Book Review: United States of Pie by Adrienne Kane
Adrienne Kane's United States of Pie is a great introduction to the pie-baking trend that's making for very happy dessert-lovers from San Francisco to Brooklyn. Chock-full of recipes and tips, it'll have you baking up a storm.
You may take issue with American culture or politics (I often do!) but there's one thing, at least, we do right: pie. From the delicious, traditional fruit and nut pies of the Deep South to the uber-tasty, seasonal innovations of artisanal pieshops like Brooklyn's Four & Twenty Blackbirds, pie is where it's at. And a new book, United States of Pie by Adrienne Kane (Ecco, 2012) will help you get your pie on wherever you are.
What's it about? This book is the perfect celebration to mark the groundswell in pie-making that's hit the United States in recent years. I can't describe my glee at pie's glamorization - there's no better dessert than a cool slice of pie (or a hot one, if you're lucky!). This book takes you from step to step, region to region, until you're a pie-making expert.
The intro: It's funny how many folks discover craft as a way of dealing with some kind of displacement. In the author's case, she found herself living in New Haven, Connecticut when her husband got a teaching job at Yale University. Feeling homesick, she started to explore the food she'd loved as a child - the down-home, traditional cooking her South Dakota-borngrandmother seemed to produce so effortlessly.
Encouraged by her husband to explore the University's cookbook collection, she - after getting over her disbelief that Yale even HAD a cookbook collection - fell in love with the generations of pie cookery described within.
The projects: Pies of all levels of obscurity, made from all kinds of ingredients. If you love Southern food, you'll adore oddball pies like Sweet Potato Meringue. Like fruit? Try a rhubarb pie (called 'pie-plant' in colonial America), Californian Apricot-Ginger Pie, or treat yourself to an authentic Banana Cream Pie.
Readers from the UK might be interested to see recipes such as Bakewell Pie and homemade Mincemeat Pie - reflections of our country's shared history, as well as the diehard Angophilia of 19th century home cooks. (Fun fact: here in America we always made mincemeat pies full-size - never the mini-pies you see for sale in the UK).
Luckily, Adrienne is very clear about what she means by each ingredient - you'll have to invest in a set of cups to bake from this book, but at least you won't be left guessing as to what kind of salt or butter to use.
What else is there? As the book is divided regionally, each chapter starts off with a story about someone or something that makes that place special - whether it's the social outreach that Jen Biddle has managed to accomplish with her tasty Texas Pie Kitchen desserts, or the history of the Oregon-bred, California-grown olallieberry. Also, keep an eye out for red-tinged pages throughout the book - these hold details on ingredients and techniques you'll get to know as you wade deeper into pie-making. I loved the one called 'About Lard!'
Craft type: cooking up a storm!
As they say in my local pie shop...save your fork - there's pie!
[Image of Four & Twenty Blackbirds via Serious Eats.]