Connemara Field Trip

Note: the black and whites are photographs of the displays at Connemara National Historic Site. 

Am I the only one who forgets about great places nearby until we want to show house guests the area? I’ve had a little cabin fever this year with all the days when it’s just been too cold to get outside. When I saw that weekend temps would be 65, I declared it a field trip day and laid plans for an outing.  Not to Ireland, but to Flat Rock, North Carolina to visit Connemara. It’s a National Historic Site run by the Park Service: 245 acres of rolling hills, hiking trails, mountain views, champion goats and the Carl and Paula Sandburg home and farm.


I thought of Connemara and the Sandburgs because my Dad gave me a book to read — an 800 page biography by Penelope Niven, a friend of a friend of my parents. I thought  visiting the Sandburg home would be the perfect thing to do before diving into the tome.

Carl's office.

Carl’s office.

Books, Books, Books!

Books and music, music and books!


After a pleasant lunch nearby, we ditched the car in the parking lot and walked to the house and farm — in the sunshine — without coats. Hallelujah! Speaking of winter, the Sandburgs tired of Michigan winters and moved south to Flat Rock in 1945. That weather had been especially hard on Mrs. Sandburg, often out in the elements with her champion goats, so she took herself down to the southern appalachians and bought Conemara!  The really neat thing about the house is that it’s pretty much the way they left it after living there for 22 years. The volunteers and skeleton park staff do a great job of keeping it that way.

The family's kitchen.

The family’s kitchen.

Mrs . Sandburg receiving an award. She raised Nubians, Tottenburgs and Saanens and was known for her skill at breeding highest quality, high production milk goats.

Mrs . Sandburg receiving an award. She raised Nubians, Tottenburgs and Saanens and was known for her skill at breeding highest quality, high production milk goats. She started raising goats when she was 53 and continued throughout her life.

Favorite things: the 10,000 or so books that line the walls ; Mrs. Sandburg’s office full of goat-keeping records, trophies and ribbons; the farm and goats; the guitar, piano and loads of music books; the 1940s kitchen and the light in the milk processing shed to name a few…


Some of the current herd.




A cap from their goat milk carton.

A cap from the cylindrical goat milk cartons.

The milk processing shed.

The milk processing shed.

The bulletin board in Mrs. Sandburg's office.

The bulletin board in Mrs. Sandburg’s office.

We didn’t get to the 5 miles of hiking trails that day, but look forward to a return visit.  We took the long way home on winding back roads to feast on tender, slow-cooked pork shoulder (the crock pot had done its work while we played) and gingery apple slaw (I’ll post the recipe).  A lovely end to a lovely day.










Falling feathers and Failing Hens

It’s been a eggy summer. Is eggy a word? Even if it’s not, I’m going to use it. It seems perfect for describing life with eight or nine hens who laid daily all summer.  Luckily we, and our friends and family, love free-range eggs. We’ve eaten popovers, deviled eggs, spoon bread, egg bread, egg salad, fried eggs, scrambled eggs, omelette suppers, eggs on tortillas, French vinaigrette with an egg yolk in it and just about any other eggy thing you can think of. Why, you might ask, do we need so many chickens when we don’t sell eggs?  There are several reasons: laying falls off in fall and winter, laying drops as hens age and, sadly, chickens don’t last forever.


Eggs on tortillas with salty-lemonyyogurt and capers (inspired by Heidi Swanson at

Eggs cooked on tortillas with salty-lemony yogurt and fried capers (from Heidi Swanson ). A great lunch or light dinner.

Not so much in their first year, but in the fall of a hen’s second year, it molts. Feathers fall out like crazy and the hen will look absolutely pitiful. It’s easy to think you’ve got a sick chicken on your hands, but that’s not the case. They just don’t look good with big naked pink spots! Mattie is our oldest hen at 18 months. I hate to say anything negative about the sweet girl but she’s been looking rough. Bald patches on her underside and back, thinning tail feathers, etc. I even stole her from the perch one night and weighed her to make sure she was okay. This involves putting the sleeping chicken into a shopping bag with handles, hanging said bag from my husband’s portable fishing scale and returning the bird to the perch before it wakes up and freaks out. It’s even more amusing when you learn that I do this late at night in my pajamas, a sweatshirt, an LL Bean cap with headlights built into it and rubber gardening clogs. It’s not a glamorous life. Her weight was fine. She’d just lost so many feathers that she looked very small. Her laying has fallen from daily to five eggs a week since she’s using her protein sources to make feathers. We see the new pin feathers now so I’m reassured that she’ll return to her former gorgeousness soon.

Mattie in the garden, pre-molt.

Mattie in the garden, pre-molt. i won”t humiliate her by sharing a photo where she has bald spots!

Three of our other girls, all less than a year old so not molting very much, are still laying daily. As the days shorten, this will change. The amount of daylight directs how often hens lay. It’s been our experience that every other day in winter is the norm. You can put artificial lights in the coop to keep the eggs coming, but we like the natural method and think the girls deserve some time off in winter for good behavior. When the days lengthen in the spring, things will pick up again. In most cases, egg laying reduces each year after a hen’s first big molt, so Mattie might not be a 7-egg-a-week girl any more even in summer. I’ll have to report back on that. And then there’s Opal, our 1/2 Sumatra hen who lays her eggs in the woods where we can never find them. Her mom did the same thing.

I think I mentioned that chickens don’t last forever. Free-range birds love the lifestyle and lay eggs that are healthier for us, but they are exposed to danger every day. It’s sad but true and we’ve experienced lots of loss this summer. Ruby, one of our older girls, took to sleeping in a tree with our two Sumatra chickens. They’re the ones that don’t like to be cooped up. We tried every kind of bribe but couldn’t get her to bed down in the coop. The Sumatra’s are black and invisible at night but Ruby was gold with some white feathers so you could easily spot her on all but the darkest nights. Sure enough, she was plucked from a branch during the night never to be seen again. We suspect an owl carried her off since there was no sign of a struggle. We lost two hens to a dog. Two others died of natural causes and finally to end the sad part of this post, Goldfinger, our sexy rooster, had to go back to the farm where we bought him. He was an excellent rooster, but crowed often, all day long, at a high decibel level. The farm was glad to have him back since he was a pure-bred and good for breeding. We miss each of them and their sweet, quirky ways.

Goldfinger (black with gold highlights) the rooster with his charges.

Goldfinger (black with gold highlights) the rooster with his charges.

While we still had noisy Goldfinger (GF), he performed a most heroic deed. We were outside at dusk and GF started going nuts; squawking frantically and herding the hens to a safe corner of the back patio up against the house. He then ran into the edge of the woods shrieking and returned with the last hen, herding her rapidly to the others. Roosters are great protectors so we’d seen this behavior before when dogs entered the yard or hawks flew to0 low for comfort (chicken comfort), but this time we couldn’t see any kind of predator. GF continued to raise a ruckus and finally we strolled away. As we looked back, a big black bear ran out of the woods and crossed the yard to another patch of woods — right where the chickens would have been! Guess GF smelled that bear a mile away! We miss that rooster and will always remember how he saved our girls.

The current flock consists of Opal,  the 1/2 Sumatra who safely sleeps in a tree; molting Mattie, a black and white Barred Rock; Buffy the beautiful golden Buff Orpington and Flopsy and Beatrix who are Golden Comets. They are co-existing happily in the garden and wood edge enjoying all the wonderful seeds that fall brings. As a flock they lay three to four eggs a day and are darn proud of it! They each announce when they lay by chattering and cawing loudly as they exit the coop. Those sounds are music to my ears!IMG_3475


World’s Best Bacon

Back in June I won a pie-baking contest and one of the prizes was a pound of bacon. A pound of  bacon may not seem that exciting, but when it’s Benton’s Bacon it changes everything. It’s slow-smoked over in Madisonville, Tennessee with hickory wood. The only ingredients are bacon, salt, sugar, black pepper and smoke combined according to a secret family recipe. I’ve heard people say that Benton’s is the world’s best bacon and they sometimes have to wait a month to get an order of the delicious stuff. As you can imagine, Paul and I were feeling a little pressure as we tried to decide what to do with this fabulous bacon.

IMG_2852BLTs seemed like the way to go on a late July afternoon. Tomatoes don’t really come in here in the mountains until August and the world’s best bacon had already lurked in the freezer for a solid month, so we settled for some excellent slicers from a nearby county where it’s flatter and warmer. Daring people that we are, we flaunted tradition and chose a locally made bread over toasted white slices. The handmade bread was 50/50 white and wheat Carolina Ground flour, with a rustic texture and a top crust of sesame seeds. It’s made by Tara at Smoke Signals Bakery. She even grows some of her own grains.

World's Best Bacon in the pan.

World’s Best Bacon in the pan.

IMG_2867As soon as that hickory scented smoke start coming off the bacon, I was hooked. The slices stayed nice and thick and caramelized beautifully. Only two slices needed for a divine sandwich. Even Paul, who has a hollow leg when it comes to food, agreed that  a few slices were enough. Smoke Signals bread, Benton’s bacon, mayo, beefy red tomato slices and a little salt and pepper pretty much add up to heaven on a plate.

Waiting for the bacon.

Waiting for the bacon.


Heaven on a plate!

Heaven on a plate!


I could tell you about the black bean salad we had on the side, but let’s face it; nothing else really matters when you have the perfect BLT in your hand.  The bacon had just the right amount of hickory smoke, a firm texture and crisp edges that made it the main character. We swooned. After we’d picked ourselves up off the floor and finished a sandwich plus an unadulterated slice each, I went right to the computer and ordered more Benton’s Bacon. What kind of person orders bacon on the internet you might ask? All I can say is don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.

Did I mention the ultra-flavorful bacon grease that was left in the pan?  When I was a kid, Mom had this silver canister with a lid that sat beside the stove. It had a strainer in the top that you poured the grease through to get remove the cooked bits. The strained grease was stored in the bottom and used to flavor beans, greens, cornbread and lots of other good things.

Many years ago I quit saving, deciding that I would be healthier without that bacon grease. Thank goodness I came to my senses a while back and started saving again. It only takes a small spoonful to add lots of flavor to a dish and it’s really a shame to waste all that goodness. That little bit of Benton’s grease has flavored pots of home-grown collard greens and kale and some delicious spoonbread made with our own eggs and Long’s Valley Farm cornmeal.

Guess you could say Benton’s is the bacon that just keeps on giving!


Nothin’ Beats Beans,Greens and my Mom’s Cornbread

Just picked Russian kale and collards.

Just picked Russian kale and collards.

To use my Dad’s phrase, today I had a cravin’ flung on me. A craving for beans, greens and cornbread and the cornbread had to be the lacy-edged fried kind. It’s made from a batter consisting of cornmeal, salt and water and cooked on the stove top in a thin layer of vegetable oil until the edges are lacy, crispy and brown. That’s what cornbread meant to me as a child. The other kind of cornbread we ate was oven-baked and contained cornmeal, eggs, salt and baking powder and soda. My grandmother called it egg bread to distinguish it from the skillet type. Generally, we used yellow cornmeal for the egg bread and white fine-ground for the skillet type. Both were stone ground and neither of the cornbreads contained sugar.

I decided to go right to the source and called Mom. She’s been making cornbread for 60+ years and knows her stuff. My folks love the holy trinity of beans, greens and cornbread and accepted an invitation to dinner almost before I got the words out of my mouth! A few hours later while the fellows devoured a bowl of black-pepper pistachios, Mom and I got down to business. I’m lucky to have a local source for yellow  stone ground cornmeal from heirloom corn. It’s ground fairly fine so was suitable for this recipe, even though it’s yellow.

IMG_2838The bad news is that we don’t measure anything in this three ingredient recipe except the cornmeal. Mom does it by feel. I think you can too. We mixed two cups of fine stone ground cornmeal with 3-4 generous pinches of salt and added water until the mixture started to look more like batter than dough. Then we added a splash more liquid so the batter would spread in the hot oil. We tasted the batter to check the salt level and added a little more. Salt is a personal thing so do what seems right to you. Since this was a new cornmeal to Mom, we did a test batch and then cooked the whole batch. In the old days, we used a cast iron skillet, but today it was ceramic non-stick.

Mix the cornmeal and salt with a fork. That's my Mom!

Mix the cornmeal and salt with a fork. That’s my Mom!

The batter takes shape.

The batter takes shape.

Check out those edges!

Check out those edges!

The vegetable oil should be about 1/8 inch thick in the pan. When it’s good and hot, drop in a very tiny bit of batter. If it doesn’t crisp up pretty quickly, turn up the heat. Eat the sample and check for salt level. For the full-sized sample, drop about 1/4-1/3 cup of batter into the oil. It should spread some so that the edges become irregular and lacy. Add more water to the remaining batter if this doesn’t happen. Be patient and let it sizzle for a while. Mom only turns hers once, but that takes some practice. When it looks pretty solid, carefully turn the cornbread and cook the other side. It should be brown and crispy when done. Drain on paper towels and serve.

IMG_2846The cornbread was the perfect complement to the rest of the dinner: pinto beans, greens cooked all afternoon, sliced tomatoes and white rice. Condiments included chopped onion for the beans and hot-peppers in vinegar (made last summer) for the greens. We ate on the screened porch and it was good! Then we took our full selves out to tour the garden and visit the chickens. Finally, we headed for the front porch rocking chairs to watch the sunset. No dessert required.

Thanks, Mom.


A Simple Garden Dinner

Sunday night, after socializing on the 4th, 5th and 6th of July, we had a simple supper at home. Just the two of us and some veggies from the garden.  We’ve had more than twenty inches of rain in two months so the plants are really happy. The summer squash grew so quickly, it was like watching time-lapse photography! The dinosaur kale hasn’t slowed down since the mercury has stayed at or below 80 on most days. There’s a bountiful crop so far. Here’s how the veggie dinner came together.

Lacinato or dinosaur kale and summer squash fresh from the garden.

Lacinato, or dinosaur kale, and summer squash fresh from the garden.

The KALE leaves were mostly tender so I rolled stacks of them long ways and sliced across the roll into half-inch ribbons. A few leaves had big stems so I chopped them in half-inch pieces too. The kale went into an inch of salted water and braised for 20 minutes with the lid on. Then I uncovered it, let the liquid cook away and finished it with a squeeze of lemon juice and a few red pepper flakes.

For the SQUASH, Barb Swell inspired me with her Log Cabin Cooking blog. Her parmesan-fried summer squash is a quick, easy and nearly perfect dish for one or two people. It tastes almost like a southern squash casserole without the extra fat and prep time. This squash was so good I wanted it all for myself. Paul is lucky he saw any of it!

Parmesan shards for the squash

Parmesan shards for the squash

Then there were the FINGERLING POTATOES, earthy and delicious, from friends John and Melissa’s Highgate Farm up the road in Marshall. John is a regular at the Weaverville and East Asheville tailgate markets and always has lots of great naturally grown produce.

Here’s a simple method for cooking fingerlings. I believe it’s French in origin.  For two servings, add a tablespoon of butter, a good splash of olive oil and a healthy pinch of salt to a small to medium dutch oven and set over medium heat. When the oil/butter is good and hot, add enough fingerlings for two people. Give them a stir to coat and cover.

Earthy fingerlings from Highgate Farm

Earthy fingerlings from Highgate Farm

Just a few more minutes of browning to go!

Just a few more minutes of browning to go!

Try not to peek for at least 10 minutes, 15 if you’re strong. Then stop by every 4-5 minutes and give the pan a few good shakes to turn the potatoes and prevent sticking. Use your kitchen timer if you tend to get distracted. Do a fork test around 20 minutes for doneness. Adjust the heat as needed for browning. Total time depends on the size and number of potatoes, but estimate 20-30 minutes for two servings. Magically, the little fellows will cook in their own juices (with a little help from the butter). If you’re patient, they will be creamy on the inside and crispy-brown on the outside. You can add a dash of lemon juice, a few chopped chives or a grind of pepper to them on the plate, but it’s not really necessary.

You can make these for a crowd. Add a bit more oil, butter and salt, but don’t go crazy. The potatoes release a fair amount of liquid as they cook. And use a larger dutch oven. Surface area is important here. A double layer is fine if you’re very good about shaking to rotate the potatoes. Otherwise, they will steam but the top layer won’t brown. Stir them if you have to and allow more cooking time. Be sure to use a thick bottomed pot, preferably cast iron, for this recipe. I use Creuset. You can use any potato cut into a large dice if you don’t have fingerlings. These taters are so good, you could make a meal of them!

Our dinner was heavenly. Sometimes after a hectic weekend, simple pleasures really are the best.

P.S. Paul is away tonight and I picked a squash today. Guess what I’m having for my solo supper!































A Prize-Winning Pie, Oh My!

I still can’t believe I won the 13th Annual Retro Pie Contest in Asheville! There were 78 pies entered and eight crust-only entries from serious bakers. From Slow Foodies to professional bakers, cookbook authors to enthusiastic junior bakers, there was tons of talent.  Lots of pie categories add to the fun: historic, locally sourced, heirloom recipe, children’s, men’s, first pie, fruit, meat, custard, chocolate, tarts, small pies, gluten-free, most creative, prettiest, best in show and a few more I can’t remember.  There are non-pie categories too like best retro outfit, best retro apron and so on. My favorite is at the end: thought-you-should-have-won-but-didn’t category. You can nominate yourself or someone else for this and it gets pretty funny. If you taste all 78 pies you get a prize too. And maybe a tummy ache!

IMG_2619The mood was festive with a cloudless Carolina blue sky, 80 degree temperatures, tents in a lovely garden setting and toddlers in retro aprons. There was a table full of prizes to admire and clothes lines hung with vintage aprons. In the freezer were a couple of pounds of Benton’s Bacon, the very special Smokey Mountain bacon from Tennessee that is always back-ordered, as top prizes. There were kegs of local beer, bottles of wine and the gallons of cold water. Tasting 78 pies is very thirsty business.

IMG_2625I entered the small pie category with my blueberry hand pies, and the meat category with a Tourtiere Quebecois, a highly spiced, mostly pork pie traditionally served on Christmas Eve in Quebec.  My crusts came out really flaky so I was feeling pretty good and entered the crust only category too.



My crust only entry.

My crust only entry.

How It Worked

Bakers registered, got numbers (the judging is blind) and a serving spoon and set up their entries at the table for their category. Talented hubby Paul painted adorable signs to go with my entries. He has a hollow leg, loves pie and really gets into the spirit. He tastes soooo many pies!  More than 100 attendees signed up to judge one or more categories. You must taste all the pies in a category to vote. Everyone votes for Best in Show, costumes, prettiest pie and most creative pie. The crust only contest is the most serious. The judges are real pie experts.

Once the ballots were in we took our spoons and little plates and tasted as many pies as we could stand. A few brave folks did taste all of them! I could manage only about three dozen bites. I have to admit , the last few were pushing it. Many revelers were in pie comas by the end. While the ballots were being counted, a bunch of us entertained the pie revelers with bluegrass and old-time music. Not an easy feat after all that tasting.

My tasting plate after more than 30 bites. Yes, there is a pea and a blueberry. The variety was endless.

My tasting plate after more than 30 bites. Jackson Pollock watch out!

Amazing Entries

Here are just a few of the incredible entries. Don’t you want to run to the kitchen and make a pie right now?  And eat it too of course.

The competition was tough in the small pie category!

The competition was tough in the small pie category!



Fruit entries.

Fruit entries.

Vegetarian Everything in The Garden Pie.

Vegetarian Everything in The Garden Pie.



And the Winners Are…

Finally the winners were announced. Everyone pulled up chairs or stretched out on the grass to digest all that pie and hear the results. Winner of the small pie category was me! I selected a very nice vintage apron as my prize. Near the end of all the categories was the crust only announcement. I tied with a very seasoned baker for my savory flavored crust and came away with a bag of special Carolina Ground pastry flour. Carolina Ground is locally grown and milled wheat flour that bakes up like a dream. Excited to have won two cool prizes, I felt humbled in the company of so many great bakers!


Making the blueberry jelly that filled the hand pies.

Making the blueberry pepper jelly that filled the hand pies.


Cookbook author Ashley English won the tart category with her Peach plum tart with Mint Pesto. Delicious and beautiful.

Cookbook author Ashley English won the tart category with her Peach plum tart with Mint Pesto. Delicious and beautiful.


Prize winning berry margerita pie.

Prize winning berry margerita pie.


Annie Erbsen's gorgeous gluten-free lemon pie. She has got the gluten-free crust thing down! And she won the prize for best retro outfit too.

Annie Erbsen’s gorgeous gluten-free lemon pie. She has got the gluten-free crust thing down! Annie won the prize for best retro outfit too.


Historic winner, shrimp heads and all!

Historic winner, shrimp heads and all!

At last it was time for Best in Show. The prizes were a cookbook, A Year of Pies: A Seasonal Tour of Home Baked Pies by Ashley English (autographed because Ashley, her husband and her adorable toddler were there!), and a pound of that excellent Benton’s Bacon. My jaw nearly hit the floor when I won for the Quebecois meat pie! It’s really fun to win when you don’t expect to at all!


One of my Best in Show Tourtiere practice pies.

The best in Show Ballot Box.

The best in Show Ballot Box.

Paul was as excited as I and we were still basking in the pie glow the next day. I ordered a new pie dish to celebrate. We had the last hand pies for breakfast and the last of the meat pie (it was my practice pie) for dinner with home-grown lettuce and Buttermilk Chive Dressing. Like a lot of stews and meat dishes, the flavor of the meat pie gets better overnight.

Paul and Mom having a big time!

Paul and Mom having a big time!


The wonderful hosts addressing the pie crowd.

The wonderful hosts addressing the pie crowd.

Thanks to Barbara Swell, contest founder, for getting me to bake that first pie a couple of years ago, and to my family who tasted all my practice pies this year when I got serious!  This year I will make pie often. I’m inspired to bake more and now have my eye on a home-made English Muffin recipe that was on one of my favorite blogs, Food52, last week.  If I can conquer pie crust, I can take on twice cooked yeast breads, right?

I’ll post the meat pie and hand pie recipes later this week.

In the meantime, here are pie crust tips from my recollections of watching my grandmother bake and from research that helped me become a pie maker.

Pie Crust Tips

  • Keep the pie dough cold. Chill the flour, butter and even the entire pie before baking. Handle the dough as little as possible since your hands are warm. Anytime it starts to feel soft, put it in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.
  • Use a pastry cutter with blades, not wires. The blades cut through the coldest butter. In lieu of a cutter, use two knives.  If crumbling the dough with your fingers, put it back in the fridge to chill half way through.
  • Most crust recipes call for pea-sized crumbles. Be sure to leave some larger and make some smaller for nicer texture.
  • Pound your dough disk with the rolling-pin 20-30 times before starting to roll. This makes the rolling time shorter and doesn’t melt the butter in the crust. Plus, it’s fun! Click here for a demo. 
  • After trimming the crusts, turn the dough under itself for a nice, high edge.
  • A silicon rolling mat and non-stick rolling-pin are invaluable, but rolling with a pin on waxed-paper or a stone (stone keeps the crust cold) counter top works too.
  • Keep your rolling-pin and rolling surface well floured. This seems basic but it’s essential.
  • In case I haven’t said it enough, keep the dough and rolled crusts cold!
  • HAVE FUN. If it’s not working, cover the dough or rolled crust with plastic wrap, put it in the fridge and take a break. It will keep.

I hope you’re inspired to bake a pie, bring friends together to eat it and even host a pie cook-off of your own. You’ll love it!

The Pie Contest Looms

These wonderful friends of mine, Barb and Wayne, are pie people.  Barb is a master pie maker, teaches pie classes, has written a pie cookbook and can bake a perfect pie in a wood stove. She believes that pies bring people together. I think she’s right! Their adult daughters dress in retro housewife dresses and make fabulous pies. Their friends make pies. Wayne loves pies, eats lots of pies and helps stage their giant pie contest each year. He also has his musician friends (Paul and I are in this category) play old-time and bluegrass music for the pie crowd while the ballots are being tabulated. This takes a while since there are multiple categories, about 100 entries and lots of judges (every guest tastes and judges).


I had never been a pie maker. Cobbler, cake, cookies, icebox pies and rustic tarts yes, but not real baked pies with scratch crusts. When I got the urge to do something with seasonal fruit or at holidays, I purchased a convenient pie crust from the dairy section that come ready to unroll. I remember watching my grandmother make pies and even cute little hand pies for us kids too. I like the hand pies best because there is a higher ratio of flaky crust to filling.  Sometimes too much fruit filling can overwhelm me! We called the little pies tarts. Other people must have too because along came these store bought hand pies with a strange chemical taste in the background, called Pop Tarts! As I child I was fascinated by them but never related them to grandma’s tarts. Of course Pop Tarts and ready made crust are never even mentioned by the serious pie people, so let’s pretend I never brought it up.

images-2With some nudging from Barb, I entered the contest. It’s a wacky, friendly kind of contest with super bakers and novices competing. Two years ago, I took a whack at pie crust the morning of the party. I think it got too warm. It had to be pressed into a tart pan and I can’t remember what I filled it with. It was good, but not a pie. In hindsight, I should never have used that recipe from Cooks Illustrated. It had all these extra ingredients, like vodka, and pages of directions that took the fun out of it and made me feel distressed. Last year, I enjoyed making a regular old butter pie crust with a lemon sponge filling that was good but not great and not quite beautiful either.

This year, for some reason, I’m really into it.  I’ve decided to master, pie crusts, pizza dough and several other types of baked goods that I have avoided in the past. I think I had pastry and yeast dough phobias. I’m good at eating them, but afraid to make them! The truth is that once you make these things 8 or 10 times, the walls come down and it starts to feel natural. I’m getting to that point with pie crust. Baking is part of my heritage and it’s time I put my pie on the table!

imagesAt the pies contest/party there are always way more sweet than savory pies. My husband goes nuts over the savory ones so he asked that I make one this year.  Savory pies are especially good when you’ve already tasted 50 sweet pies and can’t face any more sugar!  I tested a few last month and settled on one. I can’t reveal what it is yet, but it’s delish! I also started thinking about my grandma’s little hand pie tarts and how much I liked those.  Then came a post from one of my favorite blogs, Smitten Kitchen, on hand pies and I had to give them a try. I’m using the Smitten Kitchen recipe as a base and improvising from there. Aren’t I brave and creative to have two entries?  I served the savory pie last week and my husband and parents couldn’t stop eating. The doughs and fillings are ready  so that I can do a dry run on both entries tomorrow. We’ll have the results of my test drive for supper.

images-1I just wish I’d had Barb’s pie cookbook on my shelf a long time ago. Then I’d be a real pie queen by now instead of just a novice pie princess! Her book is The Lost Art of Pie Making Made Easy by Barbara Swell. The recipes really work and the tips are great! You’ll find it at Amazon in case you want to jump on the pie bandwagon.

The contest is Saturday afternoon and I’ll have dough for both kinds of crusts in fridge before my head hits the pillow Friday night.  On Saturday morning I will remove those smooth discs of buttery dough from the refrigerator and I will roll, fill and bake with aplomb.  Stay tuned for all the details and the recipes next week.  Wish me luck!1940s My-T-Fine Pudding & Pie Mix Filling vintage advertisement illustration