Crabapples Might Make You Crabby

My friend Lynn lives out in the county. Her rural setting generates gifts to me such as gooseberries, lily bulbs, and most recently, crabapples. I thought crabapple trees were ornamental. “Oh, no,” Lynn assured me, “you can make crabapple jelly.” She lowered her voice and added a poetic tone when she said the words crabapple jelly. I accepted the gift.
“Could I make a pie with some of those apples?” I asked Lynn.
“Oh, I don’t think it would taste very good! You’d have to add a lot of sugar or some raisins to sweeten it up. But crabapple jelly, it’s beautiful and oh, so good!”
The next day my husband, Dale, came home to find a box blocking the front doorway. His eyes grew big, a delighted smile crossing his face, “A whole case of Free State beer!” He flipped back the lid to find the recycled box, filled, not with amber bottles arranged in rows, but Lynn’s crabapple harvest.Lynn's crabapples
“Crabapple jelly,” I read aloud from the index of my Ball Canning cookbook, “page 35.” It looked easy. Only two ingredients, crabapple juice and sugar. 4 cups of juice yields 6 jars of jelly.

Crabapples are actually easy to process – no peeling, no coring, just wash, and throw in the pot with water.
When the apples were soft, I pressed them through a sieve, lined with cheesecloth. Squeezing the juiceVoila, crabapple juice! Isn’t it pretty?Crabapple juice After adding the sugar, I let it cook in a big pot on the stove. Stirring with a long handled, wooden spoon, I watched as the liquid bubbled and foamed, checking periodically to see if it had reached the magical gel point.
Gel point – it’s when the hot mass has boiled to a point that it begins to solidify, to gel, to convert from juice to jelly. I had made blueberry jam this way once. It didn’t end well. Maybe I should have used pectin. Ripping open a box of pectin I scanned the recipe list and, sure enough, there was a recipe for crabapple jelly. Too late now, my jelly was gelling. I spooned the ruby jelly into jars – filling only 3, not the 6 that the Ball Canning book promised. I scrapped the pot into a small bowl, smearing the last, little bit on a toasted English muffin. Yumm. It tasted like the country.Crabapple jelly
Switching methods, I made the second and third batches with the pectin recipe. It was much faster and resulted in a whopping 11 jars from each pot of jelly.  JellyBut there was something wrong with it; the color was a pale pink, the shade of my grandmother’s pink Depression Glass dishes. The jelly from the first batch was a deep ruby pink with a touch of amber. The darker jelly had a rich, earthy aroma, whereas the pink jelly was light and airy, barely scenting the kitchen with a hint of crabapple. Two kinds of crabapple jellyA taste from the tip of a spoon left me thinking I had 22 jars of pink tinted jellied sugar. Where was the flavor? Never having made crabapple jelly before, heck, I’d never even eaten it before, I scratched my head, wondering which recipe came out right.
Three batches of jelly later, the bottom of the beer box was still covered with crabapples. Earlier, as I washed the crabapples, I had set the nicest fruit aside to try Pickled Crabapples, crabapples(page 86 in the Ball Canning cookbook.) But what would I do with all these leftover apples?

A whisper in the back of my mind said, “Make Pie.”
I turned to my vintage cookbook collection to find a recipe for Crabapple Pie. The first three books left me empty handed, but the good old, Farm Journal Pie Cookbook had a five star recipe for Rosy Crabapple Pie. Five stars! Not a bad place to start. I began cutting up those tiny crabapples, grateful that the recipe specified, do not peel. crabapples are littleWith Lynn’s warning of it not being very tasty, I mixed the diced apples with sugar and flour making sure every apple cube was coated with sugar, I spooned them into the pie shell and added vanilla, (yes, vanilla) and water – 1/3 of a cup of water. Really? There was only 1 T of flour in the recipe, was the water really necessary? Ignoring my intuition, I dotted the pie with butter, covered it with a top crust and slid it into the hot oven.Crabapple pie in progress
Pie baking and jelly making dishes covered every counter – sticky spoons, measuring cups, and dirty pots. It was time for clean-up. I reached for the long handled wooden spoon, resting on a saucer in a puddle of the first batch of jelly. When I picked up the spoon, the plate came too. Startled, I set it back down and pried the spoon out of the jelly that had cooled on the plate. Oh, dear. I thought. This is a problem – my jelly had gelled too much. That must be why I only got three jars. I cooked it too long and my crabapple goodness had simmered away leaving me with very tasty glue. I tested the jelly-ness of the last spoonful I had scrapped into the small bowl. It was very sticky but I knew what to do with it. Put it inside tiny pastry turnovers.
With the leftover pie dough I rolled out and cut circles, and spooned a blob of thick, sticky crabapple jelly in the middle, folded them over and pinched the edges. Ten minutes later I pulled a tray of cute little crabapple turnovers from the oven. Who would be crabby with such a tempting snack?crabapple turnovers
The kitchen was cleaned up. The jelly jars, in pretty, pale pink rows with three jars of dark intruders, were sending out periodic pops as the seals sealed. The pie was cooling on the counter, still bubbling up through the slits in the top crust, a sure sign that the pie was done.018
Dale came home from work and surveyed the bounty, especially the pie. “Here,” I handed him a cooled turnover, “Have a few of these for a snack.” We each bit into a crabapple jelly turnover. “What do you think?” I asked.
“It’s very tasty, what’s inside?”
“Crabapple jelly.”
“Oh, I thought it was gummy bear.” He grabbed another turnover as he left the kitchen.
Gummy bear? Humm. So that’s how you make gummy bears, overcook your jelly!
Picking up the phone, I called Lynn. “Is there anything I can do with the over cooked jelly?” Yes, there was, I could spoon it out of the jar, re-heat it, and dilute it with apple juice to thin it out.
Popping the top off the first jar of jelly I stuck a knife in to test the spread ability. I could probably make pulled taffy with my concoction but not a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. crabapple jelly With effort I emptied the three jars of thick, sticky stuff into my pot, for the first time, feeling happy about only getting three jars of jelly. Adding apple juice, I watched closely and stopped the cooking as soon as it started to set up. It may come out too soft but if that happened, I’d call it syrup and pour it over my pancakes.
“Would you like a piece of pie?” I offered Dale.

He cut into the pie, dividing it into 8 equal pieces, and started to remove the first slice. (Warning: the next few pictures might make your stomach turn.) The pie fell apart on his plate, separating into a wet, goopy bottom crust, an unincorporated pile of diced apples, with a loose skin of top crust. Crabby crabapple pie sliceThe parts didn’t seem to belong together. The V shaped gap in the pie pan filled quickly with a runny, pale pink liquid, diced apples dropping into it from either side. Crabby crabapple pie
“What happened to it?” Dale asked.
“I don’t think it cooked long enough.” I lifted the glass pie pan and peered at the bottom crust through the glass, “But it looks done.”
He tasted it. “This just might be the worse pie you ever made.”
I tasted it. Tart. Needs more sugar. Runny. Needs more flour. Not set. Needs more time in the oven. It was enough to make me crabby. But I was no longer a pie baking rookie. I was ready for the challenge of Rosy Crabapple Pie.
Dale served up a second piece. “Hey!” I called. “Don’t eat any more of that pie! I need those apples for a re-do!”
I peeled the top crust off in wedge shaped sheets, with the pretty, crimped edges still attached. I poured the filling into a pot. I scraped the soggy bottom crust into the trash. I started over.to the trash
My filling was minus two servings so I used an 8” pie plate for the re-do. I tasted the mixture. Crabapple pie re-doIt was earthy. Similar to rhubarb. I knew that you could sweeten up a rhubarb pie by adding strawberries. Strawberries and apples? Didn’t sound good to me. How about raisins? Lynn had mentioned they would add sweetness. I added 2 T of raisins softened in 1/4 cup of water. They would sweeten things up and make up for the apples Dale had eaten.

I added a 1/3 cup more sugar to the pot. I added more flour to thicken it. Too much. I thinned it back down with apple juice. I tasted it again. Sweeter but missing something. I thought, “apples and raisins … it needs cinnamon.” I added cinnamon. I added nutmeg. I tasted again. Yes. This will work.
I poured the filling into the new pie crust, dotted it with butter, added the top crust and slid it into the oven.
When the timer rang I gave it five more minutes, just in case, then pulled the pie out of the oven. Twice baked Crabapple Pie
While it was still warm, I called Dale to the kitchen. “Let’s see how my twice baked pie turned out.” I cut it and served the first perfect slice. The crust was flaky and crisp. The filling had the right amount of fruit ooze. The bottom crust was flaky, not soggy. The vacant space in the pie plate stayed vacant, neighboring pieces holding onto their own filling. But how did it taste?Twice Baked Crabapple Pie
“Much better!” Dale called from the table.
I took a hesitant bite. “I think it’s good!” I took a bigger fork full, with a raisin in it. “Oh, the raisins taste good with the crabapples!” My twice baked crabapple pie was a success!Rosy Crabapple Pie ala mode
Scraping his plate clean Dale said, “This is a Barb original, you should write the recipe down!”

When life (or Lynn) gives you crabapples, don’t get crabby! Make jelly. Or pickles. Or pie.

For those who like to live on the dangerous side or are blessed with an abundance of crabapples, here is the recipe – just don’t get crabby if it doesn’t work, okay?

Barb’s Twice Baked Crabapple Pie

This recipe comes with absolutely NO guarantees. Try it with good humor.

Pastry for a two crust 9″ pie

6 cups diced crabapples, (do not peel, but please remove the cores)

2 T raisins, soften in 1/4 cup warm water

1 1/3 cup sugar

1/3 cup water

1/4 cup flour

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 tsp cinnamon (or more to taste)

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/4 tsp salt

Put apples in a medium saucepan, add water, cover loosely, and simmer until almost soft, about 10-15 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and cook over medium heat a few more minutes until thickened to pie filling consistency, adding more liquid if needed (water or apple juice).  Taste. Whatever it tastes like in the pot is what it will taste like in the pie. Adjust seasonings to your liking adding more cinnamon, nutmeg, raisins and/or sugar as needed. Pour into pastry lined 9″ pie plate. Dot with butter. Cover with top crust, crimp edges and cut slits to vent. Bake at 400 degrees for 30-35 minutes until crust is nicely browned, steam escapes from the vents, and you can see the filling bubbling up through the slits. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.


A Teapot of Gratitude

There are thank you notes, there are hugs of gratitude, and there are expressions of appreciation such as “from the bottom of my heart”. Last night at my local quilt guild meeting residing President, Peggy, had thank you gifts for outgoing board members. She wanted to say thanks from the bottom of her heart in a unique way and did so with teapots. The gifts, tokens of Peggy’s appreciation for the time and talent her board members have given to our guild over the past year, were carefully selected for each person. Each teapot was different – collected at second hand stores, estate sales and yard sales over the course of the year. Each wrapped with a fat quarter of teapot printed fabric and packaged carefully with a note.

Having taken a year off from the board I was surprised when, with the last bag in hand, Peggy called my name. “But I didn’t do anything this year”, I protested. But she insisted I did and forced the bag into my hands. Apparently an encouraging e-mail or two and serving on the nominating committee was enough to earn Peggy’s gratitude.

By then several board members had opened their gifts and I could see from across the room teapots shaped like sewing machines, country cottages, there was a chicken teapot with long legs wearing an expression exactly like that the recipient displayed when she opened it, there were teapot and cup combos in bright and cheerful colors, teapots with flowers, tall teapots and short teapots. I peeled the fat quarter away and uncoiled the bubble wrap to find this

Teapot of gratitude

Teapot from Peggy

A Blueberry Pie Teapot of gratitude! How perfect is that?

Thank you Peggy, from the bottom of my teapot.

So, stop by for pie …. and tea!


A Pie Baker in Key West

What does a pie baker do while on vacation in Key West? Eat Key Lime Pie, of course! My husband and I just spent four wonderful days in Key West. We got sunburned and were bitten by mosquitoes and didn’t even care because it was still winter at home. We ocean kayaked and took long walks everyday. We slept in every morning and stayed up late every night. A seafood lover, I ate fresh catch at every lunch and dinner followed by Key Lime Pie for dessert.

The Key Lime Pie tasting experiment started with a short blurb in a travel magazine about Key West and Key Lime Pie. Key limes are not even grown in the Florida Keys anymore but Key Lime Pie certainly flourishes. The travel magazine described the recipe as “quite simple with only a few basic  ingredients, but each restaurant in the Keys puts their own spin on the classic pie.” Okay then, game on! We would eat key lime pie in as many places as possible and determine just which “spin” we liked best.

Day One, Lunch: Wreck and Salvage Cafe, Marathon Key – where I ate a Grouper Fish sandwich with a Caribbean sauce (a little on the sweet side). Then with my belly already full, my eyes went wide when I saw this piece of Key Lime Pie placed in front of me.

The baseline is established.

The baseline is established.

It was huge! And thick! And gooooood! The filling was baked to a cheesecake consistency – this restaurant definitely put a unique twist to their pie recipe. Scraping the final crumbs of graham cracker crust from the plate, I had my Key Lime Pie baseline established. It was good, but was there another one that was better?

Lunch – day two: Rooftop Cafe, Mallory Square – The lunch special was “A Taste of Key West” with a Cuban sandwich, black bean soup, conch shell fritters, and a mini Key Lime Tart for dessert.

Key Lime tartlet - a taste of Key West

Key Lime tartlet – a taste of Key West

The sandwich, good, the conch shell fritters, chewy, the crab cake appetizer, good, the black bean soup, excellent, the Key Lime Pie?

Look at that creamy filling!

Look at that creamy filling!

Creamy filling inside, not quite as thick as the Wreck and Salvage version. I wished it was bigger. I ate every last bit, savoring the tangy tart flavor of that beautiful filling. Rooftop Cafe’ tart moves to first place with it’s lighter filling.

Day two dinner was at sunset from the deck of the Sunset Lounge on the Navy Base. Fish and Chips for dinner. Dale had a Corona, I had a margarita. We shared dessert.

The juice from a Key Lime is yellow, not green. Visitors are cautioned, if the Key Lime Pie is green it’s NOT made with Key Limes. Got it, but what if it comes in the shape of an adorable dessert that is called “Key Lime Pie”? Like this cutey:

Key Lime Pie with the Sunset Lounge's spin. My taste buds are still spinning!

Key Lime Pie with the Sunset Lounge’s spin. My taste buds are still spinning!

Part sponge cake, part vanilla cookie, part cheesecake, part chocolate, with a layer of tangy Key Lime Pie filling and a shocking, bright green glaze topping. All I can say is, who cares that it was not made with Real Key Lime Juice! It was as beautiful and delicious as any other dessert I’ve known (and there have been many!).  I was sorry I agreed to share with Dale because I sort of wanted it all to myself. Maybe it’s not traditional Key Lime Pie but this beauty moved into first place in my taste test.

Lunch day three: Garbos Food Truck, as seen on Diner, Drive Ins, and Dives. Shrimp burritos with Caribbean Sauce, “That will be 25 minutes”. 25 minutes? No problem, let’s have dessert first. Across the street, a half a block away, stands Kermit’s Key Lime Pie shop.

It’s all about marketing, right? Cute key lime pie tables in the garden, Kermit himself decked out in his very own version of Key Lime chef-wear, and a whole store filled with Key Lime this and Key Lime that.

But how is the pie? Famous for being the first one to put Key Lime Pie on a stick we gave Kermit the benefit of the doubt and bought a traditional slice and one “on a stick”.

Kermit's Traditional Key Lime Pie and Key Lime Pie on a stick.

Kermit’s Traditional Key Lime Pie and Key Lime Pie on a stick.

I took a bite of the traditional pie. Oh my! I took a bite of the chocolate covered pie on the stick. OH MY! Chocolate and Key Lime? Oh yes! It’s a match made in Key West.

Yup, That really is Key Lime Pie under that delicious chocolate coating.

Yup, That really is Key Lime Pie under that delicious chocolate coating.

I liked them both but I am going with the traditional version as Kermit’s pie moves into first place. (The 25 minute Shrimp Burritos were also awesome!)

Sarah and Lauren arrived for the weekend. I told them about the beautiful dessert at the Sunset Lounge. They wanted to see for themselves, so off we went for Mahi Mahi quesidilla, a margarita, and Key Lime Pie/dessert. This time, lesson learned, I ordered one for each of us.

The Sunset Lounge earns a repeat taste test. Just as good as last time!

The Sunset Lounge earns a repeat taste test. Just as good as last time!

I can’t not love it. But Kermit’s was so good. What to do? How about if I just create a new category: Key Lime Desserts. There. Sunset Lounge Key Lime Dessert, is in first place. Kermit’s maintains first in the pie category.

And we walked. And walked. Somewhere, someone, handed us a little paper cup with a taste of key lime pie. It was sweet. It was melty. It was green. We ate our sample but didn’t want more. It’s in last place.

Pie before lunch, so Sarah and Lauren could get it on the taste testing and try Kermit’s. They agree and Dale and I re-confirm, Kermit’s maintains the lead.

Sarah and Lauren get in on the action and cast their votes.

Sarah and Lauren get in on the action and cast their votes.

Kermit's pie on a stick. Warning - don't read the nutritional information on the wrapper it will take some of the fun out of the taste test.

Kermit’s pie on a stick. Warning – don’t read the nutritional information on the wrapper it will take some of the fun out of the experiment.

Lunch at a wonky place that looked fun. I had butterflied shrimp and salad. No pie here.

Dinner at the Stoned Crab where I had the stoned crab appetizer. Just one claw.

Fully sustainable, the crabs are caught, one claw is removed, and then the live animal is released back into the sea. Within a season it will have grown a new claw. That’s like having your crab and eating it too.

Dinner was lobster ravioli in a sherry cream sauce – sounds better than it tasted. Everyone else at our table were land lubbers for the night with beef and chicken. Then came the pie.

Stoned Crab's take on the classic Key Lime Pie

Stoned Crab’s take on the classic Key Lime Pie

But what’s that green stuff? It’s NOT made with real Key Lime Juice! I hesitated before taking a tentative taste expecting it to taste like a Sour Apple Jolly Rancher. But no, it tasted lime-ish. It was a nice pie but Kermit’s pie holds on to the lead.

Then vacation is over and it’s time to go home but there may be a chance for another taste or two on the Overseas Highway through the Keys back to mainland Florida.

Just in case we haven't had enough Key Lime Pie.

Just in case we haven’t had enough Key Lime Pie.

And we might as well eat lunch too. Fish Tacos with Key Lime sauce. My  favorite eat of the trip. If I close my eyes I can still taste the crunchy coating on the tender, flaky, white fish drizzled with that tangy key lime sauce, the cook’s own concoction. And then there was pie.

Last place. Doesn't it look a little too perfect to be truly tasty?

Doesn’t it look a little too perfect to be truly tasty?

The biggest disappointment of them all. Was it from the freezer case at the local grocery? It was sour, and frozen, and a faint green, and fake. I took one taste and let Dale eat the rest while I went back to the counter and ordered a Key Lime Bar. Not pie, but much better than freezer pie.

Check back for a follow up post when I try my hand at the classic Key Lime Pie. Maybe I’ll find a way to put a spin on it.

Lime green is a popular color all over Key West even though Key Limes are not green!

Lime green and  Key West go together.





It’s Pi Day: 3.14

It’s crazy that I even know what pi is and even then I barely know what it is. It has to do with math and it has to do with ratio and circles. I stop at circle – really my mind stops at “math” then I coast a little further to “circle”. My stomach goes one step further to a circle of pi (e). Works for me.

Anyway, you can read all about pi and Pi Day here. I’m heading to the kitchen to make a pie. The ratio part is easy – it’s 1:2, one pie, two people = .5 pies per person. I can do that kind of math!

May all your pies come out even on Pi Day!

Recipe For:  Mom’s Berry Pie (or any fruit pie)

Prep Time: Depends on the skill of the pie maker

Cook Time: 35-45 mins

From the Kitchen of:  Mom (Doris Martin)

Year/History of Recipe:

In Feb 2011 I asked my mom for a lesson in pie baking. This is the pie we made.

Berry pie is a favorite of most Martins. As kids we picked wild blackberries in July

along Willow Creek which runs along the property line of the dairy where I

grew up.


 4 cups Berries (thawed if frozen)

1 T lemon juice

1 cup sugar

¼ cup flour

2 T butter

pie dough for double crust pie


Line pie plate with bottom crust.

Mix berries with lemon juice, sugar and flour. Pour into crust. Dot with butter.

Cover with top crust. Cut steam vents.

Mom bakes hers at 425 degrees. 35-45 or until crust is golden and berries are bubbling.

Put a tray under it in case it boils over.

Mom says you can substitute any fruit for the berries. It’s basically the same

recipe no matter what kind of fruit pie you are making.


There it is, my first berry pie - it took all day to make.

There it is, my first berry pie Mar 2011- it took all day to make.

Thank you to my sister Dora for telling me that today is Pi Day while there was still time to make a pie!

You may also like “It’s National Cherry Pie Day!” Click here.


It’s National Cherry Pie Day!

Who knew? National Cherry Pie Day! I learned about it at 3 pm today. I had already missed the cherry pie for breakfast and cherry pie for lunch part of the celebration. You can be sure I wasn’t going to miss cherry pie for dinner too!

There was once a time, not so very long ago, that there was no way on earth I would have started to bake a pie at 4 in the afternoon. Heck, until 2011 I didn’t even know how to bake a pie, much less whip one out in an hour.

That was before I spent a year teaching myself to make pies. I read old cookbooks, collecting bits of pie baking wisdom. I invited myself into the kitchens of great pie bakers, in three counties, and watched them mix pie dough and roll out crust. I found pie taste testers in my neighborhood and beyond. And I baked, and baked, and baked.

Pie baking with Arlene Lawson

Pie baking with Arlene Lawson

I asked my sister, Dora, how she learned to make good pies. She told me, “I baked a lot of bad pies.  That’s the way to learn.” So I baked more pies. My pie testers ate up every last bit of crust, wiped their mouths and said, “That was good pie, but I think you need more practice.”  So I went home and tried again.

Working my way through a list of fruit pies I tried double crust pies and open faced pies. I tried cooking the filling on the stove top and I tried putting it between the crusts partially frozen. My vintage cook books became tabbed with bright pink sticky notes marking pages of recipes to try. Notes to myself reminded me “if the crust is too crumbly decrease the amount of shortening” and “add two tablespoons of butter to the pie dough for a golden brown finish”.

My friend Kathleen, reigning County Fair winner, Best in Class, Best in Category, Grand Champion Cherry Pie Baker extraordinaire, taught me to make cherry pie. There were other cherry pie recipes before hers and after hers until somewhere along the way it occurred to me that I ought to not mess with something so good. So, when the occasion calls for Cherry Pie it is Kathleen’s recipe that I pull out.

In Kathleen's kitchen making my first latticed top crust.

In Kathleen’s kitchen making my first latticed top Cherry Pie.

Not quite ready for the county fair

Not quite ready for the county fair!

Along the way I burnt cherry pies and I undercooked cherry pies. Fillings boiled over in the oven, and steam vents split open so far that it looked like a gaping wound. I forgot the salt and I forgot the butter.

When your crust looks like this it's a sign to throw it away and start over.

When your crust looks like this it’s a sign to throw it away and start over.

But I never admitted anything to my taste testers. I just served up the pie and watched as they ate every crumb, wiped their mouths and said, “That was good pie, but I think you still need more practice.” I didn’t matter how bad I thought the pie was, it still got eaten. That’s when I learned that the real trick to learning to make pie is this: Get a bunch of taste testers who love pie so much that they don’t tell you the truth for fear the river of pie will go dry.

Boiling over is a sign that the pie is done. That's my story and I'm stickin' to it!

Boiling over is a sign that the pie is done. That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it!

May all your cherries be pies today on National Cherry Pie Day!

Kathleen’s Cherry Pie

Pastry for 9″ Two crust pie

2 cans (16 0z each) Tart Pitted Red Cherries, drained

1 1/3 cups sugar

1/3 cup flour

2 T butter

1/4 tsp almond extract

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Prepare pastry.Mix sugar and flour. Stir in drained cherries. Turn into pastry-lined pie plate. Sprinkle with almond extract and dot with butter. Cover with top crust that has slits cut in it. Seal edges and flute. Bake until crust is brown and juice begins to bubble through the slits in the crust, 35-45 minutes. For fresh cherry pie, substitute 4 cups fresh red tart cherries for the canned cherries.


Design Wall Monday – Eureka!

Native of California where the state motto is “Eureka! I have found it!”, and graduate of The College of the Redwoods in Eureka, California, it stands to reason that I might like just about anything that has the word Eureka in it! Today I’m heading out on another trip – this time to Eureka Springs, AR and The Writer’s Colony, where I will be staying for a week. While there I will be working primarily on my “pie project”. The plan is to write and bake pies – I’m booked in a special culinary suite where cookbook authors can recipe test while in residence as a writer. Amidst the pies and computer work I will enjoy one quilt-y day as I’ve been invited to present a workshop on back basting applique’ while “on location”. Click here to see more.

No matter how committed I am to writing and baking during the course of the week, I know myself well enough to know that I will need some handwork for down time. So, although my design wall is empty, my suitcase is packed – with a bed sized quilt in need of hand stitching on the binding, (I’ll sleep under it while away from home -even with an unfinished binding!) and I’m taking along this hand applique’ project:


It’s the center of “Tree of Life Medallion” by Reproduction Quilts. I started it way back in the 2005 or 2006; the tree was stitched with back basting applique’. Now I’m adding the cut out flowers with needle turned edges – they were already all basted in place when I re-discovered this project while cleaning up my sewing room. It was not exactly a Eureka! moment – it was more like an “Ugg, really? I never finished that?” moment.

While in Eureka Springs. I’ll be busy looking for a way to tie my pie story together. Check back later to find out if  “I found it!” in Eureka Springs!

In the meantime, click here to go to Judy Laquidara’s Patchwork Times and see what others have on their design walls (or in their suitcases!).


It’s the Pits

Lodi, California sits off Highway 99 just south of the capital city of Sacramento. There is an image of the state that is all about beaches and surf but the tomato fields and almond orchards, rice fields and haystacks stretched out in the northern part of the state is my part of California. The Farmer’s Market in Lodi celebrates all the goodness and bounty of local produce all summer long, every Thursday, in a street fair like atmosphere.

squashcarrots and beans

The Lodi Chamber of Commerce is helping draw attention to the event and this year added a weekly pie contest during the month of June. It was announced on the daily TV show, Good Day Sacramento. With encouragement from my sister I decided to enter during my annual summer visit to the valley.

The pie contest, in its inaugural year, features a different category each week.

Week 1 – locally grown fruit

Week 2, Black and Blue showcasing blackberries or blueberries

Week 3, It’s the Pits, featuring stone fruit

Week 4, Anything Goes – cobbler, crisps, crumb toppings etc.

No cream pies allowed and with the exception of the final week, the pies must be traditional, two crust pies. My kind of contest! I sent in my entry form for week 3 – It’s the Pits and hoped there was not a residency requirement.

Upon arrival in the hometown of my youth, I set out to determine which stone fruits were ripe. The timing was right for apricots so I set my heart on entering an apricot pie. But I needed enough fruit to make three pies – two for the contest and one for my dad because how could I bake pies then put ‘a hands off’ sign on them? Besides, I HAD to taste it myself to make sure it was contest worthy. Right?

My niece Becky  has an orchard on the farm where I grew up so I started in the backyard. Sadly, the early apricots were lost to a spring wind storm and lay on the ground, small, hard and green, shriveled to the pits. That’s the pits for sure!

Next on the list was my sister Suzan. She has one apricot tree in her yard but her tree had met the same demise. No fruit. Apricots do that sometimes – a bumper crop one year and a big fat nothing the next year. I had arrived with a vision of apricot pie in the wrong year.

Holding out hope I called my sister-in-law, Carol. Last summer I coached her over the phone in the making of apricot pie so I was sure I would hit a gold mine in her orchard. Nada. No apricots. All the trees in the county seemed to be taking a year off. Scarcity is a motivator- the harder it was to find tree ripened apricots the more determined I became to succeed.

There was one last place to check. Rose. A bowl of apricots on my mother’s kitchen counter led me to her. Mom’s friend, Rose, lives in town. Maybe her tree was protected from the wind by nearby houses, maybe it was a different variety of apricots, or maybe it was fate. Whatever the reason, it was Rose to the rescue! I came in one day to find that my mom had scored two flats of apricots. There would be pie!9-7-11 015

When making a pie for a contest I am always torn about which crust recipe to use. The Army Wife recipe makes the most delicious crust but the traditional Crisco recipe seems to appeal more to judges. Throwing caution to the wind I decided on the Army Wife pie crust.

I’ve made some pretty bad apricot pies along the way and have learned a few tricks.

-First of all, cut up the fruit. Most recipes say to halve the fruit but if your apricots are big it’s better to slice each half into three pieces. The fruit will cook more evenly and when you slice the pie it’s easier to serve.

-Taste the fruit. Apricots can be really sweet. If they are sweet decrease the amount of sugar and add a tablespoon of lemon juice. If the apricots are tart, don’t add lemon juice or the pie might be too tart.

-Add a splash of cinnamon – a ¼ tsp will do.

-The fruit will cook down when it bakes but not as much as apples so don’t heap it too high or your pie will boil over.

-Cut vents in the top crust and crimp the edges to help prevent boiling over.

-I always bake my pies in a hot oven, 425 degrees. The crust may brown before the fruit is done so be prepared to tent the pie with aluminum foil.

– Whatever you do, don’t take the pie out of the oven too soon. The kitchen should smell like hot apricots and the filling should be bubbling up through the vent slits. If you aren’t sure, leave the pie in the oven another 5 or 10 minutes.

When making my contest pies for Lodi I followed all my own tips and one at a time pulled three gorgeous pies out of the oven. I could see the golden filling bubbling up through the cracks, the whole house smelled like apricot pie, heck, the whole county may have smelled like pie! The next day, following protocol, I sliced into one of the pies. It served up beautifully. So far, so good. I tasted it. Closing my eyes I let the flavors meld in my mouth. It was good. In fact it was so good that I told my mom, “I don’t care if I win a ribbon, I’m glad I made this pie just so I could eat a piece of it!”

apricot pieslice of apricot pie

I arrived in Lodi an hour early. When I walked up to the booth someone commented, “Opps, she brought two pies!” Apparently they changed the rules to require only one pie. Normally, I would have given them the second pie but the memory of my breakfast was still too fresh in my mind and before I knew it I heard myself saying, “That’s ok! I will take this one back home and we will eat it!”

The judging was scheduled to start at 6 pm so my sister and I began shopping the market. And what a market it was! Tomatoes, cherries, strawberries, even a few apricots! Squash, carrots and potatoes. Such bounty, such beauty!

eggplant and beans  red onionsrainbow carrots







At 6 pm we worked our way back to the pie contest for the announcement.

The first place ribbon went to a cherry pie with an “amazing crust”.

The second place ribbon was awarded to a man who enters every week. He made a peach pie that the judges declared his “best pie so far!”

And third place went to “a native daughter of the golden west, who now calls Kansas home, who entered an apricot pie”. It was me! I won a ribbon! There wasn’t a residency requirement and my apricot pie won a ribbon! Yay for Rose’s apricots!

third place pie

Army Wife Pie Crust

3 Cups of flour

1 1/4 cup of shortening

1 tsp salt

1 egg, beaten

1 T white vinegar

5 T ice water

Cut the shortening into the flour and salt. Mix the egg, vinegar and ice water and work into the flour until the dough holds together.

Apricot Pie

4 cups fresh apricots, cut up

1-2 T lemon juice (if needed)

3/4 – 1 cup sugar

1/4 cup flour

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp cinnamon

2 T butter

Mix fruit with lemon juice. Mix flour, sugar, salt and cinnamon, then add to fruit. Line 9″ glass pie plate with bottom crust, pour fruit into lined pie plate, dot with butter, cover with top crust. Cut slits to vent and crimp edge. Bake at 425 degrees for 35-45 minutes (maybe longer). When the filling is hot and bubbly the pie is done.


Beat by a kid!

The city of Basehor, KS celebrated their community on June 1st with their annual Dairy Days. Rows of tents lined the sidewalk where organizations and individuals promoted their products and programs. My favorite booth was sponsored by The Friends of the Basehor Library. To raise funds for the library they were hosting their very first Pie Baking Contest. I attend the weekly Writer’s Group at the Basehor Library and since a lot of what I write about has to do with learning to make pies I thought I better support the library and enter a pie. Right? After all, my entire writing group was watching!

On Friday afternoon I made my pie – Old Fashioned Apple Pie. I used the traditional Crisco crust recipe and a mix of Gala and Yellow Delicious apples – if you have never made an apple pie with Gala and Yellow Delicious apples you have to try it sometime. And I made a second pie because I really couldn’t  have the house smelling like pie when Dale came in from work unless I could offer him a wedge.

 apple pie Basehor Friends of the Library contest

On Sat morning we decided to make a day of it and stay for the Dairy Days activities after dropping my pie off at the designated tent. Dale was ready to head to the park but I was still fiddling around. I saw him look at my entry form thinking he was looking for the directions to the park, but he was actually looking at the time. I thought my pie was due by 10:30. Nope. It was due by 10 am. Oh darn! We were going to have to hurry in order to get there in time!

Dale pulled into the park and stopped  in the middle of the road near the first sidewalk. It was 9:54. I hopped out of the car with my pie and hurried off to find the pie tent hoping it was nearby. (It was, whew!) As I placed my entry on the table the library ladies, decked out in aprons, exclaimed, “Oh! Look! Here is ANOTHER one!” This being their first event they didn’t know how many pies to expect. I was happy they were happy but I was especially happy that it was not yet 10 am. And I was also happy that another pie (Georgia Peach) was turned in AFTER my pie. I told Dale later, “I wasn’t late and I wasn’t last!”

Taking a look at the competition I thought, “Well now, there are some very pretty pies in this competition but how do they taste?” I knew my pie tasted good (we ate some of pie #2 for breakfast!) There were 14 entries. One was decorated with cut out stars, there was a chocolate chip cookie pie and lots of pies with crumb topping, some with nuts, some without nuts. For years, if I even bothered to make pie, I always covered it crumb topping  because I didn’t know how to roll out pie crust. My strategy was this: buy a frozen pie crust. While it was still frozen remove it from the aluminum tin and transfer it to a pretty pie plate. Let it come to room temperature then re-crimp the edge. Fill with the filling of choice (usually apple) and top with a crumb topping. So when I looked at all those crumb toppings I thought to myself, “Humm, that pie baker doesn’t know how to roll out a top crust so she resorted to a crumb topping.”

Friends of the library contest pies cropped

We left the judges to their task and wandered about the event. Later, when we saw other visitors carrying plates with slices of pie (all entries were sold for $2 a slice) we knew the judging had ended and winners would soon be announced so we returned to the pie booth.

Friends of the library pie judges

And the winners were: Third place: Georgia Peach Pie, with a crumb topping (the last pie to arrive!). Second Place: Mock Apple pie, with crumb topping, made by a little girl and her grandmother. And First Place, drum roll please, Apple Pecan Pie with a crumb topping  made by another little girl and her grandmother. I didn’t win. The judges liked nuts and crumbs and little girls and grandmothers.

I checked the table of plated slices and saw my pie. Perfect wedges, just the right amount of apple ooze, the crust flaky, the triangle holding its shape perfectly. It wasn’t a winner today but I knew that whoever bought those slices would enjoy eating that pie!

On the way home Dale reached over and taking my hand said, “I’m sorry your pie didn’t win”. I told him, “It’s okay, I’m glad a little girl won. I like knowing that little girls are learning to make pie. That means there will be pie when I am old.”

eat dessert first