Finally time for Apple Pie--An illustrated recipe

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Our tree with ripe apples, which is usually in Mid-October.

However, the apples were nearly a month late to ripen this year. I was wondering if we'd ever have them for eating out of hand, chopping into yogurt with walnuts, making Waldorf salad, and making pies. But they are finally sweet enough. I decided to photograph the entire process of turning fresh apples into a pie:

Start by peeling and cutting up 6 medium-sized apples. (Of course if they are from your tree, they may be different sizes, so you may have to do more or maybe fewer.) I have tried not peeling them, but our particular apple has a kind of tough peel, so I am back to peeling. I quarter them, then peel the quarters. I cut into the inward side of each peeled quarter-apple in a broad V, to remove the core. Then I slice the quarters crosswise, or, if they are wide, I may cut each quarter in half before I make the final cuts. To help remember how many apples I have prepared, I set the part of the core with the stem attached aside for each--one stem = 1 apple.

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Here you can see the little row of core sections with stems attached, the bowl for peels and cores, and the bowl of finished, chopped apple.

I used the 1953 Joy of Cooking when I first made apple pie. It's recipe suggests mixing the apples with 1/2 -2/3 cups brown sugar, 1 to 1 1/2 Tablespoons of cornstarch, and (optionally) 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and/or 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg. Joy of Cooking authors, writing at a time when many more people were cooking from their own tree, and more kinds of apples were being sold. They are clear that apples vary. "Only very tart apples need the larger amount of sugar, only very juicy apples require the larger amount of cornstarch." "If the apples lack flavor, sprinkle them with 1 tablespoon of lemon juice."

In my case, I usually add the lower amount of sugar, the cinnamon, extra cornstarch (maybe 2 Tablespoons), and a couple of teaspoons of lemon juice, since my apples are sweet, juicy, and don't have any acid tang to add to their flavor. In any case, add everything you are going to add, toss well, and set apples aside.

I think making pie crust requires a very personal interaction of cook and recipe. I tried several recipes before I found the one that makes good crust for me, and offer you the one I chose, but you may find another is better for you.

My father's mother used lard, baking several pies at a time for her large family. Lard didn't appeal to me, but her crust was quite delicious. I used to use butter. Now I use Smart Balance Buttery Sticks, a vegan, no trans fats margarine, and it works fine. The recipe I use is 1 1/4 cups unbleached white flour, 1 stick of the margarine, and a few tablespoons of icy water (2? 3? something like that).

The first step is to cut up the margarine and put it in a bowl with the flour.

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There's the flour with the cold margarine cut up in it. Next to it is a quarter cup, with some water and an icecube or two. And behind that is 1/2 of the paper from a large brown paper grocery bag, laid out for a surface on which to roll the crust, and the rolling pin, at ready.

Next, I crumble the margarine into the flour, using my thumbs and fingers to rub the two materials together.There's nothing tricky at this point, as long as you do it while the margarine is still relatively cold.

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When the mixture looks like coarse meal, it is time to add the cold water. I pour a little in and begin immediately to try to form a ball of dough. This is the sort of tricky part, because you don't want to actually work the dough. No kneading in this recipe, or the gluten will begin to develop and the crust will be tough. Just push the stuff together, getting it all moist until it will form a ball that isn't sticky but will clean the bowl if you dab it on the unattached pieces.If you run out of water, add a tad more to the cup with the ice and pour from it, a bit at a time.. Then smear some flour on the working surface, and set the ball on it.

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OK, now the fun begins. Roll the crust, gently at first, then more firmly as you begin to develop the round think shape you need. Roll from one direction and then another. Change directions if the shape isn't round enough. Make it pretty thin and rather bigger than your pie pan, which should be standing at ready on the table by now.

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If your dough has the right amount of water in it, it won't stick too much, but be ready to add a little more flour to the surface, or even lift a corner of the dough after you begin to roll it (using a knife to lift it if needs be) and add more flour. Also, if the dough is correct, you can mend it where it tears or cracks just by placing one piece over another and rolling it, or by moistening both sides with a little water and then rolling.But hopefully, you will have no problems with either, or only minimal ones.

When you get a nice large round, fold it in half, lift it carefully, and place it in one half of the pie pan. This one is a Corningware pan. It looks small, because the sides are vertical instead of at an angle like most pie pans, but it holds the same amount of stuff. I know because I filled it and a regular pan with water, and they held the same amount.

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Now carefully lift the folded over half and ease it into the pan. You have to kind of push a little from near the edge inward to get the crust to fall into the pan without tearing. That is, don't try to stretch it, as that won't work. Next you will make the crimped edges that make the pie pretty. You fold the crust under about 1/2 to 3/4 inch above the edge of the pan, and use your fingers and thumbs to make the fluting pattern. Any extra crust, extending below the crimps, on the outside of the pan, cut off with a knife. At any low places, where there isn't enough dough to make the crimp, use water to glue on more rolled dough from the pieces you cut off elseshere, and use that to make the fluted edge. (The crimp, or flute, is made to the measure of your fingers, a very individual form, unlike that of a machine crimped crust.)

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Here I'm making the fluted edge. You can see that there will be some extra crust to cut off in this part of the edge.

I like to cover my pie with a Danish apple pie topping. I put any extra bits of trimmed off crust into a bowl and add a little brown sugar (1/3 cup?) some margarine cut into bits (3 Tablespoons), a little flour (2-3 tablespoons?) and maybe 3/4 teaspoon of cinnamon. This recipe isn't exact, because it depends on how much crust dough was left over to use and how much topping you want on the pie. I crumble the ingredients all together with my thumbs and fingers.

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I put the prepared apples into the crust and then crumble the topping evenly over the apples.

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In baking the pie, I follow the recipe in my old edition of Joy of Cooking. First bake the pie at 450 degrees F for 10 minutes, or a little bit longer, to let the crust brown a little bit. (If you are going to let it go for longer than 10 minutes, keep a close watch on it.) Then turn the oven to 350 and bake until done, from 3/4 to 1 hour total. To tell if it is done, you can insert a knife in an apple to see if there is any resistance .

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Ta dah! The finished pie. Hope yours turns out to be delicioius! Happy Thanksgiving!

Shell Bean Succotash

October_07_054_copyGardeners sometimes eat beans at the shell stage, which is after the beans have fully formed in the pods, but before they have hardened. Just about anything you can cook with dry beans, you can cook with shell beans--but faster. You won't find them in the market often, since they don't keep well, so they are mostly a gardeners' secret.

You could eat any common garden bean variety at this stage, but several are sold specifically for it. They often have these splashy red pods. This one is a bush bean called 'Taylor's Horticultural'. Sometimes you find a similar one called 'Tongue of Fire.' At the shell stage, the beans are white or white streaked with red. When they become dry beans, they are bown streaked with maroon, and are often called cranberry beans.

So, in any case, I planted these in July in San Francsisco and harvested them at the shell stage in the second half of October and early November. I grew about 10 cups of beans (out of the pods) in a bed about 6 by 3 or 4 feet. And then I experimented with cooking them. They were great as Boston baked beans, fine in a French soup with pistou, and made yummy succotash.

October_07_102_copy And here is the succotash I made, with some of the beans and an open pod. The recipes I used were from The Victory Garden Cookbook, Marian Morash, Alfred Knopf, 1982. I modified the succotash recipe to make it vegan so I could take it to a class potluck. The recipe, as modified: 2 cups of shell beans, 2 tablespoons of chopped onion, 1 cup chopped tomato (from a can), 2 cups corn kernels (from frozen), 2 tablespoons Smart Balance margarine, a bit of salt and pepper. Put beans and chopped onions in a saucepan and add a cup of water. Bring water to a boil, cover, and simmer 20 minutes. Stir in tomatoes and corn. Simmer for 10 minutes longer. Stir in margarine, salt and pepper to taste. (4-6 servings).

The original recipe suggested using a mixture of lima and shell beans, since the original native American dish was more likely to use limas, but limas don't do so well in cool SF, so I just cut to the chase and used all shell beans. Got me thinking about succotash, which I for some reason thought was a Native American dish from the Southeastern part of the continent. But when I looked it up, I found that it was a dish of the Nanaganset, of what is now Rhode Island, who spoke Algonquian. The word, in Algonquian, was m'sickquatash, and meant "corn not crushed or ground." So there you have it.

What was in the original succotash? Not bacon, which was in the recipe I used before I modified it, though maybe other meat. And I read that the tomatoes suggest a Dutch influence, since they were known to add tomatoes and other vegetables to succotash.

Final analysis: great crop; good eating. Worth doing again next year.

Eating the Weeds Creatively

I have recently purchased Paula Wolfert's book Mediterranean Grains and Greens. It includes many recipes that contain wild leafy greens that I have in my garden. I am still mostly in the "browse and wonder" phase of reading it, not quite to the "assemble some ingredients and make a recipe" phase. But tonight I am browsing at "Summer Harira with Purslane and Spices," a recipe from Morocco. And since there is a wide patch of purslane in my garden right now, I am thinking of weeding and cooking. The main ingredients of this recipe are lamb rolled in a spice mix, lentils, parsley, onion, tomatoes, rice, coriander, and 6 oz. of chopped purslane.

Or maybe I will serve Purslane and Baby Greens with Cucumber and Shredded Cabbage, a recipe from Israel. This is better, since it uses 3/4 lb. of purslane.

Purslane is eaten in many parts of the world, from Mexico to Pakistan, including many places around the Mediterranean. Paula Wolfert says it was a favorite food of Gandhi. It is a slightly succulent, slightly tart, actually rather tasty green that is high in vitamins and is one of the few vegetable sources of 3 Omega fatty acids. I have eaten it for years, but am still rarely able to eat up even what grows in my small garden plot. I put some in salads or make it as it might be cooked in Mexico (saute some onion, add chopped purslane, a little tomato sauce, and a small amount of chopped jalapeno pepper, cook till purslane is tender). Then I run out of ideas, but not out of purslane.

I am always impressed by the slowness with which we can change what we eat. Having a perfectly good food in ones garden, grown intentionally or allowed to grow because you know it is an edible weed, presents you with a fait accompli. There it is, so eat it.

The answer starts with cookbooks, continues with planning and resolve. I will, in the next couple of weeks, attempt to eat up the purslane, but I may end up helping to solve the problem by giving some away. Or, if all else fails, there is always weeding and composting (before the seeds form).

Fruit Flavored Sugar vs Fruit

I am in San Diego County, visiting my father. His peach tree has about 20 fruits. The boysenberry has about the same number of huge ripe berries, with many more on the way. There are 'Sungold' cherry tomatoes too, from plants I brought him. The banana tree is setting fruit and there will be pineapple guavas, loquats, lemons, oranges, tangerines, and avocados later on. Fruit in the stores here is excellent and inexpensive.

I keep trying to catch a thought about fruit. It is that we are always being offered fruit-flavored foods, or even fruit scented nonfood items, because it is felt we will be attracted to something that tastes or smells like fruit. And it seems we sometimes lose track of the fact that it is the fruit that is the source of this wonderful taste and smell. Not sugar with a bit of fruit flavor, but complex, vitamin rich, texturally interesting, juicy, fruit.

Makes sense in a northern climate, where fruit is so limited in season and expensive, that people would look for fruit-flavored substitutes, but when I can find and afford good fruit, I find myself going after the real thing. Not fruit-flavored soda, not jam, not candy, not chewing gum (and not fruit-scented air freshener or scratch and sniff strawberry scented something or other either), but juicy, sweet, delicious fruit.

Part of the problem may be that some of the real fruit we are offered is not very good. Peaches picked before they are ripe, strawberries bred to be beautiful, but not tender and sweet, and other insults to our tastebuds, drive us into the arms of the food processors who would convince us to buy sugar products with a fruit flavor.

Having said all of this, in a week when I am luxuriating in fresh berries, peaches, strawberries, blueberries, tomatoes, and more, I have to say that one of my most amusing taste experiences was provided by Jelly Belly candy. Four of us were camping on Angel Island. Night had fallen. We were sitting on a bench overlooking the Bay. I had Jelly Bellies in many flavors, including many fruits. We ate them slowly, one at a time, and wondered at the evocations of different foods as each artificially-flavored sugar candy hit our tastebuds. With the color of each candy invisible in the dark, we couldn't use that as a clue, and since, other than color differences, they are identical, each one was a total surprise. On the one hand, it was a delight, fun to do and fun to talk about. On the other hand, something about the dark and the calm of nature that surrounded us also let me feel how small, how imperfect, how minor an echo were the flavors of the candy compared to the actual objects.

New Articles & Old, Community Gardens

Last night I used finely chopped wild onions (Allium triquetrum) in a pasta sauce that included sundried tomatoes, garlic, and basil. The wild onion was from my backyard, and the basil was from the African Blue Basil plant that is still bearing leaves (and flowers!) in my community garden plot. Gave me great pleasure to be able combine the wild onion, a winter grower, with the homegrown basil, which would ordinarily be unavailable this early in the spring.

The wild onion, which I described in detail in Golden Gate Gardening (see sidebar of this blog) is a native of the Mediterranean basin that is quite weedy in our area, so if you have it, be careful to pick off most of the flowers before they can produce seeds. It has a triangular flower stem bearing several white flared bell-shaped flowers, a strong keel on the leaves, and a strong scent of onion. The whole plant is edible, including the flowers, which are nice on a salad. (Don't eat your weeds unless you are sure you have positive identification, and if you have something that you think might be a wild onion but it doesn't have a strong onion smell, don't eat it!).

African Blue Basil is the only perennial basil, though plants won't survive winter if they are too cold. The one I have at home seems to be dead, but the one in my community garden, where the winter has been milder, is still bearing leaves and flowers. I wrote about this plant last year for the Chronicle, and you can find that article in their archives at . In addition to being perennial, this basil is a large plant and the basil that has the best chance of producing a crop in fneighborhoods with foggy, cool summes. You will be able to find it in local nurseries this spring, though maybe not quite yet.

At risk of circular information sharing, since I think some of you who read this blog in the past few days found it through the SF Chronicle, I should report, that I had 2 more articles in the Chronicle Home Section this week. You can find them at . Click on "Home and Garden." On Wednesday, April 19th they published an article called "It Poured Indeed." I interviewed several professional gardeners and an arborist about the effect of all of the rain we just had on their business and the gardens they attend to. It's been hard on them too!

Today, on April 22, they published an article I wrote about growing vegetables and herbs in containers, in which I share information I learned the hard way years ago when I lived in an apartment building and before I had a community garden plot. I went and gathered (sandy) soil from a vacant lot, put the boxes where I would have to carry water to them in a watering can, and put them in a notch in the building that maybe got a couple of hours of sunlight a day. Even worse were the ones I put on the roof, where wind helped to dry out my too-porous soil and I had to climb stairs to water! I hope this article will help readers do the best they can with what space they have, or, if there isn't an adequate place to grow in containers, to find a community garden.

Incidentally, to search for an available community garden spot in San Francisco, you can log on to, the new organization that has just been formed to help community and backyard gardeners. The acronym stands for SF Gardeners Resource Organization.

There are community gardens all around our area, in many cities and towns, so a little searching should turn up something near you. In exchange for a small fee and participation in keeping the garden running smoothly (both the physical area and the group interactions) you can get a plot of land, smaller or larger depending on location and plenty of help from other gardeners in learning what to do.

I am headed off to Marin County in the morning to repeat the lecture, with slides, that I gave in at the San Francisco Sloat Nursery on Sloat Avenue last week. The topic is Mediterranean Climate Food Gardening. This one will be at 10 AM at the Sloat Nursery at 401 Miller Avenue in Mill Valley. Their website is

Eating Something New

I went to the San Francisco Farmers Market on Alamany Blvd. today, taking advantage of a rare Saturday not teaching and a rare hour free of rain. As I shopped, I was contemplating how we develop food preferences and how we learn to like new foods. I was also thinking about why we might choose to eat something new.

For my part, I have been trying to eat new foods that are better for me than others I might choose. Another important reason for me to try a new food is that I can grow it, in the space I have and in the San Francisco microclimate. Of course I have to also like it, but I am willing to give a new food a few chances if it meets first two criteria.

So, in the spirit of exploration, I have been trying out gai lon, or Chinese broccoli, a white-flowered relative of collards and Western broccoli. Several Chinese American students have brought it to class potlucks at City College of San Francisco over the past few years, prepared with oyster sauce. But I am a little slow to catch on sometimes, and it took a few times for me to get the point that it is a favorite in their culture and that I really liked it, and also to think: "Oh, we should be able to grow this here."

Last year I grew just a little gai lon, starting in midsummer, and the harvested leafy stems with flower buds were tender and delicious. Following my student's directions, I boiled them a minute, then stir-fried them, adding some oyter sauce to season them.

I have since bought them in the grocery (Sunset Super, which carries many Asian foods), and found the ones they carry less tender and flavorful than the ones I grew. So I have puchased seeds from Kitazawa Seed Company ( and am growing two varieties, an open pollinated one and 'Green Lance'. They seem to be less susceptible to snails and slugs than bok choy, though they are susceptible to root maggots and cabbage worms. Like sprouting varieties of broccoli, you cut the tender stems and wait for more to grow, repeating your harvest until the plant is spent. I plan to try starting seed from February through August and see how it does in each month.

Today I bought a bunch of gai lon at the farmer's market, since mine is not ready yet. The stems of the farmers market product are thinner than the ones I bought in the grocery, closer to the size of the ones I grew last year, so maybe they will be more tender. Now to see how they compare. I have a feeling that gai lon is about to become a new favorite in my garden cuisine!

Michael Pollan's new book

Went to hear a lecture by Michael Pollan today, the last lecture in a series of free lectures at the Goldman School of Public Policy, at UC, Berkeley. Pollan, the author of Second Nature and The Botany of Desire, has written a new book that tracks the sources of foods in several meals. It will be out next week, and is titled The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Ntural History of 4 Meals. Today, he spoke about corn in the American food system. It is subsidized in a way that encourages ever increasing production with falling prices. Sixty percent of the corn we grow is used to feed animals. Mr. Pollan has written in the past few years about the fact that corn disagrees with cows, so they are also fed antibiotics to keep them from getting sick. Overuse of the antibiotics threatens to make them less effective in treating our own diseases.

But in addition to being used in animal feed, corn products are now used in an ever-increasing number of our prepared foods.High fructose corn syrup in particular is suspected to contribute significantly to the rise in obesity and diabetes.

I learned a new term today "the fixed stomach problem." This is the food industry's term for the fact that we can only eat so much, so how can they continue to sell us more and more food, and so grow, as capitalist enterprises must. Years ago, when I was reading about food technology, I learned the terms "acceptibility" and "mouthfeel." These were terms used to evaluate new processed foods they were creating. These terms made me feel that the food industry was thinking of us as livestock to be offered a new kibble. Would we accept it? Did it feel right to our mouths? Not was it delicious, nutritious, delightful to eat, a product of a sustainable food system, but was it "acceptible." Now the term "fixed stomach" makes me feel not even like livestock, but like a commodity. How can the industry gain greater access to my stomach?

I feel that I live in a world full of endless stuff I don't need, and among the things I don't need are most of the products of the food technology industry. Every time I make a salad from my garden, or saute some homegrown greens, or eat fresh produce from a farmers market, I am denying the big food industry access to my stomach, and taking charge of what goes into it myself. I hadn't thought of it so bluntly, but today I felt an indignant need to take my stomach out of their perview, thank you.

Meanwhile, I am growing potato from seed. Really, from seed, rather than from whole small or cut pieces of tubers. I tried it once before, years ago, and reported my lack of success in Golden Gate Gardening, but this time it is going better. I will post a photo of the seedlings and a report on their progress next week.