Seasonal fruit makes a great pie worth its weight in flavor.
In the coming weeks, take advantage of the local harvest at fruit farms, produce stands, and farmers' markets. Stock up on fruit for eating, for preserving in the freezer or in jellies, and, most importantly, for baking.
Unfortunately, too many cooks are intimidated by rolling a pie crust, lifting it into a pie pan, preparing fruit to nestle in the crust, and topping a pie with lattice pastry or a full crust. With baking, this can be a two-hour process.
Like many pie bakers, I've tried all sorts of shortcuts.
Recently, I bought a 10-pound container of frozen tart cherries (enough for seven pies), which I preportioned in four-cup amounts per pie and refroze in freezer containers. Sometimes I've added sugar (the amount needed for one pie) to the fruit and mixed it in. That saves a step when it's time to make a pie.
I've also frozen unbaked pies in aluminum pans. Last week, I made three cherry pies, wrapped each in foil and placed it in a two-gallon freezer bag. When it's time to bake the frozen pie, I remove the plastic and foil and use directions from a commercially frozen pie - usually a high temperature for nearly an hour.
I made one of those pies last weekend and will probably bake another this weekend. The frozen pies don't last long. It's great to be able to pull a homemade dessert from the freezer.
Shortcuts can also lead to a one-crust pie or tart.
I was inspired by the galette demonstrated by Joanne Weir of PBS's Weir Cooking in the Wine Country. She made Summer Cherry and Apricot Galette with Kirsch Cream, a recipe that is in Joanne Weir's More Cooking in the Wine Country (Simon & Schuster, $32).
She mixed the ingredients for the crust with a pastry scraper (it can also be done in a food processor) and then had only one crust to roll.
For a galette, you don't use a pie pan. The crust is placed on a lightly greased jelly roll pan (a rectangular baking pan with one-inch-deep sides). The fruit mixture is spooned onto the dough, leaving a four or five-inch border. Edges of dough are lifted over the fruit, leaving a circle of fruit in the center. Then it is baked in half the time of a regular pie. Make sure the edges are sealed so none of the fruit juice drips out of the crust.
The Blade's recipe tester, Sharla Cook, made a Sweet Cherry Almond Galette using dark, sweet cherries. She could not buy pitted cherries, so she pitted them with the end of a potato peeler. The egg wash gave a golden shiny appearance. Each serving is drizzled with a red wine glaze. Mrs. Cook used a soft red wine, but she said a white wine - maybe a light pinot grigio - would enhance the color of the cherries more.
Consider a cobbler or a crisp as an abbreviation of the one-crust pie.
A cobbler is a baked, deep-dish fruit dessert topped with a biscuit crust. Make Plum Cobbler with prune plums or any plum in season. Remember to pit the plums and slice them and then add the sugar.
A crisp is sweetened fruit topped with a streusel-like topping often containing oats and baked. Apple crisp is the most common, but consider crisps using other fruits, such as Nectarine-Raspberry Crisp. The Joy of Cooking advises three parts fruit to one part topping for a perfect crisp.
These recipes can be made with a variety of summer fruits.
Recently, I made Janet Esch's blue-ribbon Blueberry Pie. It won Best of Show in the pie category in July at the Lucas County Fair. The recipe is especially fast if you use a refrigerated pie shell; otherwise, make your own single-crust pastry using her recipe with Crisco. The recipe came from her daughter and was originally from Hafner Farms in Baldwinsville, N.Y.
It's also that little-something dessert that you can whip up in 20 to 30 minutes. It can be made with strawberries, raspberries, or blackberries.
While the crust cools, make the filling using a pint of blueberries in the sauce. It takes little sugar and will show you just how much flavor those berries can produce.
Let the mixture cool. Then stir in another pint of berries and pour the filling into the shell. Refrigerate at least two hours. The result is a very fresh flavor. Plus, when sliced with a sharp (not serrated) knife, each piece is clean and smooth.
My family members gave cheers to this pie.
But, they cautioned me, “Don't get rid of your regular blueberry pie recipe.”
So now I have my summer blueberry pie with the fresh berries and single crust and my winter blueberry pie with the double crust.
There are days when you just need shortcuts.