Sunday, September 2, 2012

Pie: Buttermilk, Blackberries, Birthday

For those of you who are surprised to see a post from me now that school has started and I have even warned of my hibernatory hiatus from these pages, don’t get too excited, or expect me back anytime soon.  I started this post a month ago. My pie—my birthday pie!—went awry.  So I postponed this post until I made it again. I really wanted you to have this simple but superb and unusual recipe. I cannot remember where I got it—possibly from a coworker in California in the 1970s, where I picked up my recipe for shortbread, for black walnut cake, for chiles rellenos and a few others. I’m not really sure, but I am sure that this pie is worth making over when you forget to add the butter. Which is what I did.

I was, of course, talking on the phone, the little rectangle with the rounded corners (we now all know what that means) scrunched between my shoulder and ear. Honestly, I cook and talk on the phone all the time. But now that I think about it, I have had another baking omission while on the phone; years ago I left the sugar out of a cheesecake, which I was making to take to a party. I didn’t realize it until I served and tasted it--and came home to find the sugar measured out on the counter. This time I didn’t realize it until I looked into the oven and saw the top of my pie blown up like a balloon and really dark, almost burned—it is always dark, but this was something else—and saw the melted butter sitting forlorn in its little pot on stove.

Both times, happily enough, the final product was interesting. I am almost tempted to leave the butter out of this pie again—the filling separated, much like an old Pennsylvania German favorite of me, my mother, and grandmother, lemon cake pie (I’ll make it for the blog sometime), and it tasted really good.  Hence the photos of two pies, and two slices of pie. The one with the blackberries is the butterless attempt; the one with raspberries is the “correct” one.

Below is how I started off my post on buttermilk, blueberries, and birthday a month ago, when I was still in LC. What a difference a month makes. Or a stick of melted butter.


I do love alliteration. And of course, pie. And berries of all sorts. And dairy. So it all came together last week on my birthday. As a child I always asked for pie on my birthday—apple, to be precise—and now that I make my own birthday desserts, nothing much has changed except for the kind of pie itself. I’m more likely these days, when my favorite local apples are not yet in but we are still enjoying berry season, to make a blueberry or mixed berry pie. This year, not really thinking about making a pie, I picked up a cup of blackberries and on the morning of my birthday I thought, what would this make a nice garnish for? A traditional custard pie, of course. Or a lemon curd tart. But I had buttermilk on hand (as always) and wanted to use it up before I leave LC (sadly, time to think about that). So an old-fashioned buttermilk pie, a tangy riff on a chess pie, seemed a good and practical match for the blackberries.
Buttermilk is, of course, not what it used to be; it’s not really the milk from churning butter. It’s more of a constructed product. But it is good in its own way, a kind of light, liquid sour cream.  It is great stuff for dips and salad dressings, for marinating chicken, for making tender cakes. I don’t drink it. But then again, I don’t drink milk either, and never did. Ever.
But milk transformed is one of my favorite things, and this is a favorite pie.

Buttermilk Pie

The baking time on this pie will depend greatly on your oven. Watch it, and use your judgment.  It should not be jiggly, but only just firm. Test as you would a custard, by inserting a knife half-way between the center and the edge. Serves 6.

Pastry for a 10” pie plate or 9” deep dish pie plate. You can make an all-butter pastry or make one with 1 ½ c flour, a big pinch of salt, 6 T butter, and 2 T lard or shortening, and cold water to bring it together.

1 c sugar
3 T flour
¼ salt
3 eggs, separated
2 c buttermilk
2 tea pure vanilla
8 oz (1 stick) butter, melted and slightly cooled

Preheat the oven to 425 F.

Line the pie dish with the pastry and chill in the freezer. Mix the sugar, flour, and salt and set aside. In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks and whisk in the dry ingredients. Add the buttermilk, vanilla, and melted butter, whisking til smooth. Beat whites stiff but not dry and fold into the custard mixture, blending well. Pile the filling into the chilled shell. Bake the pie at 425F for about 15 minutes, covering the top with a sheet of foil if it gets too brown; reduce to 325F for another 25-30 minutes, until the pie is golden and a knife inserted midway comes out clean.

Let the pie cool on a rack. I prefer this pie at warm room temperature. Do refrigerate leftovers, but take it out of the refrigerator 20 minutes or so before eating them to take the chill off and get the texture back to the way it should be. Serve plain or with fruit.