovers"). My filling was really of no matter to me tonight. What I was really after was a trial run of Sally Fallon's yogurt dough, made from 100% whole wheat that ferments with yogurt and butter prior to baking.

As with most of these new-to-me nourishments, this yogurt dough did not disappoint. It was actually light and flaky, and as complementary to a savory pie as I could see it being to a sweet one. Most whole wheat baked goods seem dense, but not this pie crust. It held up to the filling without sogginess and the edges browned and crisped up nicely. The flavor had just a nuance of graham cracker, which made me immediately think that the next time I get a taste for chocolate pudding pie, I will most certainly use this crust - though likely I'll add a tablespoon or two of honey to enhance it's nutty sweetness.

Sally Fallon's Yogurt Dough (Sally Fallon, Nourishing Traditions)

I used half amounts to yield 1 pie crust - otherwise, it will make two. (Sally says that the recipe will allow enough for two 10 inch, French style, tart shells - and that it cooks more slowly than doughs made with white flour.)
  • 1 c. plain whole yogurt (I used my homemade, which is made with 2% milk)
  • 1 c. butter (1/2 lb. or 2 sticks), softened
  • 3 1/2 c. whole wheat flour (or she recommends spelt flour)
  • 2 t. sea salt
  • unbleached white flour for rolling out
Cream yogurt and butter together. Blend in flour and salt. Cover and leave in a warmish place for 12-24 hours (I left mine only about 8 since I didn't plan too far in advance).

Sally recommends rolling out on a pastry cloth lightly dusted with flour, but I used a lightly floured wooden board, and had no problem with sticking whatsoever.

She also says that if you are baking for a pre-baked shell, prick the bottom well with a fork and place in a cold oven. Turn heat on to 350, and bake for 20-30 minutes. For the quiche, I filled it and baked in a preheated 375 degree oven for 30-35 minutes, and it worked perfectly.

UPDATE:  For using this as a quiche crust, I find that it works best to pop the formed crust into the freezer for 30 minutes to firm it up nicely prior to filling and baking.  It's a soft dough at room temperature, so if blind baking, be sure to line with parchment and fill with weights.

I always use Mollie Katzen's approach to quiche, the dog-eared page 131 of The Enchanted Broccoli Forest guiding me on my way to chic (or chick) dining. Tonight, I only had a bit of Wisconsin Colby cheese, a half pound of mushrooms and an onion. I used garlic, Aleppo and thyme to season, and along to my egg and milk custard, I added about 1/4 c. of the cultured "sour cream" I kind of made by adding my villi yogurt culture to heavy cream. I'm always surprised at the complexity in the flavors of something that has so few ingredients. Of course, that wheaty yogurt dough crust helped quite a bit, too. (I used the same basic Mollie Katzen formula to make another memorable pie, the Wisconsin (Ramp) Pie I made last spring.)

I often wonder what it would be like to cook only for myself again, not worrying about the other members of my family and what their picky palates would prefer. I'd likely eat quiche more than twice a year, I'm sure. When my son saw that there was a pie cooling on the stove, he wanted to try some, until he got right up next to a bite I held out for him - dashing all my sincere hopes that he would enjoy the eggy, mushroomy goodness that I was unable to share with anyone. I'm not giving up, I will offer until there is nothing left for me to offer. Instead, he ate leftover sourdough pancakes that I popped into the toaster to warm.

So, to each of us, our own fermented grains, I suppose. I feel happier eating these soaked and fermented things, still as excited and wide-eyed at the flavors and as eager as ever to share them with others. Convinced my own food revolution will transform at least my household if it goes no further than that. That, or just annoy my fellow family members... But, this pie was great and smelled great. I'm going to get them, if it's the last thing I do!

Essence of Autumn: Pumpkin

It's Fall, finally. Although today was in the 60's, our misguided October of 2010 has determined to let the leaves linger mostly on the trees while we soak up the rapidly shortening days in relative comfort. Traditionally, our October is a cold and often mean month, saturated with rain and requiring me to lament over the lack of a coat I can never seem to buy. (Oh, I have a huge parka, comfort rated by L.L. Bean to like 50 below zero, but I have no "stylish, walking around in usually sweltering stores" coat.)

I often feel so fortunate that we have 4 seasons; I couldn't even tell you my favorite if you asked. The brink of each brings it's own unique set of loves and enjoyment - I doubt I'd be so excited to garden and mow the lawn if I never saw the barren and bleak snow covered yard for what, at the time, seems like an eternity.

Our circle of seasons reminds me of life on a more specialized scale. Lately, and more specifically, my experiments with fermentation seem to echo life and our seasons - first with spurts of growth and then the maintaining, next a slowness created by increasing chill and, finally, inevitable death if not cared for properly (and sometimes even if cared for properly). Seasonal living really is extraordinary, and worth appreciating as often as I think of it. And, while I don't crave it in the Spring and Summer, some things are just inherently Autumn and the Autumnal onset brings with it my cravings for pumpkin and the endless tweaking of the classic pie.

Pumpkin pie is probably one of my top loves. It is home. It requires a modicum of beforehand thought since it takes a long time to bake, and an even longer time to cool down before that first slice can be wedged out and properly plated with appropriate amounts of ether whipped heavy cream or ice cream. I hardly know a person who doesn't love it, and if you hate making a pie crust, filling a supermarket readymade cheat will also provide nearly as much gustatorial enjoyment as the olfactorial treat you get when the whole house smells of spiced pumpkin. (Never mind if I'm introducing new words to the English Language here, I just get excited about pumpkin!)

My first pies of this season were not actually pies, but rather miniature tarts that I stole from Heidi at 101 Cookbooks. Any time I read over a recipe and see that coconut milk has been substituted for something, I get pretty excited. I also took a nod from my Mother, and decreased the amount of said milk, since it produces a richer, more custardy version - and Heidi's addition of an extra egg or two also help with that. Heidi also includes a layer of hazelnuts - boosting that Autumnal feel of this dessert sevenfold. It's good. No, it's Love.

Of course, you can use whatever pie crust you like - I opted for Dorie Greenspan's Pate Sablee. I mixed it up in the food pro, and pressed it into the 4 inch tart tins. For each tin, I used 1/2 c. plus 2 T. of crumbly dough, and a single recipe of her pastry perfectly fills 5 shells.

Pumpkin Custard Tarts (adapted from 101 Cookbooks)
makes 5 4 inch tarts, or 1 9 inch pie
  • 2 c. hazelnuts
  • 1/2 c. dark brown sugar
  • 1 T. pumpkin pie spice (I slightly altered the 101 Cookbooks one, and listed it below)
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1 T. cornstarch (or arrowroot)
  • 1 can (1 1/2 c.) pumpkin puree
  • 1 t. vanilla extract
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • half a can of coconut milk (about 6 oz. If doubling the amounts for two pies or 10 tarts, use a whole can (13+ oz.) of coconut milk)
Preheat oven to 350.

Puree 1 1/2 cups of the toasted hazelnuts in a food processor until they turn into a hazelnut paste, past the 'crumble' stage. I added a teaspoon or so of maple syrup to help it along. Set aside. Chop the remaining 1/2 cup of hazelnuts and set aside to use as garnish.

To make the pumpkin pie filling, whisk together the brown sugar, pumpkin pie spice blend, salt, and cornstarch (or arrowroot). Stir in the pumpkin puree, and vanilla, then stir in the eggs and coconut milk until just combined. Set aside.

Before filling the pie crust, crumble the hazelnut paste on top of the pie dough into the pie plate, quickly and gently press it into a thin layer across the bottom creating a layer of hazelnuts that will sit between the dough and the filling. Fill the pie crust with the filling. Fill the tins fairly full - (it will puff up a little as it bakes, then fall slightly as it cools, ) and bake for 35-40 minutes (up to 50 minutes or so for the pie). For the 4 inch tarts, I used a heaping 1/3 cup of filling in each... and then baked off any remaining pumpkin custard in ramekins. The center of the pie should just barely jiggle when you tap the pans, the edges should be set, and a thin knife inserted at the centers should come out cleanly.

Let the tarts cool fully before digging in. I like to think that it lets everything "marry" nicely. Of course you can eat them how you wish. Serve plain, or with barely sweetened whipped cream and a sprinkling of chopped hazelnuts, or with ice cream.

Pumpkin Pie Spice (adapted from Kathy FitzHenry, via 101 cookbooks)
  • 1 T. cassia (Saigon) cinnamon
  • heaping 1/2 t. allspice
  • 1/4 t. cloves
  • 1 1/2 t. ground ginger
Dorie's Pate Sablee: (Baking: From My Home to Yours)
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup confectioner's sugar (powdered sugar)
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 stick plus 1 tablespoon (9 tablespoons) very cold (or frozen) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 large egg yolk
Put the flour, confectioners' sugar and salt in a food processor and pulse a couple of times to combine.

Scatter the pieces of butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is coarsely cut in--you should have some pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and some the size of peas.

Stir the yolk, just to break it up, and add it a little at a time, pulsing after each addition. When the egg is in, process in long pulses--about 10 seconds each--until the dough, whisk will look granular soon after the egg is added, forms clumps and curds. You may need to add a tiny bit of ice water if the dough doesn't stay together when pinched.

(You can gather the dough up into a ball, and gently knead it out into a disk, then roll on a floured surface like a traditional pie dough. But, it also works to simply pat it out into the tart shell.)

I'm a glutton for Cassia cinnamon. I first tasted it's spicy, red hot related flavor at the Spice House, and ever since I have to stock both "True Cinnamon" and Saigon Cassia Cinnamon in my spice pantry. It is so addicting, a fully unique cinnamon experience. I made these tarts a couple of different times this week, and dusted some with extra cinnamon, as my Mom also does, for looks and for extra spicy cinnamon kick.

I'm sure these are just the first of the pies to take me through to the new year. I have a couple of pie pumpkins that need the roasting and puree treatment, something I generally leave to Libby's since I actually really like the flavor of canned pumpkin.

It's not too often that I like some prepared and out of a store-bought can, but canned pumpkin is one of those things, and as this FoodinJars post reminds us, it isn't advisable for home canning in any form anyway. So, go ahead and add a sauteed leek or onion, maybe some celery and a carrot, (chile flake of course) and in mere moments your can of store pumpkin can turn into a lovely soup. Pancakes and muffins too, all perfectly accepting of a can of pumpkin. I like the cheat once in a while, and with the brevity of Fall in full swing, I'll be sure to indulge frequently.

Raw Vegan Monday: Raw Chocolate Pudding Pie

I can't believe that this is already the 4th installment of Raw Vegan Monday. I'm having so much fun with this self-induced project, that I may just keep up with it indefinitely. Fresh back from a week in the country, I've recharged my internal battery and even re-set it a little. Fairly late to bed and still early to rise, I awoke before 6 this morning, completely rested and wondering what in the world I would make for my raw vegan self-challenge.

During my visit, I was perusing a magazine my Mom had picked up at the local co-op that happened to have a recipe for a raw apple pie. What was most interesting, is that the crust was comprised mostly of sunflower seeds. It was also a nice article written by Joy Hittner of Fountain City, another small Wisconsin town I've had the pleasure of living in. It was a small stint for me in Fountain City, but a nicely spent one, since I had a room in a house on a bluff, overlooking the frosty Mississippi in early spring. As the Winter gradually ended, the bald eagles appeared out of thin air, and as I walked around the nearly cliff-side town, they became almost commonplace visions. Living on the River has a special meaning for so many people. Life teems beneath the water, and on it, river traffic for both work and recreation abounds. It meanders the full height of our country, and is a force to be reckoned with when it overflows it's banks. So many people never get to see this Old Man, memorialized in our Americana thanks to Mark Twain and others, and I got to live steps from his edge and see his daily changes.

It's easy for me to get nostalgic about the many magical places in my state, but suppose I should get back to the pie, since you could have it made by picnic time this afternoon. After all, I even made a short trip down KK to Outpost and back, and still was done photographing my delicacy by 8:30 AM!

I made this recipe in a 8 inch, straight sided, tart tin. You could double the crust ingredients to accommodate a larger pan, and if it is a little too much, roll the rest into raw cookie balls (reminiscent of a Fudge Baby)...

Raw Vegan Chocolate Pudding Pie (adapted from Joy Hittner's crust and The Raw Table's pudding)

For the crust:
  • 3/4 c. raw sunflower seeds
  • 3 oz raisins (about 6 heaping tablespoons)
  • 4 large dates, pitted
  • 1 T. cocoa powder
  • 2 T. unsweetened, shredded coconut
  • 1/4 t. cinnamon
  • pinch of salt
Combine all ingredients in a food pro, and process (with the S-blade) until the mixture holds together when pinched. Be a bit patient, since it can take several minutes. If it doesn't seem moist enough, add another date or a few raisins and keep processing. Press into a pie or tart tin, and chill for 30 minutes or so to make it easier to un-mold from the tin.

For the pudding:
  • 2 small, ripe avocados
  • 1/2 cup agave nectar
  • heaping 1/4 c. cocoa powder
  • 2 T. coconut cream concentrate
  • pinch of salt
  • cinnamon to taste, optional
  • 1 t. vanilla extract or essence
  • espresso powder, about 1 t., optional
Blend everything in a good blender (I am jealous of all of you VitaMix owners...) or a food pro until very smooth. Pour into pie or tart shell, use as a frosting, or enjoy by itself as a pudding.

This chocolate pudding is so creamy, thick and decadent, you would never dream that it could be vegan. I'm also figuring that resting it in the freezer in some 'pop' molds would produce something quite wonderful. It passed the Boy-O taste test, that's for sure! I considered layering some bananas underneath, but decided that I'll slice some on top when I serve it, since I didn't want them to get too mushy in the refrigerator. Even though this is a vegan pie, it is still very rich and quite heavy on fat - albeit healthy fats. I'm hoping it will last me several days under refrigeration, so I can have small slices. In general, I like to get a week out of a dessert. On second thought, I may even try freezing a couple of small slices too. I don't know why it wouldn't work...

So, if you happen to be headed to a Memorial Day service or picnic or potluck, and you need something amazing that no one would guess has avocado in it (in the Milwaukee area, Outpost has organic avocados for 79 cents each today!), this is the pie for you. If you have a well-stocked pantry, you won't need much time, either.

I also can't help thinking that on Memorial Day, I have so much to be thankful for. Our armed forces are not something I think about on an everyday basis since no one in my immediate family is or was in the military. My Father-in-Law is retired Navy, and when I met him, it made me think about all of the families that at some point carried on their day to day lives, for a while or for longer, without a family member. No matter your political affiliation, you must be thankful for the freedoms these people have afforded us. I know when I passed a flag-lined Kinnickinnic this morning, I remembered to be.