Maybe cooking is

Down Home Cookin’: Tea Rooms & Pies

Posted on: June 7, 2010

Rolling Thunder is a notorious Memorial Day weekend spectacle along Constitution Avenue in D.C.  Albeit a patriotic tribute, it’s one of the reasons I headed south to visit Charleston, South Carolina last weekend with my family.  Another was the seafood, like this tasty appetizer at the waterfront Fleet Landing Restaurant.

The presentation of Fleet Landing restaurant's crabcake and fried green tomato appetizer es magnifique!

Another was the beauty.  Charleston (and frequently Charleston Place Hotel specifically) is named one of the top destination wedding spots in the country.  It’s not hard to see why.

One of the many Charleston gatehouses brimming with flowers.

And yet another was the company.  I met up with my childhood friend Katie, a cellist in the Spoleto Festival Orchestra, for brunch at 82 Queen.

Is it crab benedict if you get Hollandaise, but no egg? Family brunch + Katie.

I’ll be upfront.  I was on vacation time.  There was no time to think about me cooking in Charleston.  The only cookbook I cracked open was the Second Presbyterian’s merely to browse, which has some tempting family recipes that I tried at its tea room lunch.

I was oblivious to church tea rooms until I ate my lunch there with a full bluegrass band playing 1930s tunes.  The church serves time-intensive dishes made fresh daily from its kitchen.  Items on the menu include Southern favorites such as okra soup, gazpacho, biscuits, salads, chicken salad sandwiches, shrimp roumalade, and to-die-for desserts such as almond torte, chocolate vanilla cheesecake, and carrot cake.  And they take orders via phone for carry out!  (Whoever thought of carry out from the church/the equivalent of your mama’s kitchen?)  But it’s usually for a limited time during the year to fundraise or support a charity.

Yesterday, right before my neighborhood blackout (overloaded grid) and my plans for cooking dinner were derailed, I was happily baking my favorite dessert for the first time: pies.  Per Jillian Michael’s mantra that a great fitness plan is one that can be adopted into your daily regimen (I know the opposite of exercise is making pie, but bear with me), I believe that a great recipe is one that can be modified to fit your daily routine.  So my confession is that I didn’t make the pie crust from scratch.  But the filling was no can, indeed.  That was all my handiwork.

In making my blueberry pie, I first pre-baked the crust to give it a more solid base.  After pinching the dough around the edges, I put some aluminum foil in the center and then put a round CorningWare French White dish in the middle to prevent a bubbling up of the crust during baking.  I probably only baked it for about 8 minutes or so at 450 degrees.

To get frankly Alton Brown style, thermal energy makes blueberries expand and burst open.  For blueberry pies, there are two instances during which this happens: 1) boiling and 2) baking.  Therefore it makes sense to add a layer of fresh blueberries at the bottom of the pie that will burst in the oven.  The rest of the filling is created by boiling blueberries, sugar, flour, and lemon juice until it’s thick and dark purple.  I used lime instead of lemon juice to give my pie a summer tang and poured the boiled layer on top of the fresh blueberries.

Blueberry pie filling

For the top crust, I decided to get creative and make pretty lattice-work with star cut-outs.  I had a small amount of leftover dough, and in my inventive mood, I chopped up a Jazz apple (a relatively new breed of apples) and made a mini version of apple pie.

Blueberry and apple pies. Check out those hand-cut stars!

Pies are perfect for summer, and any other time of the year if you ask me.

Thought for the week: “Don’t get fancy. Have you cooked an apple pie? You don’t know what you did wrong? Do this: Take two or three apples. Put them on a table. Study them.” – Paul Prudhomme, 1940-

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