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On Pie. But Mostly Crust

For any who’ve known me long, you’re well aware of my fascination with food. If you didn’t know that . . . well, now you do! So I find it an especial treat when I can mix my passion for stories and my passion for food (and no, that does not always mean food in the shape of a book). I’m talking food inspired by stories. There’s a ton of it out there, cookbooks galore based off books. Harry Potter, A Song of Ice and Fire (aka, Game of Thrones), Redwall, Outlander, Mitford – the list just goes on.

So one day I thought, why not make a cookbook with recipes from my own stories? And I said to myself, “Self, that’s a capitol idea. You do that.” I have mentioned this project of mine several times before, especially in my On Custard post (which was, sadly, inconclusive on the subject of custard). But it turns out to be a little more complicated than one might think.

Or maybe it’s just me, because I have to be complicated about it. After all, food is a big deal. Culturally, it’s a majorly big deal. Most cultures have very distinctive dishes and flavor profiles and even cooking methods. And I wanted to be as authentic as I could during my (ongoing) worldbuilding phase on Falconsbane . That means I have a specific climate to work with, and trade restrictions. It means I can’t just throw together a few recipes of dishes I think are good and call it a day. Well, I could, but that would hardly be satisfying. I have to be more thoughtful about the people and the land they live in, and I must tell you, it is positively invigorating. Especially since so much of it coincides with the projects we’re doing at home of working with raw, natural ingredients.

Which brings me to pie. Pie is something I was never a fan of growing up (turns out, it was the crust. Pie crust made with shortening is vile, and store-bought pie is hardly a step above chicken food. After making an all-butter crust years and years and years ago, I discovered the true glory of pie). My family loves pie, and always has. In fact, it seems to be a fairly popular food item, not to mention wildly versatile. I have an entire cookbook thick as my da’s thumb dedicated to pie. It’s an ancient dish with history behind it. And it was something that just naturally fit into the world of Falconsbane without really being invited. Pie just happened.

It all started with the story’s main character, Roscha, and his favorite food, which he stated quite clearly were the hand pies made by the head cook on base where he lives. OK. Noted. So I made up a list of different fillings (which I have yet to try all of) and thought at the time that I was all right. I mean, I’ve made lots of pies over the years. How hard can it be?

I was wrong. As Kvothe (The Wise Man’s Fear) so eloquently put it: “Pie is complicated.” Anyone who’s tried making a perfect apple pie will wholeheartedly agree. Pie IS complicated. Especially when you want to make it the olde fashioned way, because there are things like flour and butter and salt in it, and everything else besides.

So when I say I had to go back to the basics. I mean it literally. Butter is simple enough, and what’s better is that we’ve got a supply of the homemade stuff already. Salt is less so. Most of what Americans use is chemically produced, usually with added iodide. Then there’s sea salt, which is naturally produced, but I had to keep in mind that the place I’m working with, Phen, has no access to salt water. Not only that, but trade is restricted and expensive. Sea salt would be a rare and specialty item, not something you throw into your oatmeal every morning. Which means the next best option is rock salt (something I briefly mentioned in an earlier post about trade). Fortunately, the country’s western border is a mountain range rich in resources, salt mines among them.

That was two problems solved. The biggest: flour. Now, I’m going to warn you right now that flour is a subject vast as any ocean, with a lot of history and development over the years (not all to the good, either). I will attempt not to wax long on the subject, in the interest of keeping on topic. Suffice it to say, the flour we know today on supermarket shelves is not the same flour from even just a couple hundred years ago. Pure whole wheat flour goes rancid fairly quickly because of the fatty acids in the germ, so around the time of the industrial revolution and wide distribution of pre-ground flours, the development of refined flour began, pulling more and more of the wheat apart, adding more and more enrichments, until finally we have the shelf-stable ingredient we have today.

But such things didn’t exist in ancient times, and they don’t exist in Phen. So I had to go deeper. Deeper than commercial whole wheat flour (which still isn’t ‘whole’ wheat, because fatty acids in the germ). Deeper even than buying commercially developed and cultivated wheat berries and grinding them myself.

For an ancient ingredient, you must go to an ancient grain. And in my research, I learned about einkorn, which is an ancient grain that can grow in Phen’s climate. It has a lower yield, but it’s a hearty plant. And delicious, I might add.

We got some einkorn wheatberries just recently, and I blitzed them through our mill (the hand grinder is currently not attached to the counter, so I yielded on this level of convenience). Fresh ground flour, ✔. Homemade Jersey butter, ✔. Rock salt (just used some Himalayan pink because we had it on hand at the time of the experiment) ✔. I used a recipe from one of our cookbooks, played with it a little (because some of us can’t help ourselves), and got less than stellar results. It didn’t hold together well and leaked my last jar of honey ginger peach jam all over. I think my problem was that I accidentally put twice as much water in as I was supposed to. The second attempt felt way better from the start.

This dough, right here, was the most beautiful pie dough I’ve ever had the privilege of handling. Fresh ground flour is an entirely different animal to work with than the commercial stuff to begin with, which makes yeast bread a challenge, but pie dough, as it happens, a DREAM. Yes, it has gluten, which is the culprit of elastic-y dough and a monkey wrench for light, tender crusts. But it also has all the rest of the stuff, too, like bran that cuts through gluten strands. And other science-y things. I rolled and re-rolled this three or four times, and it developed no elasticity. It was just as lovely at the last as at the first. A score in my book? Oh, yes.

I’ll admit, this was an end-of-day-after-work project, so I didn’t mess around with fancy fillings. It was the crust I was after, anyway, so I just tossed together some diced apple and shredded cheddar (especially since I’d used up the last of my honey ginger peach jam on the first batch. Sadness.) I’ve never had such an easy time sealing hand pies/empanadas. Double score. Then I tossed them in a hot oven for a few minutes, and voila!

Are they not gorgeous? That crust is so buttery, so tender, with a divine nuttiness . . . I just want to make and eat this all the time now. No wonder Roscha likes them so much. And can you imagine them filled with strawberries and basil? Raspberries? Spiced pumpkin? Mushrooms and onions? Oh, the possibilities!

All in all, I’d say this was a rousing success, and I’m stoked to try more!

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