We were at my in-laws' down the Cape over the weekend when I was suddenly overcome with the urge to make pie. I'm usually a total sloth once we cross over the Sagamore bridge, burying my nose in various books and sleeping late, only emerging for the sweet promise of doughnuts. My in-laws are very forgiving.
But nothing motivates me like pie. Maybe it was the peach trees over by the garage, fruits rosy from a distance but still teasingly green up close, or the blackberries growing on prickly brambles under the deck, sweet as strawberries. Or maybe the salty air demanded a buttery counterpoint. Whatever it was, I needed pie and I needed it now. I had already gone down to the local farm stand and gathered up as many ripe peaches and nectarines as I could find, so I got right down to the business of making pie.
Cooking in someone else's space is always interesting. Despite the many similarities between all kitchens, there are always some unpredictable elements. Like the location of the blade for the food processor. Where was it? My in-laws were out at the time so I couldn't ask. I checked every conceivable cabinet and drawer I could think of, but I couldn't find it. That's okay. I didn't need a food processor for the crust, I could just cut in the butter by hand. But where the heck was the butter? There was no butter in the refrigerator. There was no butter in the freezer. I take for granted the constant presence of butter at my house, so I never bothered to check. Did I really want to get back in the summer traffic queue on Rt. 6 just for butter? How badly did I want this pie?
Husband rummaged around in the basement freezer and located two sticks of unsalted butter like the hero that he is. But cutting in frozen butter by hand wasn't going to be easy. I dug around in the drawers for a pastry blender, which was a long shot but worth a try, until I found a small box grater. Perfect! I shredded the frozen butter on the large holes of the grater until it threatened to scrape all the flesh off my knuckles. That was my cue to stop. (So if my in-laws find two little knobs of butter in the fridge that look like they were attacked by tiny beavers, that's why.)
From there, I mixed the butter, which now bore a striking resemblance to mozzarella cheese, into the flour, sugar, and salt, drizzled in the ice water, and tossed the fluffy mixture with a fork. Then I kneaded it several times to develop flaky layers, formed the dough into two disks, wrapped them in plastic wrap, and put them in the fridge to rest while I made the filling.
The rest of the pie construction went very smoothly. Rolling out the pie dough on their nice marble countertop was a pleasant change. I was feeling pretty good as I slid the whole beautiful, egg-washed, double-crusted pie into the oven. That is, until about 10 minutes later when I was cleaning up and noticed the box of cornstarch over in the corner, neglected and untouched. I wasn't working from a recipe but rather a mental accounting of things. A mental accounting that had included sugar, vanilla, and a little cinnamon, but had conveniently forgotten the all-important thickener that I had set out earlier. Now my filling was getting soupier by the second in the oven, sealed between my two hard-earned homemade crusts.
So this is what I did. I removed the pie from the oven. I made a large incision between the pie plate and the crimped edge of the crust along the circumference of half of the pie. I flipped the top crust over onto the other half of the pie (the dough was still bendy at this point). Then I stirred in a whole bunch of cornstarch, I don't know how much, maybe 2 tablespoons? I was muttering angrily to myself the whole time and not really paying attention. I added the cornstarch only to the half of the pie where the filling was exposed hoping that, at best, some sort of starchy equilibrium would be achieved during the baking process, or, at worst, half of the pie would be soupy and half would be a gloppy mess. I didn't care at this point. I just wanted my pie. I quickly flipped the crust back on top. It looked sad and droopy on one side, but whatever. Pie is pie. It slumps once you cut it anyway. Then I put it back in the oven.
Now, I'm not a religious person, you know that, but there must have been some kind of divine intervention going on with that pie because, despite all of its technical challenges, it came out fantastic. Deliciously peachy with a smattering of blackberries. Okay, maybe there was a little extra liquid on one side, but it held together fine and tasted great. It didn't even look that bad in the end. Also, when I put the cornstarch away, I found the food processor blades. Aha! They were in the far side of the cabinet with the baking ingredients.
Next time I'll make the pie properly, but there's no guarantee it will come out half as good!