Friday, August 25, 2006

The Queen Apologizes in Advance for the Rant

I once spent a weekend visiting friends and their extended family in a distant city. Not only was the company sublime and the improvised entertainment jolly, the food was pretty damn good too. In fact, we assertively ate our way through Saturday breakfast, lunch, and dinner before staggering outside, dipping our toes into the lake and falling asleep, exhausted from the day’s exertions. After a hearty Sunday brunch, we slumped in Adirondack chairs, drumming our fingers in anticipation of the culminating feast of the weekend. At the appointed hour we crammed into the kitchen, eager to pitch in. (An unknown quantity culinary-wise, the Queen was assigned the complex assignment of shucking the corn.) Barbecued meats and other tasty foodstuffs were readied but the main attraction was left in the capable hands of one of the aunts. Her peach cobbler was so renowned that the adjectives used to describe it might have included the oxymoronic: divine, orgasmic, heavenly, and killer.


Imagine how excited I was to observe the technique of this reputed baker. I stood, breathless, as the aunt spread out her ingredients on the big wooden table: a big bowl of freshly sliced peaches, a canister of sugar, a shaker jar with cinnamon, and . . .a package of Pillsbury refrigerated pie crust.

This was the most shocking discovery I’d had since learning about the income tax.

I didn’t care how good her cobbler would ultimately turn out to be; I felt betrayed. It seemed simply wrong that a reputation should be built upon something less than authentic. To me, it was analogous to accepting praise for the watercolor paintings on your wall without coming clean that they were paint-by-number. Or showing up at the prom with a handsome escort and not telling anyone he was your cousin. Or touting your high score at bowling and forgetting to admit that you were using bumpers.

It goes without saying that I ate the cobbler anyway. And except for the lingering taste of deceit that remained in my mouth, it wasn’t bad at all.

And that is my point. It’s perfectly fine to make time or laborsaving substitutions if necessary, but let’s be upfront about the shortcuts. Let’s strive for the real, the fresh, the genuine whenever possible. Let’s proclaim that homemade (and not the semi-homemade crap that’s made Sandra Lee famous) is still a desirable objective. Because otherwise we learn to settle – indeed, glorify – something lesser. And that becomes a steady march down the path that is “dumbing down” our taste buds – and our very culinary culture.

Class dismissed.

Happily, this week’s pie also involves the luscious peach. It’s that time of year, after all, so gather ye golden fuzzy orbs while ye may. Instead of a top crust, this pie wears a crown of brown sugar and butter crunch, making it both homey and luxurious. And homemade, natch.


To apologize for sounding so high and mighty (though it is a perk of royalty), the Queen admits that homemade does not necessarily equate with perfection. The peach pies I made ended up very juicy, spilling over their sides, the sugary juices catching fire in the bottom of the oven. First there were flames, then squeals from horrified onlookers, and then the kitchen became filled with so much acrid smoke that the dog ran barking from the room.

Gee, maybe I should have stuck to shucking corn.



Juicy Peach Pie with Crumb Topping
Adapted from Emeril Lagasse

An easy (easier) way to peel peaches is to drop them into boiling water for about a minute and then put them into a large bowl of ice water. Often (but not always) the skins will slide right off.


Pie filling:
1 ½ c. water
¾ c. light brown sugar
2 T. cornstarch
½ t. salt
1 t. cinnamon
½ t. nutmeg
2 ½ pounds peaches, peeled and cut into slices (about 3 ½ cups)

1 unbaked piecrust

Crumb topping:
½ c. brown sugar
½ c. flour
½ c. butter

Preheat oven to 350. Combine water, brown sugar, cornstarch, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a saucepan and whisk until there are no lumps. Bring mixture to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for 2 minutes. Put peaches into bowl and pour syrup over them. Stir well and let cool for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix together brown sugar, flour, and butter for topping. Use your fingers, two knives, or a pastry blender until mixture looks like coarse meal.

Line a pie plate with the pastry and then spoon the peach mixture into it. Sprinkle crumb topping over all. Place atop a baking sheet (unless you want to witness flames, too) and bake for 1 hour, or until topping is golden brown and filling is bubbly.

Quite good with ice cream, freshly whipped cream, or both.



At 10:38 AM, Blogger markb said...

The Queen is very skilled at laying a guilt trip on her subjects who used store-bought pie crusts.

Guilty as charged, but I plead insanity--I have three kids.

At 12:01 PM, Anonymous amrare said...

Because I hold you in such high esteem, particularly as a voice for what is both possible and reasonable among Tarts, I hesitate to quibble with her majesty about wording but I must. As one who has more than once found a cobbler divine, I was put off by the suggestion that referring to one as such may be oxymoronic. There is nothing contradictory or incongruous about that to this subject’s thinking. Cobblers may typically be of humble origin, but aren’t many splendid things?

Even Mirriam’s suggests how reasonable this exalting perspective might be in its definition of divine - Main Entry: 1di•vine; Function: adjective; 2 a : supremely good : SUPERB - the pie was divine b : HEAVENLY, GODLIKE .

So just what was her majesty trying to suggest? Are we only to know pies?

At 10:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh Queen,

I too abhor Sandra Lee and the world of the semi-homemade.

At 10:29 PM, Anonymous Rosemary said...

I too abhor Sandra Lee and the semi-homemade world. If it's worth doing, do it right!

At 9:51 AM, Blogger The Queen of Tarts said...

markb, No guilt intended. You've proven to be a loyal subject with your pie-making endeavors and should, in fact hereafter be known as Sir MarkB.

amrare, The Queen is delighted with your deference and admires your intellectual fortitude. In truth, she is in complete agreement with your assessment of cobbler. In a word -- yum. Her grievance lies simply with semantics -- how improbable that the same item should receive accolades of both a divine and er...earthy...nature.

Rosemary, A wise assessment and one that perhaps transcends pie?

At 4:50 PM, Blogger markb said...

I am honored and humbled to join the ranks of the nobility.

Do I get a sword and have to invade other blogs and stuff? I'll do it if you want me to. It's not a problem.


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