A Guest Post by Sophie McLaughlin
Paine Farm was a yearly trip to Mecca for my mother. Pre-dawn, she would gather us in the van, glue the accelerator to the floor and speed towards her childhood. She was raised a Paine, on the farm, in small town Michigan. She spent her youth riding bareback through the orchards picking apples and pears straight from the source. Hence, I spent my youth surrounded by apple butter, apple cider, apple cider donuts, apple ice cream, and of course, apple pie; ANYTHING to recreate her farm life in our suburban Missouri home. She refused to buy apples from the grocery store, so after a summer spent shoveling the barn, fishing with my great-grandfather, and helping my uncle organize the hardware store, we made one last stop at the farm to fill our van to the brim. Then it was home to preserve them.
Upon arrival, it was time to categorize and put the apples to work. First she made butters, jams, and ice cream, then on to the apple pies. She would spend days folding and refrigerating pie dough to make the perfect crust and nights, folding those crusts around the apples. Luckily for her, she was a stay-at-home mom. She had the time, and so she took it.
In 1998 however, a chain of events left my mother with no time for the labor intensive pie crusts. In desperation, she asked our closest family friend, Trudy to take over the pie baking. As Trudy, a professor and single mother, set up for a marathon baking session, she calculated how long the process would take and “holy cow”, she didn’t have the time! So, she performed an ingenious trick. Her secret, a Swedish crust.
Her best friend had given her the recipe years before saying, “this will change your life one day”. On August 16, 1998 that day arrived. Instead of four days later, Trudy had all fifteen pies done in four hours. Halleluiah! Basically, the crust is made on the stove-top by combining butter, egg, salt, flour and sugar and then pouring it over the apples in a buttered pie pan. Don’t get me wrong, I respect process and baking is all chemistry. The best bakers (for me Joanne Chang of Flour) have stressed over the details, receiving degrees in chemistry and creating the most labor intensive confectionery delights. However, the Swedes provide the rest of us with a scrumptious alternative; a pie without the detailed labor.
I LOVE baking pie. I also love brining turkey, stirring cranberries, peeling potatoes and crumbling stuffing. I want to have it all and this pie obliges my request. Trudy changed how I would spend the rest of my Thanksgivings. Instead of solely baking the pie, I could focus on the turkey and sides while slapping together a delicious pie in less than an hour.
This is Trudy below.
This Thanksgiving, it was time to evolve the Swedes idea. I’ve only seen Swedish apple pies, so I thought I’d rethink the idea. I was reminded of a cranberry sauce I had made a few years back that called for fennel seed. That was the first time I had heard of fennel and I quite enjoyed the results. Then, this year I saw my first fennel bulb. I fell in love and have started roasting them and using them in all sorts of dishes. I decided to recreate the fennel cranberry sauce within a pie.
To start, I know fennel is a bitter vegetable, so I soaked the quartered pieces for about an hour in honey. An interesting thing happened, (and only on my second attempt did I realize the importance of this) when I coated the fennel with honey and let it sit at room temp, the fennel became moist which created a honey fennel bath that only helped to soften and sweeten the bitter vegetable. I went ahead and made cranberry sauce as per the instructions on the bag and added that on top of the fennel, in a buttered glass pie dish and poured on the crust. It was either going to be nasty or nice. I put it in the oven for fifty-five minutes, prayed to the pie gods, and when I removed it, a delish new pie was born. The best part? I was able to crank out ten of those beauties which all went to friends and neighbors.
The Swedes are my crust gods.
Fennel & Cranberry Pie
Ingredients - Filling
2 Large Fennel Bulbs
9oz Fresh Cranberries
1 Cup Sugar
1/2 Cup approx Honey
1 Cup Water
Ingredients - Crust
3/4 Cup Butter
1 Egg Unbeaten
1 Cup Flour
1 Cup Sugar
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
Pinch of Salt
Preheat oven to 350 Fahrenheit.
Clean and cut fennel bulbs into wedges. Place in a bowl and distribute honey over them. Let sit while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
Stew water, sugar and cranberries on a low-medium heat until the cranberries have softened, cracked and broken apart. Let cool until the cranberry thickens.
In a separate pot, melt the butter and add the vanilla and salt. Once melted, add the flour and sugar and mix in well.
Add the egg and fold in until gently blended. Remove from heat.
Butter the base and side of our pie pan well.
Discard the fennel water that sweats out in the base of the bowl and arrange a single layer of fennel wedges in the base of the pie dish.
Spread the cranberry over the top of the fennel. You do not want to fill the dish more than half way.
Finally, spread the crust batter evenly over the top of the filling.
Place pie on top rack for one hour or until crisp and golden brown on top.