Since I last wrote RangerSir and I have sold our home. It has been a ride like no other home sale we have experienced before when selling prior homes of all sorts, in many different states and locals. We will be having a closing on June 1st. One of the things we must do before that date is empty our larder because we will not be moving directly from one home to the next. Nor will this move be a local one. We will not be moving food. We must empty our freezer and cupboards.
After years of living without a grocery store just minutes from home, we developed a habit of having a well-stocked pantry and freezer. We bought our beef, pork, and lamb from a locally known rancher. We raised and butchered our own chickens. We stocked up on meat when it was on sale, so if tonight we wanted brats on the grill, it was possible without running to town by looking in our freezer. Our freezer was well stocked. If beans or can tomatoes were on sale in the 10 for pricing option, we stocked up so we could make chili if the day turned cold. Our full pantry always had lots of options available.
This last year in the midst of COVID, a friend offered us apples. We accepted the gift and went about putting them in the dehydrator for snacks, and making enough apple pie filling that we could have a pie a month before apple season next year. I love cranberries and when they were in season, I bought multiple bags and froze them so I could make a salad, relish, or bread when cranberries were no longer in the store. I did not think much about this because 2020 had been such an unpredictable year. I did not know for sure if we would move or 2021 would be another year spent in Montana. COVID taught us life was a toss-up and anything was possible and any plans could be upended.
In 2021 we sold our home and found our moving plans for retirement back in play. Because of how the sale’s timing, it turned out we were short on time on our exit plan. We suddenly realized we had five month’s worth of apples, and bags upon bags of cranberries, and just weeks to use them up. I decided that I would make pies. I found a recipe for cranberry apple pie. I made five pies, mixing the two together in a pie mashup.
I enjoyed making the pies. It took my mind off all the craziness happening with the sale of our house. I enjoyed more giving the pies away to friends. It moved me further along in the continuum of getting ready to leave behind our home of over 20 years. Getting rid of the items in my freezer allowed me to mentally start to move forward into the next phase of our lives and journies. Our larder is not bare, but I can see and hope that by the time our last day comes that there isn’t much left I will have to find a new home for.
In these times of hunkering down and staying close to home there are reports about ingredient shortages as folks apparently starting cooking more from home. Many folks out there are first-time cooks, while others returned to their roots and made family favorites. There were folks who took up cooking to take some sort of control over all the craziness out there. Others took up cooking out of necessity to stretch their shrinking budgets. I’ve always cooked at lot from scratch for both enjoyment and for better health. Staying home was not going to change that, but it did.
My cooking style was influenced by my grandmas, all three. I came from a blended family and I had an amazing group of women who influenced my life in so many ways. They all brought something different to the table in my cooking experiences. One of my grandmother’s belonged to a cookbook club and made one new recipe a week for as long as I could remember. So experimental cooking seemed to me to be the norm. Another of my grandma’s was the queen of comfort foods, feeding others, and was well known for her pie skills. She gave to me the importance of sharing food with others and the ability to make pastry by gut instinct. My third granny lived in the city and she exposed me to all sorts of foods with her statement that I had to try two bites of everything on the table. It was a taste palette expansion I don’t think I would have had any other way.
Pandemic cooking has brought two things to our home. Learning to really cook for two and making meals that I had never imagined before. RangerSir always was a trouper about eating leftovers and trying new things. I have always loved to browse cookbooks looking for something new to make. Unfortunately for me my collection of cookbooks is old and full of tried and true, but not much new in there begs to be tried anymore. Cooking magazines are outrageously expensive so they are a very rare guilty pleasure. Lucky for me Amazon “gave” a full year of The Food Network app away just after the lock down started and I suddenly had more recipes to try than I had days in the week.
The Food Network started me thinking about foods I didn’t really use and provided me with new recipes without breaking the bank. We would watch a food show while we ate lunch. Sometimes it was a “What???” moment and other times it had us thinking we should make that. This chicken was suppose to be a spatchcock chicken cooked on roasted vegetables. Once I split the whole chick down the back bone and flattened it on the pan, I got to thinking ‘why am I cooking both haves at one time?” I put the second half in the freezer for another day. The roast vegetables included leeks, something I saw in the store many times. I had always bought onions, shallots and garlic so did I really need leeks too? This recipe got me to try them. They are one of my new favorites to add when doing fall and winter root vegetables. There are now a staple and no longer shy from recipes that call for them.
Another fun thing about using a TV network show is it has turned into a group effort cooking. I know I can print the recipes, but that makes it a one sided affair. Now days I am in the kitchen prepping foods and RangerSir is assigned remote control. His job is to stop, rewind and start the video as I get out of sync with the TV chefs. It makes this cooking a joint effort and we laugh at ourselves in this crazy synchronization of making dinner. He always asks about the food we eat and this way he is much more informed because he was part of the cooking in a way.
Are you cooking more during these times? If you’d care to share I love to hear about what you are making.
The women of my family have a long history of making great pies. My grandma cooked pies when she worked at the county home, when she volunteered at the shelter and for her family. One of the things that made her so well-known for her pies was her ability to make great crusts every time. It is one of those things she gave to me, the ability to make good pies and enjoy doing so.
Now I am the pie baker of choice for the holidays with my Montana adopted family. Each year for Thanksgiving I am asked to bring the pies. There is always the required pumpkin pie, with my secret ingredient Penzy’s cinnamon. What makes this cinnamon so special is that it is a mix of different cinnamon’s giving it a depth of flavor not found in your run of the mill store cinnamons. I struggled with fruit pies at this altitude and have discovered they turn out much better if I par-cook my fruit. This year I repeated my highly sought after apple filling cooked in cider, brown sugar and butter. The cider gives it a really great apple flavor and yet not too sweet. The kids demand a chocolate pie, and each year I turn up with a version of chocolate. I am always on the look out for a new one for each year. This year I settled for an old-fashion chocolate cream pie with a crust of crushed “Famous Chocolate Wafers”. Three is usually my limit, but this year I had a hankering for pecan pie. Knowing full well this was not a nut crowd, I made my pecan pie anyway. Real maple syrup is my secret ingredient. It makes a rich filling that isn’t that gooey sweet, I attribute to the corn syrup I used to use. Real maple syrup is not overwhelming with maple flavor and most folks don’t even realize it is in my pie. In this case only two of us ate it. It won’t likely be a repeat performance for this crowd.
At the end of the night, the only pie left was my pecan pie, though the nut eater took home an extra piece. I took my leftover pie home and will be eating it the next few days, and then I will be satisfied. I got my slice of pecan pie and then some.
My Grandma Virtue was a great pie maker. She knew the recipe for good crust by heart from many years of experience. Grandma worked in the kitchen at the Whiteside County old folks home. There she was known for making pies for the residents. She also insisted on making pies when she would volunteer at the soup kitchen with her oldest son. Our family of course enjoyed her pies when we gathered for Thanksgiving. It was important to her that folks has a piece of good pie, be they the elderly, the poor, or her family.
I can remember stopping by the family place one time when heading back to Minnesota after a trip to visit my mom. We tried to plan our return trip such that we could make a quick stop to visit my Great Aunt and Uncle. On this trip, Aunt Leola had 3 pies, rhubarb, berry and the third escapes me. The crust in these pies were likely made with lard and they were flakey.
My mother never mastered the traditional pie crust, but she became the queen of the oil crust. A pie crust that used liquid vegetable oil and is rolled out in between layers of wax paper. It was her signature pie crust.
For years I hosted Thanksgiving. Family and friends would come from near and far to our home. My house would be full for than just one meal, many of my guest would stay for the whole weekend. I used this an an opportunity to make pies. Lots of pies. One pie for every two people. Enough that you could expect to eat pie with every meal all weekend, including breakfast. Pumpkin, apple, rhubarb, pecan, French silk, blueberry, were a few of what you could expect.
I am carrying on a tradition, grandmother, mother and now me. Thanks to all the women before me in my family who baked pies, who gave me the belief that I too could be a master pie maker.