Summer is just about ready to shake the sand out of its beach towel, retire its flip-flops, and move the blue jar of Noxzema to the rear of the medicine cabinet. Save for one mediocre soft serve ice cream cone, summer seems to have passed me by. Having actively avoided lakefronts, boardwalks, and swimming pools for the past three months, I will admit to adjusting my running route in order to cross parched lawns with rotating sprinklers. Socially distant al fresco dining does not call to me nor does the Good Humor Man’s revamped ice cream truck jingle. Lackluster chocolate éclairs and anemic toasted almond bars have no place in my Summer of 2020. There’s more than enough chaos to absorb; ice cream novelties that pale in comparison to their former selves aren’t worth the energy.
What I’ve been noticing and appreciating more this year than in summers past are the Jersey tomatoes. It’s taken most of the summer to arrive at Heirloom and Beefsteak perfection, but at long last I’m living the tomato dream. BLTs worthy of accelerated cholesterol, Caprese salads dotted with fragrant basil, and my favorite, heirlooms lounging on a buttery pie crust. Real tomatoes can certainly stand on their own with little more than a generous hit of kosher salt and coarse black pepper. But summer tomatoes are accustomed to the heat, their sweetness intensified by slow roasting in the oven or as part of an open-faced pie. The tomatoes of late August are the ones that ruin it for the rest of the year. No matter how intently we cradle and prod, sniff and squeeze, the tomatoes that fill the produce aisles from fall to winter to spring will taste nothing like summer tomatoes. Which is why we need to stop and smell the tomatoes before the season packs up, leaving us with tomatoes as tasty as wax fruit.
The humble buttermilk pie was once a popular go-to dessert, particularly in Midwestern and Southern farmhouse kitchens. Composed of readily available ingredients, the tangy pie often took center stage at baking contests, snagging blue ribbons and bragging rights for the baker.
Traditional buttermilk pies tend to reflect a heavy hand with the sugar, offset only by the sour notes of the dairy and a splash of lemon juice. I’ve always found the pie cloyingly sweet, and not in a good way. Adding fresh fruit to the mix enhances the filling, making this a stand-out four seasons pie. (It also helps temper the sweet custard.) Taking the time to blind bake the crust ensures a crisp pie shell. Summer fruit such as berries, peaches, nectarines, and apricots elevate this pie from dowdy to swanky. Pair it with a tall glass of something icy and pretend you’re on vacation.
Summertime and the living is not easy. In August, I'm painfully aware that the cool kids have stocked their fridges with the ultimate end-of-summer provisions. Burrata and fennel, a rainbow of radishes, dimpled tomatoes dubbed heirlooms. I'm happy with the basics; two-tone corn, deeply red tomatoes, and an armful of the freshest basil kindly gifted by my neighbor with the verdant thumb. At home, both the mercury and the humidity are battling each other like a pair of Rock'em Sock'em Robots. Turning on the oven is necessary but somewhat of a luxury. It is in August when we remember the reasoning behind icebox cakes, no-bake pies and fruit cocktail suspended in gelatin. In August one must choose between oven and stove-top, outdoor grill or in today's climate, contactless pick-up.
I'm more likely to pick-up a dog-eared cookbook than scroll through an on-line menu. Joanne Chang's Pastry Love offers inspiration with a recipe for a savory scone. Realizing my fridge boasts only 50% of the recipe's title, I forge ahead, improvising as I go. Kernels from a lonely ear of corn are happy to join in the mix. Basil steps in as Chive's understudy. A ripe Jersey tomato waits patiently as the over-sized scone bakes, filling the kitchen with a fragrance I'll miss when August tumbles into September.
Tuesday’s pelting rain and Wizard-of-Oz winds wreaked havoc. We were luckier than most. The good news is the tree branch carnage strewn across our yard is inconvenient, but not dire.
More importantly, two trays of hand pies exited the oven before the power went down. The surprising news is our power outage snuck up on us when we least expected it, a full day after the storm blew through. Undeterred, I made my way down the stairs on Thursday morning, hands firmly grasping the railing. Standing in the kitchen doorway, silence. Not a single appliance purred. Cautiously dipping one toe into the darkness, I tiptoed towards the counter, hoping to avoid the dreaded stubbed digit. Footwear would have been prudent, but fatigue diminishes one’s logic. Fumbling for the Chemex, I blindly folded the filter paper with the skill of an origami master. The electric burr grinder dozed, dreaming of freshly roasted Arabica beans. The ground coffee chamber offered a mere whisper of caffeinated dust. Chewing on coffee beans seemed overly dramatic and bad for one’s teeth. Bemoaning my state of cuppa joe deprivation, a morning pie (baked just hours before)offered consolation. Bad news? No coffee. Better news? Pie. Even better news? You can link to the recipe here.
Stay safe and remember, Mother Nature always wins.
Professional Pie-isms & Seasonal Sarcasm