The lavish homemade delights of yesteryear were hearty examples of baking skills. With the approaching holidays and their traditional meals, the time may be right to put pies on your menu again. Whether from scratch or with a little help from the supermarket, pies can provide a filling finale and a taste of nostalgia.
Forget the fancy thin-crusted fruit tart you had at that "in" restaurant the other evening. Brush aside the thought of that five-tiered chocolate mousse cake that tempted you at your favorite bakery. Instead, take a stroll into the past and indulge in a bit of nostalgia that can come in handy when planning dessert for some of the more traditional meals for the holidays that will be upon us all too soon.
Remember when you were very young and a visit to Grandma's meant walking into a different world? A world of the rich, welcoming aroma of a freshly baked pie that started your sweet tooth tingling the moment you opened the door. You knew instantly that even if Grandma claimed "That pie is for dinner . . . not before," you could wheedle a piece to accompany a glass of milk as necessary sustenance to keep you alive during the long hours before dinner. Mama may have complained that Grandma spoiled you rotten, but she understood.
Nothing can quite match the flavor and appeal of a good, home-baked pie. Lemon pie. Chiffon pie. Mince pie. Pecan pie. To say nothing of that great American classic, apple pie. We're talking honest-to-goodness pies, here. Rich pies loaded with calories . . . and flavor. Pies made with flaky crusts that literally melt in your mouth they are so "short." Pies that don't stint on the amounts of butter and cream and all sorts of good ingredients that are so unfashionable today.
Few will argue that current diet patterns place heavy emphasis on reduced fats and calories and less sodium and cholesterol. So does this mean that the lavish pies of yesteryear definitely are not to be considered for today's tables? Not at all, if you are in normal good health. The beauty of following a good basic diet usually means that one can indulge in an outrageous treat on occasion. If you're on a stringent diet for medical reasons, such indulgences should be OKd by your doctor first, of course, but the average person can work off the extra calories with a small amount of additional exercise or by reducing his or her calorie intake a bit over the next day or so.
Back in Grandma's day, good cooks were noted for having a deft hand with pastry. Some had the "touch"; others never acquired it. Today's cooks have it easier. Purists may prefer to stick to "from scratch" crusts, but for those who aren't so particular, there are a number of good packaged prepared crusts and mixes available. If you have never tried them, bake a practice pie for the family before springing a masterpiece on guests.
Also, be aware that some of the ready-to-bake crusts in aluminum pie tins found in the refrigerated foods section of the supermarket won't hold as much filling as many older pie recipes call for. If you wind up with extra filling, bake it separately in custard cups as special coffee break or after-school treats. It's a good idea to watch the baking time on these pies also, as they usually are shallower and require a shorter cooking period.
One of the nice things about serving pie for dessert is that most fall into the do-ahead category. And there's nothing quite so comforting when it comes to entertaining as knowing that one major portion of the menu is ready and waiting whenever you and your guests are ready for it.
Some pies, such as our Ice Cream Meringue Pie, are visually as spectacular in appearance as they are in flavor, making them good menu choices for entertaining. Others, such as the Volcano Macadamia Pie or the Ported Apple Pie are better choices for tailgate parties or potlucks where it is necessary to carry them somewhere.
Whatever your choice of recipe, just remember that leftovers are no problem when it comes to pies. After all, a rich, warm piece of pie and a cold glass of milk at afternoon break make it easier to survive the long hours one faces between mid-afternoon and quitting time. And it's hard to find anything that tastes better in the early morning than a firm wedge of cold apple pie with a mug of hot cinnamon-flavored coffee. Talk about getting the day off right. . . .
No, that isn't a breakfast heartily admired by nutritionists as a regular meal. But there are a lot of good ingredients in an apple pie and, after all, you'll have all day to work it off.
ICE CREAM MERINGUE PIE
4 egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 pint strawberry or watermelon ice cream
1 pint chocolate or mocha ice cream
1 pint mint or pistachio ice cream
1 pint vanilla ice cream