I get many emails each day. But one, from Kelly Zielinski, really stood out:
“I teach seventh grade at Raymer School on the East Side of Toledo. I am always thinking of ways to get my students reading something. I cut out your first article in the paper and we as a class highlighted new vocabulary words that the children did not know. We made posters and hung them outside our classroom. I highlighted words such as brusque, culinary, cyberspace, nuance, sustenance, etc. We read through the article ... and discussed all the new words.”
Ms. Zielinski and I wrote back and forth, and she invited me to meet with her after-school Reading Club to discuss a book I’d recommended to them — Pie by Sarah Weeks, a mystery involving a young heroine, a baker, and an ornery cat named Lardo. She’d pointed out that, “As we all know, people are interested in good food to eat, so if they are interested in good food, maybe they would want to read about it as well.”
We decided that I should bring a pie to share, in keeping with the theme of the afternoon (with apologies to the students’ parents if their children’s appetites were spoiled for dinner), since it seemed a shame to talk about pie without actually eating any.
Last week, then, I visited with the Reading Club members: Savannah Brewer, Alana Demecs, Venessa Harris, Astrella Ibarra, Ann Marie Juhasz, Nick Meagher, Jada Russell, Andy Temple, and Breanna Terman. Ms. Zielinski’s daughter, Ava, a kindergartener at Raymer, also joined us. We talked about how important reading and math are, since students often sigh and complain that they’ll never use some of what they study in school once they reach adulthood.
I explained that reading is essential to my job, as I can’t look through a cookbook to find a good recipe to write about if I can’t read it properly, and I can’t follow a recipe to make a dish if I can’t read it, either. Math, too, is critical. While I admittedly don’t use the calculus that I studied back in high school, I do use addition, subtraction, multiplication, percentages, measuring, fractions, and many other skills while cooking and baking.
As we ate the Apple Crumb Pie I’d brought to share, the students told me they’d liked the assigned book, which features many recipes. They then talked with me about research they’d done regarding different types of pies.
They’d learned that our notion of pie - with a bottom crust, possibly a top crust, and a filling - is not the only form a pie can take. Spanakopita, a Greek spinach pie, can sometimes offer the vegetable enveloped in flaky phyllo dough and sometimes be served as more of a casserole with a top “crust” of phyllo. Sweet potato pie is a Southern classic with the traditional presentation. And then there is shepherd’s pie - ground meat, vegetables, and gravy topped with mashed potatoes - which can be varied by using turkey, beef, or lamb.
After this, the Reading Club students were asked to devise their ideal versions of pie. Savannah’s Sugar Sweet Pie featured peaches on the top and bottom, with a layer of watermelon in the middle; the topping included frosting, sprinkles, and a decorative ring of banana slices. Candy Pie, envisioned by Jada, was a chocoholic’s dream filled with one pound of chocolate and a scant 1/4 teaspoon of Pixy Stix. Fruiti-Tuti Pie, from Alana and Astrella, offered blueberries, strawberries, watermelon, mango, grapes, grapefruit, oranges, cherries, raspberries, and kiwi, all topped with 3 cups of caramel. The dream dessert pies were rich, colorful, and very creative. Meatball and Spaghetti Pie, from Ann Marie and Breanna, could make a very hearty, cheesy meal - a savory pie rather than a sweet one.
Andy, Nick, and Venessa created the Epic Concoction Pie, featuring successive layers of peanut butter, strawberry jelly, and whipped cream, all topped with vanilla ice cream. A slight bit of tinkering - crushing peanut butter granola bars to make a solid base; using jam, which is thicker and would remain a distinct layer rather than seeping into the crust; and reversing the whipped cream and ice cream layers, as ice cream is heavier and would deflate the other - made this into a quick and delicious treat.
It was wonderful to visit with the students and to learn of their enthusiasm for books; Reading Club is an elective that they choose to take for enjoyment, rather than a requirement. Most heartening, in this age of computer games, Skype, tweeting, and texting, there was a quick and definitive response when I asked an important question. “What would the world would be like if people didn’t read, if there were no books?”
“Dumb,” replied Savannah quickly, “because then there would be no imagination.”
Epic Concoction Pie
Inspired by Andy Temple, Nick Meagher, and Venessa Harris
Grease a 9” freezer-safe pie plate.
Crush the granola bars (or grind them in a food processor) into crumbs; place into a medium mixing bowl. Melt together the butter and peanut butter; stir until combined, then pour over the granola bar crumbs. Stir together, then press crumbs into the bottom of the prepared pie plate and halfway up the sides. Freeze for 30 minutes.
Remove ice cream from freezer and let it rest on the countertop. Stir together the jam and water until smooth; spread over the bottom of the pie crust, then freeze for 15 minutes while the ice cream softens.
Spread the ice cream over the entire crust, mounding it a bit in the middle; smooth it, then place into the freezer for 1 hour to set.
Let the pie rest at room temperature for 5 minutes, then spritz with whipped cream in a decorative pattern. Slice the pie and serve immediately, freezing any leftovers.
Makes 10 servings.
Apple Crumb Pie
Make the filling: Peel and core the apples, then cut into 1/2” dice. Place into a medium saucepan with the cinnamon and the water. Bring just to a boil, then lower heat to medium; cover and let cook 10 minutes. Stir, then cook uncovered 5 more minutes or until most of the water has evaporated and the apples are very tender. Remove from heat, stir in cornstarch. Let cool to room temperature.
Crust: Preheat oven to 425F. Place crust into a 9” pie pan, trim edges even with the pie pan, and form a decorative border. Pour the cooled filling into the crust.
Topping: Combine the flour, brown sugar, and oats; stir in the butter until mixture is crumbly. Sprinkle over the apple filling.
Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350F and bake for 30-35 minutes more until topping is golden and fruit is bubbling at the edges. Let cool completely before cutting.
Yield: 12 slices.