Pies I've Spied

A journey through the crust.

The process of pie →

I can vouch for Allison Kave’s First Prize Pies. And here’s a lovely vid of her at work from the prolific Liza de Guia over at Food Curated

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I went to pie heaven and it was in a timber cabin in upstate New York. A friend’s magical mother whipped up these two beauties in a matter of minutes this weekend, the recipes all tucked away in her head, tried and tested over countless years. We were in the house by a lake where she’d been coming since she was a little girl, and which her family had owned since the 1920s. Nothing much had changed since her grandparents first landed there - the china was the same her grandmother used all those years ago, the bread tin was spotted with age and the work benches were worn from decades of use.

Betsy made two pies - strawberry and rhubarb and a Kentucky derby pie “because you can bet it’s a winner”. For the strawberry and rhubarb, she mixed through two eggs and a couple of tablespoons of flour with the fruit, lemon zest and sugar to help it bind and reduce the liquid-y filling a bit. The Kentucky derby pie was basically a brownie in a pie crust. Surely the chewy champion of pies. I can also vouch for their overnight staying power - they tasted even better this morning.

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High hopes came with this slice of Lemon Meringue Pie. First, it was found in a roadside diner, so the kitsch factor was significant for a non-American (this moi). Second, that roadside happened to be in Pleasantville, NY, and not much more needs to be said about the awesomeness of eating pie in such a delightful-sounding place. Third, said diner advertised that their pies were homemade and with that came the promise of generations of pie-baking knowledge poured into every delicious morsel. That’s what I thought, anyway.
This pie was, OK. Let me say that first. Perfectly passable if you don’t mind your meringue slightly wet and your lemon filling erring more on sweet than tart. It looked amazing. And a nice touch was to have a thin layer of sponge between the meringue and the filling. But the crust, oh, the crust. Such a disappointment. Where’s the crisp, flakiness we hope and long for in such times? Maybe I got the pie at the wrong end of the week (a Saturday)? But when there’s pie left on the plate at the end of a meal, something’s definitely gone wrong.

High hopes came with this slice of Lemon Meringue Pie. First, it was found in a roadside diner, so the kitsch factor was significant for a non-American (this moi). Second, that roadside happened to be in Pleasantville, NY, and not much more needs to be said about the awesomeness of eating pie in such a delightful-sounding place. Third, said diner advertised that their pies were homemade and with that came the promise of generations of pie-baking knowledge poured into every delicious morsel. That’s what I thought, anyway.

This pie was, OK. Let me say that first. Perfectly passable if you don’t mind your meringue slightly wet and your lemon filling erring more on sweet than tart. It looked amazing. And a nice touch was to have a thin layer of sponge between the meringue and the filling. But the crust, oh, the crust. Such a disappointment. Where’s the crisp, flakiness we hope and long for in such times? Maybe I got the pie at the wrong end of the week (a Saturday)? But when there’s pie left on the plate at the end of a meal, something’s definitely gone wrong.

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1.5 pie and the cartoon that started it all. In loving memory of a beautiful friend.
Sorry there’s no embeds, but you can consider the philosophy of Weebl and Bob here and here.

1.5 pie and the cartoon that started it all. In loving memory of a beautiful friend.

Sorry there’s no embeds, but you can consider the philosophy of Weebl and Bob here and here.

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This is what an Australian meat pie looks like. Ok, so it’s a posh one from this place, but my what deliciousness are to be found under that thick crusty exterior. Chunks of stewed beef and fresh diced vegetables - even thinking about pies like this makes me homesick. The only thing lacking was a squeeze of tomato sauce - remember that for next time, gracious hosts! I’m a fan of the ol’ chicken vegetable or country chicken pie, too, but they’re not for everyone. Purists will say the only true pie is the traditional meat pie of the Four n’ Twenty/buy it at the footy variety. Apparently a former Australian pollie once called it the National Dish. But there are lots of variations on the theme.
My dad is obsessed with steak and kindey pie (gross) and when I was little my mum taught me how to make a version of Shepherd’s Pie which, weirdly, we called Hamburger Casserole. These are all things from home - the other home - way down the bottom of the earth. 
Everyone has different ways of eating meat pies. If I have time, space and utensils, I like to slice off the roof of the pie, eat the filling, munch on the casing before returning to the more delicate, flaky top. It’s a comforting ritual to perform. Otherwise, I just hold it in my hand and eat it in a few gulps. The pie is not a lady like dining pursuit.

This is what an Australian meat pie looks like. Ok, so it’s a posh one from this place, but my what deliciousness are to be found under that thick crusty exterior. Chunks of stewed beef and fresh diced vegetables - even thinking about pies like this makes me homesick. The only thing lacking was a squeeze of tomato sauce - remember that for next time, gracious hosts! I’m a fan of the ol’ chicken vegetable or country chicken pie, too, but they’re not for everyone. Purists will say the only true pie is the traditional meat pie of the Four n’ Twenty/buy it at the footy variety. Apparently a former Australian pollie once called it the National Dish. But there are lots of variations on the theme.

My dad is obsessed with steak and kindey pie (gross) and when I was little my mum taught me how to make a version of Shepherd’s Pie which, weirdly, we called Hamburger Casserole. These are all things from home - the other home - way down the bottom of the earth. 

Everyone has different ways of eating meat pies. If I have time, space and utensils, I like to slice off the roof of the pie, eat the filling, munch on the casing before returning to the more delicate, flaky top. It’s a comforting ritual to perform. Otherwise, I just hold it in my hand and eat it in a few gulps. The pie is not a lady like dining pursuit.

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Some things that aren’t pie but are kind of amazing (in that good/bad way). Thanks to Ms. Best Bits for my new Jello cookbook. Note that the gum is unopened.

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There’s lots of things I like and some of them I like even more than pies. But there is hands down nothing I love more than a root beer float. It’s a childhood thing: I remember slurping down root beer in the Philippines, where I spent the first six years of my life, and pining for it when my family moved to Australia. And no, sarsparilla is not the same. NOT THE SAME. And I remember drinking floats made of that other brown soft drink with my brother in the warm Queensland summers and delighting in their creamy/fizzy wondrousness. From the age of six, however, root beer floats were a special treat found only in rare places. And then, 25 years later, I came to the US and root beer floats came back to me.

It’s really hard for me to ever opt against ordering a root beer float over here and I keep a pretty steady stock of the ingredients for them in my fridge at home…until I decide it’s too much of a good thing and go cold turkey for a while. So imagine my reaction when I discovered New York’s Allison Kave over at First Prize Pies had developed a Root Beer Cream Pie of amazingness. My delight was almost violent; I needed to have it. I found an occasion that would give me an excuse to buy one and put my order in. The system worked perfectly, I negotiated with Allison what day to have it ready by and on that day stopped by the Essex Street Market to pick it up.

When it came to revealing the pie it met all expectations. A lovely, latte colored whipped cream topped it and dark Nilla wafers formed the crust. But the pie itself, well, maybe it was TOO highly anticipated. I also get confused by the American ‘custard’ which is more like a syrupy, eggy, sometimes lumpy layer that’s spread pretty thinly over the base. Anyway, this pie had one of those layers and so the punch of root beer taste I was hoping for was more like a limp thwack. The cream topping, though, was lovely; a slight root beer taste with an almost ginger/spice afterthought.

All in all, it certainly wasn’t a bad experience. I think I might have even loved the pie had I not expected it to taste like the one thing in the world I adore the most (food-wise, that is). First Prize Pies have all sorts of exciting flavors I still want to try. This, for instance. Or this one. Whoa, mama.

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Pie on the run! These pies made an appearance at the sidelines of the New York marathon last year, helping to bring cheer to a runner’s cheer squad. They’re from the wonderfully amazing (though difficult to get a table at) Pies ‘n’ Thighs in Williamsburg. Key Lime is well represented here but the Chocolate Pudding pie is my No. 1. Smooth chocolate custard on a salty chocolate biscuit base topped with a dollop of whipped cream and an extra curl of chocolate. Oh. My. God. And they do chicken, too.

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It’s been a while! And there’s lots to catch up on. Here’s some of it, beginning with the feast of the Pumpkin Pie Made With Real Pumpkin during the 2010 season of pumpkin eating. The pie closest to us on the ledge is made with real pumpkin, the ones at the end made with ‘Libby’s’ pumpkin pie filling. V. common to use the canned mix in pies over here and it comes out looking nice, orange and glossy too. But real pumpkin is best - spicy cinnamon matches the sugar-sweet pumpkin mash beautifully.

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Who knew so many likes pies? News of the 2nd Annual Brooklyn Pie Bake-off was too much to bear for many pie lovers who resorted to digging into pie with their hands when cutlery, plates and space ran out at Spacecraft in Williamsburg. I got there at 1.45pm (kick off was at 1pm) and the line snaked out the door, down Bedford Ave and around the corner towards another bastion of pies and goodness, Pies ‘n’ Thighs.

Organizers periodically came out to apologize to the horde and politely suggested some might try returning next year as pie was in short supply. We’ll have none of that, thankyou. A few unlucky souls slumped out of the line and up the street, allowing the rest of us to move through at a steady clip. Spacecraft was a bit of a disaster-zone inside with people diving for whatever pie they could carefully balance on a sliver of plastic knife and the three pie judges finding themselves hemmed on all sides by pie-hungry hipsters.

I tried a very nice southern crab and crawfish number studded with smoked cheese, set on a cornbread base. Its maker, a young gent, was trying to drum up support for it and to him I say, thankyou. It was one of the few savory pies there and was intriguing. I don’t have a photo of it - we were herded in and out pretty quickly - but I did manage to snap a pic of the slice of chocolate pecan I slinked away with. Pretty misshapen by the time I’d got to it, it still held on to its rich, bourbon flavor. I think this one may have later been crowned People’s Choice.

It really is pie season over here so stay tuned for some pumpkin-related updates ahead of Thanksgiving. A much vaunted Pumpkin Pie Made With Real Pumpkins is sure to feature.

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