I haven’t been here in a while, and the truth is, I’ve been uninspired. I’ve also been working on another writing project and I have to say it’s been nice to concentrate on just one thing. It’s not that I haven’t been pulling together a few interesting things in the kitchen. I’m always in the kitchen. I eat, so… What broke my heart a little, though, was my vegetable garden this season. I really don’t want to get into all its failures, because if I did it would be nothing but whining, and that’s not writing. What I’m sharing here is how when you least expect it, the garden will give you a little something to hold on to.
The other day I was cleaning out stalks of spent okra and shriveled eggplants, fighting back my negative feelings about the whole thing, when I came upon a happy surprise. The sweet potato slips I planted back in the spring, that did a very good job of providing shade cover for the soil as it baked in the Texas heat, were wilted and browning, like everything else. So, even though I knew I could keep them in until the first frost I decided to cash in my chips. Not expecting more than a straggle of roots, as I dug in the dirt I felt something hard, and, carefully, I brushed away the soil to reveal a rosy skinned tuber. I kept digging and found another then another, until I had what I proclaimed as a legitimate crop.
Why is pie the first thing I could think of? Well, I love pie. And while it’s not true that pie fixes everything, it can make many things just a little better. The whole process of making one slows me down and allows me to release pent up feelings. Somehow, my anxious, sad or bitter feelings pour out to make something delicious. Especially this time, as I used some gorgeous pecans that were given to me last holiday. I’d been holding them in my freezer and they tasted as if they’d just come off the tree. It had been so long that I’d actually cracked a nut, though, that I wondered if I even still had a cracker in my drawer. As I opened up the shells to reveal the perfect nut meats I remembered that this was something my mother and I did regularly when making pie. It all falls into the slow food category along with shelling peas, and baking bread, and is as old fashioned as quilting. But it really is underrated. People should at least try making a pie or a quilt before they spend $150 for a 50 minutes therapy session.
I tried out several variations, and I think my favorite was the peanut topped.
Sweet Potato Tartlets
Use your favorite pie dough recipe. And, I’m not going to say, “It’s okay, just get a pre-made crust.” Sorry, but I think the crust is too important. If you don’t have a favorite recipe, here is mine:
2-1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
pinch of sugar
1/2 cup chilled butter, sliced into approximately 1 tablespoon pieces
1/2 cup shortening
about 6 tablespoons cold water
Sift flour with salt and sugar. Add the butter and cut in until all pieces are blended well, like very small peas. Then add the shortening, in two batches. The shortening should be left in bigger pieces, but still blended. To test for appropriate about of butter/shortening, take a small handful and squeeze it lightly in your hands. It should stay together just a bit before you let go. If it’s too dry to achieve this, then add more fat, either butter or shortening.
Then add the water by tablespoons. Each time you add water, add it to a small portion of the dry mixture and get only that part wet. It should be only wet enough to stick together, with no really wet parts visible. Keep working it this way until all the flour has the water incorporated.
At this point, the mixture may still look a little dry, but that is okay. Turn it out on to a large piece of plastic or parchment. Pull one side of the parchment over the top of the dough to cover it and mash lightly on the dough. Do this two more times until you have a disc. There should be no crumbly edges. If there are, just add a very small amount of water. The disc should be covered completely in plastic or paper. Put in the fridge to chill for at least one hour. It will keep well for a up to two days.
Pull the dough out of the fridge about 15 minutes before you plan to roll it out as the butter in the mixture will make the dough hard. However, as soon as the dough is ready you need to be ready to roll it out as it becomes difficult to manage if too warm.
Roll out your dough and either make two large crusts or about six to eight smaller ones. Place the dough in pie or tart pans.
4 medium sized sweet potatoes
1/2 cup of butter room temperature
1 cup white sugar
1/2 Lyles Golden Syrup (you can use brown sugar if you like)
about 1 cup of whole milk
nutmeg to taste
dash of cinnamon
dash of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Roast or boil sweet potatoes, then remove peel and mash or process until light and fluffy. Set aside.
Add the softened butter to another bowl and whip until just fluffy. Add sugar and mix. Add syrup then add the sweet potatoes. Beat eggs in a separate bowl and add to the mixture. Add milk.
What you are looking for hear is a soupy batter. Not watery, but soupy. If there is too little liquid your pie will be dense and heavy. Add the vanilla and nutmeg and cinnamon. Pour into chilled pie or tart pastries. If adding nuts or coconut add to the top and press lightly into batter. bake at 350 degrees. Tarts should take about 30 minutes. A pie will be closer to an hour. Test by inserting knife in middle. Just a small amount of batter should be on it when you take it out. Melt some syrup use it to brush the nut covered tarts after removing from oven.
Oh the peace of pie!