When is pie more than just a dessert? When it becomes a legacy. When it becomes the symbol of one of the most influential people in your life. When it has meaning. That's what this picture represents. It's who I am and who I would like to become. Come along with me on my journey....
Every summer my mom would bake a peach pie. We would wait and wait until the best peaches showed up at the supermarket. For us living in the plains of Nebraska, that meant Colorado peaches. They always had the richest flavor, the best texture and just enough juice to make a scrumptious pie. The recipe I'm sharing with you was one she started making when I was a teenager. It comes from a book called the Southern Heritage Pies and Pastry Cookbook and it has become my gold standard for peach pie. The peaches you see pictured are the ones I wait for every year. These are Red Haven peaches from Pennsylvania. A little produce stand down the road from my house has them every summer. The fragrance will lure you in like a perfume. These peaches are extra juicy, so don't let them get too, too ripe if you're making a pie.
I can't even begin to count the number of times I would watch my mom rolling out pie dough. She made a lot of pies. French Silk in the winter, strawberry-rhubarb in the spring, cherry for my dad's birthday in April and always peach in August. Her crust came out perfect every single time. It took me years of attempting the process myself before I got the hang of it, but it was her coaching and demonstrating the fine details that brought the techniques to life. My mother is a born teacher. She taught me and my three younger brothers at home for about five years. That takes some dedication and commitment. And she was good at it. Always patient, always looking for opportunities to teach her children, no matter if it was from a book or in the kitchen. That's part of why this pie means so much. It represents her investment of time and attention to detail that she imparted to me. Not to mention a love of food as a time capsule, a memory trigger and a kind of scrapbook that keeps all the snapshots of my childhood.
Back to the recipe: There are two ingredients that make this pie unique. One of those are the tapioca pearls that thicken the peach juices. Most pie recipes will call for flour or cornstarch as a thickener. I love the tapioca because it lets the flavor of the peaches shine through. The clarity of the filling, both in appearance and in taste makes this pie sparkle.
A word of caution about the juice factor: If you end up with excessively juicy peaches and they have a pool of liquid at the bottom after adding the sugar mixture, drain them. I once baked a lovely peach soup in a tender flaky crust and nothing is as discouraging as eating all that time and effort with a spoon. I was nervous about all the liquid I had, so I drained them slightly and then sprinkled some more tapioca around the edges before dotting the top with butter. No peach soup this time.
Secret weapon number two: Almond extract. Nothing harmonizes so well with peaches as almond. In fact, I've notices that stone fruits in general have a real thing for almond accents. This is one of my favorite flavor combinations. Somehow the earthiness and nuttiness of the almond makes peaches taste even sweeter and more complex.
Just before the pie goes in the oven, it's crowned with a ring of foil. I've never tried baking the pie first and then covering it, but it seems easier to do it when the pie is not steaming and bubbling with molten fruit. The steam vents are my mom's signature decoration. She tells me she took the idea from a pie she admired and I'll always do the exact same design. I love the rustic simplicity of the darts, how it almost looks feathered.
So if pie is a legacy, who do I pass it on to? We don't have any children and I've been hesitant to start a family with my job future a little uncertain. But. Teaching a daughter of my own how to make a memory would be the thing that could change my mind. Having a companion in the kitchen is something I've greatly missed since I moved away from home. I can't imagine any greater joy than passing on my love of food and making it for others to someone I love and cherish. A peach pie may not last forever, but the memory of it will.
Georgia Peach Pie
from the Southern Heritage Pies and Pastry Cookbook
Pastry for one double crust pie (9") for recipe, click here
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. brown sugar
3 T. quick-cooking tapioca
1/8 t. salt
5 c. peeled, sliced fresh peaches (5 large)
1/8 t. almond extract
1 T. butter
Roll half of pastry to 1/8" thickness on a lightly floured surface; fit into a 9" pie plate. Set aside.
Combine sugar, brown sugar, tapioca and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add peaches and toss gently to coat. Stir in almond extract. Pour peach mixture into pastry shell; dot with butter. Roll remaining pastry to 1/8" thickness and place over filling. Trim edges if needed, roll excess pastry under to seal, then crimp. Cut slits in top to allow steam to escape. Bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 375 degrees and bake additional 40 minutes or until crust is golden brown. Sprinkle with sugar, if desired.