Today, I put on Grandma’s apron and baked things for people I love.
I finally remembered to buy sugar so I can make bread next weekend.
The dough rises in the sun,
history of the human race inside it:
orgies, famines, Christianity,
eras when a man could have his arm
chopped off for stealing half a loaf.
I punch it down, knead the dark
flour into the light, let it bake,
then set it on the table beside the knife,
learning the power
cooks have over others, the pleasure
of saying eat.
by Helena Minton
from Poetry magazine, May 1981
Oh, Sunshine, how I love you. Robin McKinley’s fantasy is a hugely satisfying read on two levels. Sunshine is a baker in a cafe that I devoutly wish was a real place, preferably right down the block. The book starts by laying the scene with cinnamon rolls and early morning work. The characters are wonderful and rich, and the talk of flour and butter and recipes and people is so absorbing that you forget you’ve just started reading a fantasy novel. And then vampire things happen, and that part is just as good.
The language is slipshod, and I didn’t care one bit. I just read and read and read with great happiness until there wasn’t any more book to read. Now I’m hoping for a sequel (I’m not sure if there’s one planned or not – it could go either way). I don’t want to give away any more plot than that: cinnamon rolls as big as your head, and vampires that are true to lore but not like any vampires I’ve ever read about before. It’s wonderful. Read it.
I have a lot of cookbooks, and I use and enjoy most of them, but the ones I love the most are the ones that are all about a single food or technique. I love to hear people talk about discovering and mastering something that changed their life. Pie Every Day is one of my favorite finds ever, and my copy is covered in butter splotches and fruit juices and the tracks of my tears over failed crusts. I treasure it. This book has been out of print for years, which is a travesty, but it’s readily available used online.
Pat Willard started making pies in order to establish something for herself in a new environment where she wasn’t quite sure of herself. So she set about making lots and lots and lots of pies and the making of pies knit its way into her life and her pie-filled life found its way into this charming collection in hilarious stories. Sometimes they’re specific to one pie, sometimes they’re specific to eating, and sometimes they’re just really funny and it doesn’t matter where they fit in. For instance, pie as a way to soothe a frazzled neighbor:
“The only person I could entice at first was Fran, the mother of [my son’s] best friend. She was about to have her third child and was working part-time. On the day I called her for the first time with an offer of cherry pie and tea, her middle son had just washed her car keys down the drain-pipe in the backyard. ‘I’ll be right over,’ she said, and appeared five minutes later, carrying the defendant sideways across her swollen belly…When Fran looked out the window to see where the children were going, what she saw was [my son] stark naked, balancing on the top rung of an old plastic jungle gym, pretending to be Indiana Jones (his whip a strip of insulation he’d pulled from the doorjamb). ‘You see what he’s doing?’ she asked. ‘You want sugar or honey?’ I replied, gently coaxing her to the table.”
I’m not saying it’s anything I want happening to me, but it’s fun to read about in between recipes for Onion-Apple Tartlets, Red Grape Pie, and Blueberry-Whipped Cream Pie. My copy opens automatically to the page for Bittersweet Lemon Tart, a tried and true favorite and a real pleasure if you like your pie sour.
Bittersweet Lemon Tart
1 single 11-inch dessert tart crust, unbaked
2 medium lemons, ends cut off
1/3 cup white rum
2/3 cup sugar
3 large eggs
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature and cut into 8 pieces
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the slicing disk, process the lemons (peels and all) until finely cut. Transfer to a medium bowl and throw out all the seeds you can find. (a blender also works fine for this, as long as you slice the lemons first)
Pour the rum over the lemons, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let sit for at least 30 minutes or overnight. The longer the lemon mixture sits, the more heady (and potent) the flavor.
Return the lemons to the food processor and process the soaked lemons until finely chopped. Add the sugar, eggs, and butter and process until the butter is completely incorporated (the mixture will look curdled).
Place the prepared tart pan on a baking sheet and pour in the filling.
Bake for 30 minutes in the center of the oven. Increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees and bake for 10 minutes more or until the crust is golden.
Call your friends and sit down for a slice of flaky, golden, rum-soaked lemony joy.