Thank goodness for farmers. If it weren’t for farmers, I’d be reduced to eating the food I can grow myself. And this hot, dry summer has not provided as much of that as I'd like. My garden -- though overheated and underwatered -- is still struggling along: the asparagus was abundant, the garlic is ready for harvest, and I’ve had cooling salads of tender lettuces, crunchy radishes, and fragrant herbs all summer. My blueberries and the wild raspberries and blackberries that dot my ragged yard are also bountiful. But that’s about it. Kale, fennel, and broccoli are either bolting or wilting in the heat. I can’t even discuss my tomatoes and peppers ...
So, once again: thank goodness for the farmers, their markets, their roadstands, and their grit for working through heat waves to feed us all. I'm a loyal visitor to the local farmers market, and just a few miles from my door, my go-to roadside stand has been keeping the family's sweaty spirits up with incredibly sweet stone fruit. The season started for us with cherries, when I made my first-ever homemade cherry pie (absolutely worth the effort of all that pitting). And now we're on to my favorite pie: peach.
Peaches are less work than cherries, though not without a critical quirk: to transform into pie, they must be peeled. It’s messy (but easy) and worth the time for a pie so magical it made a southern friend weep at my dinner table last week. (Tears of joy, really. I promise. She said it had reminded her of the peach cobbler made by her late and beloved grandmother.)
People seem to fear making pie, and this is a shame. Homemade pies are not hard, just precise in a few key ways. The butter for the crust must be cold. The crust dough must be chilled before and after it's rolled out. The filling mustn't be too sour or too sweet, and many fruits (peaches among them) need some help to thicken their juices so the filling isn't runny. I’ve promised my friend a hands-on lesson in pie baking, but in the meantime, here’s the rundown on my method, which -- I swear on the Farmers' Almanac -- produces a flaky, succulent, beautiful, not-too-sweet pie to make your grandma proud. Take your time, don’t second guess your ability, drink iced tea while you work, get outside while the oven's on, and breathe. Great pie is within your reach.
Peach (or Apricot) Pie
This pie uses my favorite "never-fails" crust recipe (adapted from Laura Pensiero’s wonderful book Hudson Valley Mediterranean [William Morrow, 2009]) and a filling adapted from a recipe in Ruth Reichl's Gourmet Cookbook [Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006]. Remember to roll the dough thin (just a hair over 1/8 inch) and don’t ignore the directions about cold ingredients and chilling steps, especially in this hot weather. Taste your fruit before you add the lemon juice: if it’s on the sour side, you may want to add more sugar, depending upon your sweet tooth.
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 sticks (16 tablespoons) sweet butter, cold, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup orange juice (cold, and preferably, but not imperatively, freshly squeezed)
3 pounds of peaches or apricots
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
or to taste
1/2 cup plus 2 T sugar (or more to taste)
5 T flour
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 egg, separated, the yolk beaten
In the bowl of a standing mixer, combine flour, salt, and sugar. Using the paddle attachment, turn the mixer on low for a second to mix. Turn it off, add the butter, and turn the mixer back on low. When the butter is beginning to incorporate into the flour, with a texture somewhere between meal and small peas, add the orange juice. Continue to mix on low, just until the dough comes together. Divide the dough into two equal pieces, and shape each into a flattened disk about 6 inches in diameter and an inch thick. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
If you’re using apricots, you need only pull them apart with your fingers, remove the pits, and break each half into two more pieces: irregular is fine, and you don’t need to peel them. But if you’re using peaches, they must be peeled. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Make a large bowl of ice water and set it to the side. Using a large slotted spoon, lower the peaches, two or three at a time, into the boiling water and leave for 30 seconds to a minute, then remove to the ice bath. (If you notice that the peels on the first batch aren’t loosening easily in the ice water, leave the next ones in a bit longer.) After all the peaches are blanched and chilled, remove the peels. Cut them in half, remove the pits, and then slice them into 1/2 inch thick slices. Toss the fruit with the lemon juice to prevent it from browning.
Whisk together the flour, sugar, and nutmeg, and stir gently into the fruit.
Remove the crust dough from the refrigerator and roll out the bottom crust until the round is a couple of inches wider than the bottom of your pie plate and between 1/8 and 1/4-inch thick; I like to place the dough atop a sheet of wax paper or parchment, and put a sheet of plastic wrap over it, rolling it between the two sheets. Remove the plastic wrap, and turn the dough carefully over atop the pie plate, pulling off the paper only when you’re sure your crust is the right size and thickness. Push the crust down gently so it lines the plate. It will drape off the edges; trim the excess just a tiny bit past the edge of the pie plate. Put the lined plate into the freezer to chill while you roll out the top crust in the same manner. Remove the bottom crust from the freezer, prick several times on the bottom and around the side wall with a fork. Brush the crust lightly with egg white. Add the fruit mixture, and then the top crust.
If you like you can first cut the top crust into 1/2 inch wide strips, and weave these into a lattice pattern. (It’s easier than it looks or sounds: check out these pictures from food writer Michael Ruhlman for guidance.) If you’ve not woven a lattice, make several cuts into the top crust to allow the steam to vent -- these can be decorative, say cutting a leaf shape or letter into the top, or just some functional slashes.
Gently push the edges of the top crust down onto the bottom crust, and then crimp the crust all around. You can just press the edges with the tines of a fork, or for more a more polished look, crimp the dough: With the thumb and forefinger of one hand, push the dough against a knuckle or the tip of the index finger of the other hand at even intervals all around. (Confused? This video by Epicurious will give you the idea.) Brush the top crust with the beaten egg yolk.
Put the pie on a cookie sheet to catch drips and place it in the bottom third of the preheated oven and bake for 10 minutes. Lower the temperature to 375 and bake for 45-50 minutes more. The pie should be evenly golden brown and the filling bubbly.
Cool on a wire rack before serving -- it can be served still be warm, but not hot. Vanilla ice cream? Yes, please.
Image: Victoria Pickering