Wednesday, October 20, 2010


One of my co-workers told me today that she had given up on my blog because I wasn't posting enough, until she read about the apple pie, then she was sucked back in. Truth be told, I got a job in June and I haven't been as diligent with my blogging as I should be, so in honor of fall, I'm turning over a new leaf.

Fall makes me think of many things. Apple pie, sweaters, pumpkins, leaves turning different shades, fireplaces, books, tea and school. While I miss school and I have pumpkins and leaves all over my house, I want to write today about tea, well, teatime that is. I have several tea influences in my life. My sister Melissa is my best friend and teatime-partner-in-crime. She loves tea and, because I look up to her like a little sister should, I love tea too. Actually, we are passionate about tea. The second person I would attribute to my thriving tea passion would be the mother of my life-long friend; her name is Geri. She has been a second mom to me and now to my husband as he finds himself living thousands of miles away from his own momma. Long story short, everyday when I came into Geri's house to pick her daughters up for school she had tea ready for me because she knew I would have to wait a few minutes for them to get out the door. For Geri, tea was a way to connect with me; she provided love, affection and consolation through her teapot. When I got married, one of the first questions Geri asked was, "Are you getting your teapot and creamer set?" I told her I had registered for the one I wanted but that the pot was out of stock. She hunted around, found me a complete set and made me a tea-cozy to set over the top of my pot while it's brewing. I use it everyday. My third tea influence is
Steve Smith, well really it's my dad bragging on his friend Steve all the time that kindled my tea-flame. Steve is a longtime friend of my fathers and has created three tea lines in his life: Stash Tea, Tazo Tea, and Steven Smith Teamaker. Steve was always gifting our household with tea aplenty and my dad was always praising his entrepreneurship. Good work Steve! So now that you know where my passion for tea comes from, I can tell you about the history of teatime.

Teatime, or afternoon tea as it is called by many, is observed in many British-influenced countries between three and five o'clock in the afternoon. Although, I would encourage you to learn about the traditional tea ceremonies that many other countries have. For this post I am just going to talk about how it is traditionally observed in the United Kingdom.

Tea drinking found its way to English Royalty in 1662 when Charles II married a Portuguese woman named Catherine. Wisely, Catherine had brought a small supply of tealeaves with her from Portugal to brew for those around her. Tea caught on at this point as an upperclass commodity. Teatime originated with the elite as an opportunity for women to host, those whom they desired, in their personal parlors, to have a break from daily duties and relax. The preparation of the drink for teatime was a careful process done solely by the hostess, because tea was a precious item to a family. An empty teapot was used; scoops of loose leaf tea were added, then it was filled with hot water and allowed to steep. After the appropriate time, the leaves were removed and the tea was served in small teacups with cream and sugar. Teacakes, finger sandwiches and scones were served alongside the beverage as an afternoon pick-me-up.

The nostalgia of teatime, for me, blossoms in the picture I painted above about fall and the warmth of a home, welcoming you to enjoy a cup of tea and comfort. Who wouldn't like to take some time every afternoon to sit with a few close friends for good conversation, a cup of tea, and some snacks? Think about your daily life, what are you usually doing between 3 pm and 5 pm everyday? Most days I am doing three things: driving home from work, trying to shake off the afternoon sleepies, and deciding what is for dinner that night. Seriously, those who observe teatime are wise. On the days I have off from work, I often find my way to my sister's living room, or tea parlor as I may have to call it now, to indulge in some healthy afternoon teatime. During this break, which conveniently coincides with her children's nap time, we can discuss life issues, plan meals, or just chatter at each other like we do best. Teatime is bonding time for me and the women I get to share it with; it is our red tent, our connection point, our refreshing hour before the chaos of life consumes us once again. I encourage you to observe teatime twice this week and see it changes the pace of your evening.

Pettigrew, Jane (2004) Afternoon Tea. Andover: Jarrold.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Apple Pie to Win Any Contest

It's fall and in the Pacific Northwest that means apples, pumpkin-flavored things and rain. For me, the apples take center stage. Just today I sat in my office and enjoyed a hot cup of fresh apple cider. I love grabbing a crisp apple slice and dipping it in almond butter for a rich afternoon snack. I have a friend who tried a diet where you eat only apples, it ended up being more of a cleanse for him though. I could not have an apple only diet because I like the things that apple pairs so well with: oats and butter, balsamic vinegar, cookies, and especially pie!Who doesn't love pie? I haven't met anyone in my years of living who can turn down a pie, and why, because of its versatility. Pie can be filled with berries, pecans, rhubarb, lemon custard, chocolate, pumpkin, apple and even meet, and topped with whipped cream, yogurt, ice cream, milk, oh just about anything! I love pie! But have you ever wondered who thought making a pie was a great idea? Well, I'd like to shake their hands, give them a hug, and tell them I love them. I want to share with you the recipe I use to make the world's best pie crust, to be filled to glory with apples, which will result in The Apple Pie to Win Any Contest. But before I do that, let's take a gaunt down history lane and discover where pie came from.

Yes there are actually books written just about pie. Wouldn't you love to say, "I got my master's degree in history, with an emphasis in pie,"? Thrilling! Seriously though, pies go way back. It is believed that pie crust, the quintessential part of a good pie, was originally used to supplement the lack of a proper pan. Ancient Egyptians cooked their meats and vegetables, in deep, thick crust coffins, over fires to keep the juices of the meat locked inside; the result was a savory meal. The tradition of pies without pans, or naked pies, continued well into the 14
th century. For me, the visual of pie crusts being scorched over a flame instead of baked into flaky perfect
was heart wrenching! I love pie crust and I think that when pies were transitioned into pans, the world was a more peaceful place.
In Colonial America, women switched to using round pans for their crusts to quite literally cut corners and save the pie dough required of a square dish, with the same heart, they transitioned from deep to shallow pans.

Now let's talk fillings. (I honestly can't decide if I like pie fillings or pie crust better.) As aforementioned, pies originated to contain and infuse the juices of their meaty contents into the whole meal. I have never had minced meat pie, or chicken pot pie, or even very many casseroles in my life, so I might not be the best judge in character here, but those all sound gross to me! When I hear the words pie, I fall deeply in love with the berries and nuts with which one is filled, dancing alongside another over flowing with melting lemon custard, topped only by the one to its left filled with dripping apples. Oh, its almost romantic! Yet, tradition holds true to form that meat, seafood and vegetables like potatoes and onions ruled over the pie world.
You know that nursery rhyme you sang as a kid, "Sing a song of sixpence, a pocket full of rye. Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie,"?
Yep, that's true. Historically, empty crusts were
baked for the banquets of kings and then after cooling filled from the bottom with birds, turtles, frogs and even entertainers who would emerge from the pie when it was opened as a surprise for the guests. Talk about incredible fillings, but I am sticking with my fruit. When close to starvation, women of colonial America learned from neighboring Native Americans which wild berries and fruits to select as pie fillings. Sweet pies moved to the forefront of American cuisine and
were served with every meal, so it isn't a surprise that pie contests began to emerge at every community gathering.Quickly here I'd like to throw in something that I feel sums up why tradition holds in most households that women do the cooking. Me personally, I love to cook, most assuredly because of two things: I grew up in a food oriented family, and I really enjoy it. Historically we can look
at two sources here, biology and anthropology. In here book, Something from the Oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950s America, Laura Shapiro states, "Women have the babies, women
feed the babies, women feed everyone else while they're at it; hence, women cook. Men cook,
too, of course, especially now; but, traditionally,
they went to the stove as a job or a profession, to show off for an admiring crowd, or simply for the pleasure of it. Women cook because they're expected to and because the people around them
have to eat; happy is she who also enjoys the work." I think that pretty much sums that one up.

But let's get to the point here, apple pie is so incredible and this is the recipe that my mother and grandmother all have used. The crust recipe is the one I use for all types of pies and the apple part I've modified slightly because of how I like it to taste. I hope you will try it!

The Apple Pie to Win Any Contest

6 large apples: peeled, cored, sliced thin
1 tbls vanilla
1/2 c granulated sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
In a large bowl, combine all ingredients listed above and mix till apples are thoroughly coated with sugar mixture. Set aside.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp granulated sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 c chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
6 to 7 tbls chilled orange juice
Combine flour, sugar and salt in large bowl; add butter. Using fingertips, rub in butter until pieces range in size from rice grains to peas. Sprinkle 5 tablespoons juice over, tossing gently with fork to blend. Continue adding enough juice 1 tablespoon at a time, tossing with a fork, to form moist clumps. Gather dough into ball; divide into 2 parts, 1 slightly larger than the other. Flatten dough onto disks. Wrap in plastic; chill 1 1/2 hours or up to 1 day.
Once crust is chilled, roll out smaller half on a floured surface till it is 1/3 inch thick. The less you handle the dough the better. Move rolled crust into your greased pie pan. Add apple filling. Roll out the second larger crust on a floured surface till it is 1/3 inch thick. Lay on top of pie and join edges around the pan, closing the pie. Remove excess dough around the edges and use as designs on top of the pie if desired. Be sure to poke ventilation holes in to the top of the pie, but be creative make it a pattern.
Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour, covered with aluminium foil. Remove foil and bake until crust is golden and apples are soft.

Pie: A Global History, by Janet Clarkson.