"A person cooking is a person giving: Even the simplest food is a gift."

Laurie Colwin

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Tarty Tuesdays: ugly but good pie

I hadn’t seen my fake mother, Lee, since my wedding last Valentine’s Day.  Lee is still grieving – as is right and good – for the daughter who left this world just a week after that.  But her new home, with a 180o view of the sea just a stone’s throw away, is teeming with life, and that is also as it should be, because Lee and her husband, much as this loss has razed them to the ground, are full of life themselves.

In her backyard, she showed me the contemplative garden where all the plants that they received after their daughter’s death went.  There’s a seat there, and many flowers, and also a beautiful plum tree so laden with fruit that its branches stoop under the weight.  Their son has helped them prune the other fruit trees and put in raised beds for their vegetables.  There is nothing that impresses me quite so much as a veggie patch, and this was a fragrant, colourful beauty:  forests of chard, a minefield of purple beetroot, and tomatoes worthy of that scene in The Godfather.

Lee and I talked, and talked, and talked, and cried some, and the next day, when I was ready to come home, she walked me out into the garden with a large, flat basket, and picked me tomatoes, chard, many plums, and apricots.  I had a three-hour drive back home and My Baby and I were going away for the weekend the next day to another place also three hours away, and I knew some of the things Lee gave me would not last that long.  When I got home, I turned the chard into an early (and ersatz) Torta Pasqualina to take with us for our hosts, and I gently stewed the sweet ripe apricots until tender and put them in the ‘fridge for… whatever, whenever.

When I came home, we ate the tomatoes the way my mother called “split tomatoes”:  cut in half, scored lightly, sprinkled with salt, oregano, and good olive oil.  So good.  Then I made much plum jam.

The plums were on the greenish side, so the jam has a fabulous set and a gorgeous tart twang.  Then, I remembered the apricots.

I have some miniature pavlova shells that were tempting, but no.  What I really felt like was an apricot pie, but I wanted something lighter than the usual pie.  Then I remembered the fresh strawberry pie from a beloved book I have called American Pie, by Teresa Kennedy, and hey!  Adaptation ahoy!  For my pastry I went to Nidia's, and this is where the ugliness comes in.

The recipe is for a beautiful, light, perfumed, cookie-like crust.  But mine turned out decidedly ugly.

Crust got da uggles!
Granted, I didn’t let the dough chill for the requisite hour (it’s a nightmare to roll while at anything other than ‘fridge temp), so it’s probably my fault, but I pressed on regardless.  I pressed on because the raw pastry tasted amazing, cooked it smelt divine, and I also remembered a little sweet that the Italians had before the French took over the world with their macarons (go on – put on a French accent and say it – macaron).  Brutti ma buoni are freeform Italian macaroons, and their name translates as “ugly but good”.

And this, I decided, was going to be my pie:  ugly but good.  And remembering Lee’s garden, and the dolphins playing in the water in view of their backyard while we thought of a loved one gone too soon, I thought it was apt.

When you first combine the ingredients, it'll look cloudy on account of the cornflour.  Don't worry, it'll come good as gelatinization takes place.

This is the filling after it comes to the boil.  See?  Super thick.   It should glop, not pour, from the spoon, and mound slightly when it falls.

Add butter, and stir.  This will make the filling...

... gorgeously glossy.

Pour filling into crust, and chill.  Have immoderate amounts of whipped cream on standby.

The perfume comes from the crust, which is spectacular.  Keep the technique for the filling in mind for adaptation, too.  It’s good for any soft summer fruit.


For the crust –
140g. sugar
100g. butter
3 egg yolks
3 tbsp. port
2 tbsp. milk
1 tsp. vanilla
425-450g. self-raising flour

For the filling –
1 cup apricot puree
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1/4 cornflour (corn starch)
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
Whipped cream, to serve

1.  First, make the crust.  Cream sugar and butter in food processor until creamy.  Add egg yolks, and whizz.  Add port, milk, and vanilla, and give it a very quick whizz (mixture will curdle if you overwhizz).  Finally, add flour and pulse until a soft dough is formed.  Scrape onto a sheet of cling film and refrigerate for one hour. 
2.  Brush tart or pie pan with baker's secret or grease and flour.  Roll out dough, line pan, prick several times with a fork, and bake in a moderate oven for about 15 min., until golden.
3.  Next, make the filling.  Combine all ingredients except butter in a medium saucepan, and stir constantly until mixture boils and thickens.  It will be very thick and should mound when you drop it from the spoon.  Add butter, and stir until melted.  Mixture will now be gorgeously glossy.  Pour filling out into crust, and chill until set.  Serve with whipped cream.

Yumbo McGillicutty!


  1. OHHHHHHH V, although I cannot eat some of the beautiful food you post. I can re-live the wonder of food through you. It is like visiting a food Opera every time. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh all my senses are ignited and I only need memories of taste to enjoy all that food has to give. My diet is still good, really good. The apricots for me would have been eaten straight away (shared with googly eyed children, which scramble around me more like seagulls at the beach HA HA. I could still make a gluten free version of the above, but my hearts content with the way things are for now. And with talented friends like you, food is a story and I can't wait for the next chapter. Love Teen xxxxxxxxxxxxx

  2. I teach my girls to make pies and breads, and when they don't look as pretty as you would like, the word I use is rustic....never ugly...your pie looks positively delicious I would have loved a big piece!

  3. this looks good home made pies are really delicious

  4. Ah, now there's a word! "Rustic" - I am a whole bunch of rustic waiting to happen. I'm not looking forward to delivering the "Present Food" subject to my Kitchen Operations students this year! :)

    And thank you, Torview, both for the lovely comment and for adding me as a friend.

  5. This pie looks fantastic!! I'm dying to try the filling

  6. Try it with any soft fruit you have on hand, Steph. It's easy and delicious.

  7. I adore, adore, adore apricots. They soar high above all others as my favorite fruit. This looks so fantastic. Thanks for sharing the recipe and technique. I look forward to glopping!

  8. Oh! No I don't think it's ugly. I love how it looks cracked, so cute! Love the apricot puree on the top. Would love to have some when it is still warm. YUMMY!

  9. Thanks, Mom Chef and Zerrin! We thoroughly enjoyed it. I've just been given some rhubarb and plan to make a rhubarb-strawberry pie exactly the same way. Zerrin, the warm filling is delicious, but when cold it has a really good set - either way it's good.


So! Whaddya reckon?