On Saturday, October 10, 2015, the BC Fall Fruit Pie Competition drew over a dozen delicious examples of seasonal celebration to the table. As with all things, there needs be a winner, and in this case, it was very much a “sur-pies” victory. See attached recipe.
While I love to cook, and definitely enjoy a good dessert, the final course has never been where my attention is at in the kitchen. Pasta and dough have been a “go” for a while now, but the pastry I have traditionally left to the pros—thanks Mom et al. Over the course of the past week though, my relationship with pastry has been transformed from one of benign neglect to active nemesis to begrudging collaborator.
Pie making is an art to which I have traditionally been indebted to a pre-made Tenderflake shell, and an admitted passion for crumble topping. Recently that changed when the friendliest of farmers at the Kitsilano Farmers Market presented me with three bags of fruit, and a request—“Would I enter the Fall Fruit Pie Competition using his “secret” ingredient?”
Naturally, I agreed on the spot. After having been poked, prodded, tested and tried by countless chefs as past editor of a hospitality trade magazine, here was a challenge from a farmer! That said, big challenge, as a pastry chef I am not—or any chef for that matter, but I do love a good pie.
Moreover, Walter Harvey, the biodynamic driving force behind Harvey’s Orchards in Cawston, BC, has wowed me for years with his harvest of cherries, peaches, pears and apples, so whatever his secret ingredient might be, I knew it would be interesting.
So back to those three bags of fruit in Walter’s hands.
The first held the biggest, firmest mix of Mutsus, Gala and Grannies imaginable and the second a good pounds worth of crab apples which I would not end up using because frankly, they’re bitter and persnickety to core. It was third bag that I am convinced held the magic—though the quince is not a pretty fruit by any means, and I pity anyone who tries biting into one. I pity more the person who does not persevere though because quince is rare delight, just not eaten raw.
That said, this hard, yellow skinned fruit is a forgotten delight with multiple origin stories proclaiming its alchemical appeal. Though while raw the coarse white flesh is extremely astringent, and will sting open cuts akin to a citrus fruit, quince, much like onions or garlic, loses its bitterness and becomes sweeter when cooked—unlike onions or garlic, quince also turns pink when cooked as a jam.
Needless to say, I have learned a thing or two about quince since, but that day, only a week before pies would be due at the Comox Farmers Market, I knew as little about quince as I did about making pastry.
There are I imagine, natural born bakers, but not being in their number, I called upon a pair I consider to be so: my Mom and Duncan Holmes, a food scribe sans parallel and a source of inspiration in all things kitchen-related (particularly the final course) for long enough to be considered either a nuisance or a persistent culinary acolyte. Me, not him. He’s 80, Australian and as impeccably adept as he is innately charming.
My mother on the other hand, reminded me, as she has the few times I have actually tackled making a pie shell from scratch, that the best recipe was on the back on the Tenderflake box—and that her crumble topping was the easiest thing going. I will not argue with her on the first as it matched Duncan’s dictated recipe to the proverbial “T”, but the crumble does take some finessing for final texture.
As for the filling, that’s where I had the farmer’s secret weapon and a simple ratio—one part quince to three parts apple—and a bit more experience. For the record, fruit crumbles, sans bottom crust pastry nonsense are still where it’s at for quick seasonal snippets of final course awesomeness. Good fruit with a few spices is something I have enjoyed ever since Caren McSherry introduced me to tawny-port soaked mango halves with cracked pepper on the grill.
To work with the tartness of the grated quince and thinly sliced apples, I grated some fresh ginger into the mix, and added handful of diced dried cranberries for a hit of colour and sweetness throughout—a half cup of brown sugar ensured that there would be no wince to the quince in the final product. (Note: Being a novice, I peeled the quince, but it turns out that’s not needed.) My only other flavour add was a bit of cinnamon freshly grated and a pinch of salt, because, well, good luck and flavour balance.
Two demo pies later, we had a pie to market for the Saturday competition at the Comox Farmers Market. It was not an attractive pie, but unlike its predecessors, its crust had not been incinerated, and overall looked Thanksgiving table-worthy—good enough for Mom, good enough for the judges.
To say that other competitors’ standards were set that much higher on presentation, would understate my lack of presumption in taking home a prize. I did, however, note that I was not alone in my love of crumble top simplicity. That said, some of the other pastry work on the dozen pies entered was weep-in-your-apron, pie shop-worthy—light as air latticeworks and perfectly formed.
So, what elevates a less picturesque pie to nab first place amongst such competition? Well, since taste did account for a full 50 per cent, I definitely owe my ‘sur-pies’ victory to a farmer, a friend and family in equal parts. If there is a science to this baking thing after all, that is a pretty basic formula to follow.
Walter’s smile when I brought him in the ribbon, recipe and demo pie #2 (substantial, but alas crust trimmed) the next day at the Kitsilano Farmers Market was fairly priceless—as was the speed with which he had it plated and roaming about the market.
Moreover, as this is the second year Walter’s proffer of quince has lifted someone’s to victory in the annual fall fruit pie competition, I have to think that is where the real secret is at—aside from Mom’s crumble top of course.
Mostly, I am giving the thanks to the farmer on this one though because on a Thanksgiving weekend with family three time zones away, the challenge and passed along secret ingredients alike, carried the meaning of the holiday for me.
The win was just the icing on the pie. (Yes, I know, a mixed metaphor and rarely done, but I told you I was a novice baker.)
That said, here is the winning recipe to play with—have fun with that pastry!
2 1/2 cups organic all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp salt
1/2 lb. Tenderflake
1 Tbsp white vinegar
to fill 1 cup cold water (*in addition to egg and vinegar)
Whisk together dry ingredients, before cutting in room temperature Tenderflake with pastry knife until oatmeal like.
Whisk together egg, white vinegar and cold water. Slowly stir into mixture, adding only enough to make the dough cling together—best results are approximately half.
Shape into a ball, cut in two, reshape in two balls then wrap and refrigerate for at least two hours, ideally over night.
2 cups quince, peeled, coarsely grated
6 cups apples (Harvey’s Orchards seasonal best), cored, peeled, sliced thinly
1/2 cup brown sugar
4 Tbsp dried cranberries
2 Tbsp grated ginger
2 Tbsp organic all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp cinnamon, freshly grated
Blend all ingredients together in a large bowl.
1 cup organic, all-purpose flour
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, chilled
Cut butter into small cubes then add to a bowl and stir with flour and sugar. Use a fork to break the mixture into a crumble and or a pastry knife.
Assembly: Remove one ball of dough from the fridge and allow to warm slightly below rolling out on a floured work surface. Turn and flour each time the size doubles, then fold twice gently and move to pie pan. Unfold gently and shape, cutting off excess crust below the rim and shaping as desired.
Add pie filling, then top generously with crumble mixture. Move to bottom rack of preheated 375 F oven for 60 minutes, and cover top with foil if it begins to darken. Remove for foil final few minutes of baking.