Vanilla & Almond Scented Apricot Plum Summerberry Pie for a visiting pie fanatic friend.

by Irvin on August 10, 2010 · 11 comments

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After the insanity of the Pie or Die contest weekend, you’d think I’d be totally pie-d out. As in, I never want to see a pie ever again….or at least for a week or two. But that didn’t happen. Why? Because my friend Stacy was visiting right after the event and she LOVES LOVES LOVES pies. And who am I to deny her pie? I decided to head back into the kitchen, see what I had around the house and bake up another one. Luckily I had a some pie crust leftover from the SF Food Wars in the back of the fridge (this made me think that EVERYONE should have pie crust at their disposable. Pies are really so easy to make if you already have ready made pie crust! I think I might have to make some pie crust and freeze it). Though a bit of a hodgepodge of flavors, this Vanilla & Almond Scented Apricot Plum Summerberry Pie summarizes my personality in one tasty flaky crust package. A bit of this, a bit of that, slightly sweet, slightly flaky, slightly spicy with a kick and completely pragmatic (use up fruit in the fridge before it goes bad!) and dare I say it, pretty darn easy (Hmmm. Now what does that say about me?).

Stacy is a total global jet setter. AJ taught with her years ago when he first moved here to SF and was teaching at a high school. Stacy tells a funny story when a coworker of her’s introduced the two of them. Apparently he thought they would “hit it off” as AJ was a single man. Stacy looked at the coworker, and said “well yeah, I guess we could hang out, AJ’s seems cool…but you know he’s gay, right?” Ha!

AJ left the high school to go teach at community college and Stacy decide to go teach abroad. She bounced from Kuwait (we decided not to visit her there) to Buenos Aires (we did visit her there) to India where she is now. In between she’s vacationed all over the world (as only a teacher with the summer off can do) and most every year came back to San Francisco to visit her adopted hometown.

We always try to make it a point to see her when she comes into town (through circumstance, she always has a place in SF to stay – conveniently two blocks away from us). And she always talks about how much she loves pie.

Growing up Stacy’s mom baked pies. Tons of pies. Her specialty was a coconut cream pie and a lemon meringue pie. Stacy, of course, does not bake. She doesn’t even own measuring cups or spoons. But her mom! Oh how she bakes pies. But she doesn’t bake them anymore…. And therein lies a story.


Like the rest of the family, Stacy’s dad loves pies. A few years ago (probably five or six years ago) her dad went out to the backyard and picked lemons off their lemon tree and put them on the counter of the kitchen, as a hint to Stacy’s mom that she should make a lemon meringue pie. Stacy’s mom, of course, got the hint, but while her dad was a work, a neighbor stopped by to say hello and commented on how lovely the lemons looked.

Well, to be neighborly, Stacy’s mom gave the neighbor the lemons, thinking she’ll either pick more from the tree or get some at the farmer’s market. Stacy’s dad was rather distraught by this turn of events, especially since he did NOT like the neighbor to begin with (and apparently now he liked the neighbor even less).

A week went by and Stacy’s mom eventually picks up some lemons at the farmer’s market and proceeds to make a lemon meringue pie. Coming home from work, Stacy’s dad saw the pie on the counter, and in a fit of passive aggressiveness, picks up the pie from the counter and throws the entire pie into the trashcan. He then proclaims “I didn’t want a pie now! I wanted a pie last week!”

Stacy’s mom, understandably, was a livid. In the coldest tone of voice she could muster she turned to her husband and stated “For the rest of my life, I will NEVER bake you another pie.” And she hasn’t.

To this day, when Stacy or her brother visits her parent’s house, her dad will pull one or the other aside and ask them to ask their mom to bake a pie for them. Because Stacy’s mom has no problem baking a pie for her kids. But she’ll never bake a pie for her husband again. It’s the only way he’ll ever get pie from her, via the kids.

Taking this all into consideration, pie is LOADED with meaning to Stacy (and her family). She told me that she dismisses cakes and cupcakes, as fluffy sugary confection. Pie, she told me over dinner, is full of nostalgia and craft. It’s something that is full of feeling and sentiment while cake, though cute, doesn’t have the same resonance. I can understand where she’s coming from, though I still love a good slice of cake.

That said, I know she would have loved the SF Food Wars Pie or Die contest. Sadly it didn’t fit into her schedule as she was in San Francisco for less than 24 hours. AJ hung out with her during the day when I was at work and they both went back to my place to have the last leftover slice of my winning pie. She swooned over the the lemon and blackberry flavors and said it was definitely award worthy, which, coming from her, a pie aficionado, means nearly as much as winning the two awards.

I came home, to find the pie I had baked from the night before cooled (AJ had tucked it away in the cake box I had bought at Sur la Table, to hide it from Stacy). As I picked it up, I noticed that it seemed a little runny. I poured a little filling out and discovered that it was TOTALLY runny and the filling wasn’t cooked all the way through! HORROR!

How could an award winning pie maker show up with a pie with runny filling? What was I going to do?!?!?

I quickly stuck it back in the oven for a little bit, but we were running late to the dinner so it only warmed up the crust a little bit. *Sigh* I guess I would have to explain it to the restaurant and hope they could help me out.

I was in luck. Frances, over in the Castro, is nothing but professional and extremely helpful! I pulled the maître d’ aside and explained it to him. “Um. So I made this pie, and I unfortunately didn’t bake it long enough. When you slice it up for us, could you maybe stick it in a microwave or something to firm it up?” He was aghast. “Microwave! What sort of restaurant do you think this is?” and then he said he would talk to the pastry chef and take care of it. I told him I didn’t want to take up any valuable oven space in the kitchen, but he brushed my concerns aside and replied back “Don’t worry about it. We will take care of it!” as he whisked it off into the teeny tiny kitchen. I just hoped the pastry chef didn’t hate me too much.

None of us had been to Frances yet but I had read all about it. Melissa Perello, chef and owner was a former James Beard rising star nominee three years in a row and formerly from Fifth Floor. Frances was also a semi-finalist for the 2010 James Beard best new restaurant – which of course made it impossible to get a reservation for awhile. I was impressed that Frances actually puts on their menu the statement “Frances is happy to support the shortest distance between the farm and your table. We bring you local, sustainable, and organic produce whenever possible.” I strive to do the same with my own baked goods, the apricots were actually white apricots, called Angelcots, that were grown in Brentwood CA, while the plums were picked off of my plum tree in the backyard and the berries were from Watsonville and Castroville. I had actually looked at their menu beforehand to make sure they didn’t already serve pie (they didn’t) so I felt comfortable bring my dessert there, as it obviously would fit in with the dinner, but wasn’t overlapping with their desserts.

The meal was superb. Nibbling on spiced rosemary lacquered almonds and rustic bread and butter Stacy, AJ and I were joined by Stacy’s awesome cousin Zara and her boyfriend Jaime. Rounding out the table was our friend Tam who Stacy was staying with. We chatted about the Stacy’s new dog (so cute! His name is Milo) about winning the pie contest, Zara and Jaime and how they got together (he wooed her old school style! With roses!) and about the fabulous places to eat around town.

Our starters include their signature applewood smoked bacon beignets, which were just as fantastic as they sound, grilled calamari with white bean salad (preserved meyer lemons gave them a nice sweet sour touch) and their Panisse Frites, magically crispy and hot chickpea fritters that had a wonderful toothsome bite served with a lemon aioli. Stacy wondered how do they turn legumes into a texture resembling mozzarella cheese (I think they use garbanzo bean flour actually). I didn’t bother thinking about how they were made, I just wanted more!

Each of us order the appetizers – dungness crab salad (huge chunks of sweet crab meat tossed with a tangy vinaigrette and gem lettuce), white corn soup (sweet summer squash and crème fraiche), Chicken liver mousse with tender roasted bing cherries (huge helping – why do they always serve big servings of the liver but not enough bread to go with it?), and the Ricotta Gnochi with corn and heirloom tomato ragout (perfect soft and fluffy texture which played well with the sweet white corn and heirloom tomato sauce).

AJ, Jaime, and I couldn’t resist ordering the Lamb for our entrée. It was amazing, tender, juicy, meaty, everything lamb should be (and no it wasn’t gamey at all). Stacy and Tam split the Crepe Cannelloni which they said was fantastic, packed with melted leeks and spinach with the umami undertones of the mushrooms, while Zara went for the herb stuffed guinea hen, the touch of corn and peach a nice foil to the creamy polenta it was served over.

And then there was silence. The moment of truth. My runny par-baked pie was brought out and presented to the table. It looked pretty good. Photos were taken. Images posted on Tumblr/Facebook/Twitter (we’re so high tech!) But would it taste good?

I was in luck. It was everything I had hoped for, and more. The pastry chef (bless him/her heart) had found a place in the oven and had baked the pie enough for it firm up the filling. The apricot and plum had married well with the berries and the vanilla and almond extract I had used were perfect counterpoints to the apricot and plum fruit flavors. I think this is one my favorite pie I’ve ever made. Seriously.

I have my old faithful book The Flavor Bible to thank for it. Emily Luchetti of Farallon and Waterbar is quoted in the book saying that raw apricots are bland but once you cook them they become a whole different fruit. And I took a chance with them and she was right! I am so not a fan of raw apricots. But baked into a pie. I’m a convert. The few plums added a nice touch of acidity and spice, and the berries just brightened up the whole pie.

Zara and Jaime and Tam all proclaimed it fantastic. And AJ said it was delicious. And Stacy. Pie loving Stacy, said she absolutely loved it.

We had half a pie leftover. We were leaving for a week long vacation in a couple of days, and in the past I’ve always been the person who eats the leftover pie, not AJ. I decided because Frances was so awesome, I would give the rest of the pie to the restaurant. Part of me was hopeful that they would eat it, fall in love with it, call me up and offer me a job as sous-pastry chef (that did not happen) but I figure they helped me out in a bind (who brings a half baked pie to a restaurant to serve? That would be me), they deserved to eat the rest of the pie that took up the precious room in the oven (it’s a tiny restaurant and a tiny kitchen). I just hope they actually ate it and didn’t just throw it away. I don’t know how those fancy restaurant people work. Do they poo poo their patron’s homemade food and toss it aside if offered? They didn’t seem super snotty (though apparently they don’t own a microwave). Oh well.

AJ, by the way, told me on the walk home, that he would have helped me finish the pie had we took it with us. Dang. Oh well. I guess that’s just an excuse for me to make another one!

I’m submitting this pie to the You Want Pie With That? Contest. This month’s theme, chosen by Branny Boils Over is “Choose a pie that best represents your personality” which is quite possible the best contest theme EVER.   This hodgepodge of flavors that combine to become something utter wonderful, greater the sum of it’s parts, is exactly me. Maybe that’s why AJ said he’d have another slice. It reminds him of me.

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Angie August 10, 2010 at 1:19 pm

another beautiful entry! You inspire me to be a better more inventive baker – and especially pie maker! I only made my first pie a few weeks ago, using grocery store lard, and it was good… But I'm sure I could do much better. I am lucky enough to live near a pig farm here in VT, so we'll see if I can talk them into hooking me up in exchange for some pies!

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Mr. Jackhonky August 11, 2010 at 6:23 am

Hey Angie! Yay thanks!! I'm pleased I inspired you! As my barber once told me, even bad pie is better than no pie. Making pie isn't as hard as people think it is.

I'm not a fan of grocery store lard. It's usually a blend of the highest grade fat and the cheaper lower grade fat on the pig. I'd stick with butter or trans-free crisco or shortening instead.

But definitely check with the pig farmers. I was up in Portland this past weekend and I talked to a butcher up there. They said that they didn't have any leaf lard but they could order it. They said the farmers often times just throw the fat away because there isn't a demand, which is really sad! I bet you if you know the pig farm, you can talk them into doing a swap for some pies!

When you talk to your farmer, tell him you are looking for leaf lard. It's the highest grade lard, made from the visceral fat deposit around the kidneys and inside the loin.

Let me know what pies you end of making and if you get the leaf lard! It really does make super flaky crust.

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maybelle's mom August 12, 2010 at 2:34 am

I really do think/worry cooking skips a generation. my mom hates to cook, my grandmother loved it…I love your lattice crust. I particularly like that your strips are wide…as a tiny person, I make tiny strips and tiny lattice pies, but i think yours looks so much better.

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Mr. Jackhonky August 12, 2010 at 3:12 am

@Maybelle's mom. Hmmm. That's an interesting point. My mom HATES to cook. But she said it's because she's been doing it for 50 years and she's just tired of it. On the other hand, my sister and I LOVE to cook/bake but my brother – not so much. He's not really a food person. At all.

Case in point. He was only lukewarm about French Laundry when we went. "Meh. It was good. I probably wouldn't pay for it though." is what he said afterwards (obviously someone else paid). This attitude baffles my sister and me. BAFFLES us.

As for the lattice crust. I'll tell you a little secret. I make my pie with wide strips because I'm lazy. The thinner the strip, the more likely the strips will tear AND the more you have to weave them in and out. Wide strips = less work. ;)

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Felisa August 13, 2010 at 12:10 am

Your lattice-top pie is gooooorrrrgeous. And I love Stacy's story: serves him right! (Though I do feel a bit sorry for him; it sounds like Stacy's mom's pies are awesome. Can you imagine living with so much pie-potential but no pie-actual?!)

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petoke August 13, 2010 at 8:09 am

wow, that is such a story. man o man. Who knew pie could be such a mine field . . .

I love the Frances story too.

out of curiosity, how do you lacquer an almond with rosemary?

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Mr. Jackhonky August 14, 2010 at 4:38 am

@Felisa. Thank you. I think if AJ ever threw away my desserts whole, I'd probably vow to never bake for him again too. OR better yet, I'd bake all the time but tell him he can't have a bite of it. That would probably be worse.

@Petoke. I think you lacquer them with honey, and then you toss them in the rosemary. Here's a recipe to impress your parent's with: http://bit.ly/cgffEX

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Sara August 14, 2010 at 5:18 pm

This pie sounds absolutely delicious – and what a fantastic story! :)

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brannyboilsover.com August 14, 2010 at 8:16 pm

What a story re: Stacy's family and pie! Too much. Glad you enjoyed your dessert so much, and thank goodness it the extra baking did the trick so perfectly.

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Karen August 14, 2010 at 10:23 pm

That is such a nice story about how the staff at Frances accommodated you (and then some!). I also love Stacy's story about her mom's pie embargo against her dad. Who throws away a whole delicious pie?!?

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Rita August 20, 2010 at 8:01 am

THat is a crazy pie story in Stacy's family!! Wow, wow! That's even bigger than the time Damon . . . did something we do not talk about. But the thing Damon did did not make me mad. We're just embarrassed. The thing Stacy's dad did was an attack.

And I love that the pastry chef(s) at Frances had your back. Wow and wow. Because yeah. An award-winning baker can't be seen serving a foodie friend runny pie.

:D :D
r

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