It's A Wonderful Day For Pie

We’re entering the season of pie.  I mentioned pie last year during a blog about Christmas but with Thanksgiving upon us I feel it warrants a bit more discussion.  I love pie, more specifically pies with meringue.  My favorite is chocolate but I like coconut cream and will even eat my husband’s favorite, brown sugar.  My great grandmother, Nannie, who I’ve also mentioned before set this pie passion in motion.  She made three to four pies every Sunday pretty much year round during my early childhood.  As the world got more hectic, family time less scheduled and Sunday dinner at Nannies house went by the way side the pies got reserved for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter but that only made me love them all the more.

While I love to make pies I never seem to have enough time to do so.  Pie with a meringue is a time sensitive creature.  They’re best served the day of and in my preferred taste at room temperature.  With us usually having several family dinners packed into one or two days with a drive of 30 to 40 minutes between each pie baking can be hard to do.  Because of this I’ve even come to coin the term  “pie worthy."  I’d love to bring pie to every event but sometimes it’s just not possible.  So it’s usually the stand alone family gathering, meaning one that is planned and not coinciding with several others, that is pie worthy.  A pie worthy event will give me enough time to prepare the pie(s), allow them to cool as well as enough space to cool them because the kitchen counters aren’t covered by other dishes set to go to other events.  Space can often be an issue when cooking, while I like my kitchen it would be great to have the set up Nannie had.

Nannie had a small room off her kitchen with three doors; one lead to a bedroom, one to the porch outside and one to the kitchen. The purpose of this room was to house one of her two deep freezers (the other was outside in a garage that had an adjoining smoke house).  That room wasn’t heated or cooled and I’m thinking it had been a last minute addition simply for housing that freezer.  The room remained cool year round and because of that the deep freeze room got a second purpose, pie cooler.  No searching for a clear counter there!

I can remember being short enough to see just above the deep freeze to stare at the pies sitting on top waiting for whatever holiday meal we were having.  Nannies pies were truly perfect in my opinion.  High meringue, toasted to a beautiful golden brown with tiny drops of amber liquid that seemed to magically form in the valleys between the peaks.  I never understood how she managed those tiny drops I only knew that they reminded me of the sweet liquid you get when you pull the stigma out of a honeysuckle flower.  I’ve spent most of my adult life trying to re-create those pies and more importantly those little drops.

For the longest time weeping was a problem.   In case you aren’t familiar with this: “Meringue pies will “weep” water because of the interaction between the filling and the whipped meringue. If one or the other is overcooked, water beads will form and weep. Egg whites can also weep if they are over-beaten or are from old eggs. Refrigeration speeds up the process of weeping.”  Taken From:  http://www.ivillage.com/how-keep-meringue-pies-getting-soggy/3-a-58092#ixzz1dymsEUD3

I still haven’t mastered this to the point that my pies never weep but that same site has this to offer, which I think I’ll be trying this week:

''Meringue toppings on pies don't always hold up for long periods of time, particularly in humid weather, so plan to add the meringue shortly before serving. Weeping and shrinking (when the meringue pulls away from the crust) are two common problems, but they are avoidable. 

Refrigeration makes meringue weep more quickly, so let the pie stand at room temperature in a draft-free spot before serving it. After a few hours, however, it will need to be refrigerated.

If the meringue is cooked before being added to the pie, it will be more stable and less likely to weep. To do this, combine the sugar and egg whites ... in a heat-proof bowl and set over simmering water. Mix until the egg whites are warm, then remove from heat and add the salt and/or cream of tartar. Beat into stiff peaks.

Spread the meringue over a pie that is already baked, covering the filling completely and touching the crust all the way around. This will prevent shrinking. If you like golden peaks on your meringue, run the pie under the broiler for one or two minutes. Serve as soon as possible.'' (Their Source: Desserts by Martha Stewart, Clarkson Potter, 1999)

Back to my droplet dilemma, as I was saying I have forever been trying to re-create those droplets.  For some reason I feel it necessary to allow my children the experience of dipping their finger precariously into the top of the meringue to try and taste one of those drops.  I’ve baked and experimented over and over again but only occasionally can I seem to create those drops and more by accident than anything.  So I decided to do a little research and to my amazement I found out that my idea of pie perfection was another person’s flaw.

According to www.dinasdesserts.com:

“Sometimes amber colored droplets appear on the surface of a meringue.  If this “beading” happens immediately, usually it’s because the foam has been over jelled during baking.  Baking a meringue in a hot oven for a short time can minimize this problem.

Baking a meringue on a humid day can also contribute to beading because the sugar in the meringue attracts moisture from the air.  After the meringue cools, beads of syrup form at the surface.

A meringue topping baked quickly (4 to 5 minutes) at 425 is tendered and less sticky than one baked a 375 degrees.  But beware of overcooking.  Meringue that is baked too long also weeps because its moisture has been squeezed out by egg white proteins that have over thickened.”

Taken from:  http://www.dianasdesserts.com/index.cfm/fuseaction/bakingtips.piesandtarts/PiesandTarts.cfm

Knowing this has now left me with another dilemma.  Do I seek my idea of perfection or should I follow the way of the learned cook and try for a pristine droplet free pie?  I think perhaps I’ll need to try both.  After all I know there must be a few others out there who like me who embrace the flaws of life and really is there such a thing as an imperfect pie?  That solved I have another problem…how do I get the chickens to start laying double time for the holidays?

Here’s hoping you have lots of pie this Thanksgiving!  I’ll leave you with a happy little song to inspire your baking:

The Pie Song from The Family Guy