Recently, the always-inspiring Southern Foodways Alliance symposium, held in Oxford, Mississippi, sponsored a rollicking debate on an intensely dividing subject: Which is better: Pie or Cake? While my love for a good cake has been well documented, some of the arguments for pie, eloquently spoken by Kat Kinsman from CNN’s Eatocracy, spurred me to take another look at the versatile dish. Devoted pie makers everywhere may relate to her statement that, if you are ‘crafting’ a pie crust:
“…it’s most likely because, at some point in your life, someone thought well enough of you to stand beside you at a counter and gift the muscle memory from her hands to yours. Your mother, your aunt, your grandmother, or – heaven forfend – your mother-in-law decided it was time to truly assume you into the sisterhood. She guided your fingers as they worked the flour into the fat, flicked in the water, and kneaded it all to the proper mass.”
The book A Year of Pies: A Seasonal Tour of Home Baked Pies, by Ashley English, has been on my desk for a few months and I occasionally flip through the pages, making a mental list of pies I intend to make and which new versions of old favorites I want to try. The book is smartly divided into seasonal sections, allowing you to choose ingredients that are perfectly suited to what’s growing in your own garden or readily available at your local farmer’s market. English also addresses most hesitant pie makers’ fears with a “hand holding” chapter on crusts, explaining the process – the ingredients, the mixing, the rolling, and how to make them look lovely. It is refreshingly demystifying.
I have earmarked the recipe for Winter Greens and Cornbread Quiche. The concept combines two ingredients that find themselves on my dinner table quite regularly. It seems that everyone I know has his own signature cornbread recipe, so it may be fun to see how my own recipe works in this setting. Plus, the numerous types of greens available at this time of year – collard greens, mustard greens, beet greens, chard, kale – allow for different combinations and different flavor profiles.
And, in truth, my Gram Perkins’ chocolate meringue pie is still one of my favorite dishes to eat and to make. It is loaded with flavors and memories of childhood and family meals. So, while I may not yet be able to make a solid determination as to whether cake or pie reigns supreme, I have dog-eared several pages in A Year of Pies and have every intention of cooking my way to a conclusion. As Kat Kinsman told us in the great dessert debate, “Cake, in its most exalted form, is showy. It is smooth-edged, statuesque, and…almost too pretty to eat. It is Carrie Underwood to pie’s June Carter (and frankly, who’d you rather have at your table?).”
A Year of Pies: A Seasonal Tour of Home Baked Pies, by Ashley English, is published by Lark Publishing, Asheville.