Following an extended stay in double-thick brown paper bags, the first of the June peaches are finally fragrant, but stubborn. Opting to remove the skins requires a brief spa treatment; a dunk in simmering water followed by an icy cool down. The stone fruit slips out of its pinky-yellow fuzzies and blushes.
It’s a little too early for my favorite freestones, the Red Havens, but a roadside stand tempted with wicker baskets of peaches and half a bushel later, I’m reaching for my paring knife. There is little fanfare in the 2020 kick-off to peach pie season. Traditionally my dad’s pie of choice for Father’s Day, this year the holiday quietly slipped away. Thick wedges tumble one after the other into a deep Pyrex bowl. Mostly ripe, the fruit leaves a stream of juice running down my fingers, heading south from palm to wrist to elbow. Even before the sugar hits the bowl, the peaches are swimming against a tide of rosy syrup. Hoping to maintain a crisp blind-baked crust, the fruit takes a ‘time out’ in a colander. Reducing the splash party of juices down to a thick syrup, the fragrance is unmistakable; summer vacation.
The first peach pies of June always aligned with homework free afternoons and Red Light-Green Light after dinner. Mostly, they conjure images of a crowded dining room table and curls of charcoal briquette smoke snaking through the window screens. Peach pie played a recurring role throughout the summer, but particularly on Father’s Day. Sliced into generous wedges, the still-hot fruit could not contain itself, colliding with scoops of vanilla ice cream and blistered pie crust.
I was able to eke out three peach pies from my farm stand haul. Two were lattice- topped. One was crowned with cornmeal-flecked biscuits, a tribute to my father who devoutly believed in peach pie but also revered old-fashioned biscuit shortcake. Assuring me that both pie and shortcake make equally agreeable breakfasts, my father's legacy lives on whenever leftover dessert allows. Any pie that wakes up early and stays up late is my kind of pie. Ditto for biscuits.
Bakers, pre-heat your ovens. On Monday, June 15th at 2 pm, Bakers Against Racism launches pre-sales. The brain child of pastry chefs Paola Velez, Willa Lou Pelini, and chef Rob Rubba, the virtual worldwide bake sale has prompted the participation of thousands of bakers spanning 15 countries and upwards of 170 U.S. cities. Proceeds from the bake sale will support charities promoting racial justice. I have chosen to support the following charities:
Until Freedom, a charity working towards criminal justice reform, gun violence prevention, immigrant rights, and cultural engagement.
Facing History and Ourselves, focusing on education by encouraging students to explore the complexities of history while making connections to contemporary issues.
A few timely thoughts…
Working professionally in the food industry since college and writing about it on a weekly platform since 2013 has been a labor of love. Anyone familiar with my history knows that I often talk about my baking mentor, Jessie. Writing about Jessie is always a delicate dance because it reeks of privilege. I can only tell you that it was a privilege being raised in a family where Jewish culture and Black culture overlapped in the kitchen, resulting in a passion for cooking and baking, and ultimately impacting my career path. Jessie taught me many things other than how to bake a pie. She instilled in me the fact that food brings people together.
I have worked in all kinds of kitchens, sometimes as the sole female alongside fast- talking, four-letter-word slinging line cooks. I have been the boss and I have also been the dishwasher.
Have I been lucky? You bet. Privileged? Undoubtedly. But have I done enough with my privilege? Hardly. With more leanings towards pound cake than chest pounding, my involvement in politics spanned a single term. Serving as President of the high school French club, it was rumored that my win was tethered to the mousse au chocolat I prepared for our club dinner.
My bookshelves have always been crammed full of books authored by a variety of kitchen champions. Now more than ever, the storytellers and wordsmiths on those shelves deserve attention. Edna Lewis, Michael Twitty, James Porterfield, and Molly O’Neill have much to say about food history, transporting us to sleepy corners of America, introducing us to highly touted African American chefs and also quiet home cooks.
The reality is I will never say enough or do enough or bake enough to dramatically impact a divided world. However, in creating something that longs to be shared, I attempt to bring people together, to encourage conversation. It’s a start.
Professional Pie-isms & Seasonal Sarcasm