Peggy

Flea Market Bear

I found this bear at the Brussels flea market while visiting my Brussels-based sister. The Brussels flea market is a flea market extravaganza, every day of the week in a huge square, with offerings ranging from curated goodies set out in booths to random odds and ends laid out on blankets on the cobblestones. That’s the environment in which I found the bear, jumbled among what seemed dubious booty from an attic cleanout. The bear doesn’t look handmade, though he was certainly well-loved and I was happy to rescue him. (Information about the Brussels flea market is easy to find online if you’re a flea-market aficionado planning a trip to Belgium.)

His outfit must have once had suspenders, but all that’s left is one button. Perhaps the ensemble was meant to be an old-fashioned bathing costume.

His face is not too expressive.

At first I thought he was a cat, but I realized he has no tail–except for a random yarn tail at his waist on the left.

PeggyFlea Market Bear
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Heirloom of the Future

My mother is constantly busy with her needlework, and kits for needlework projects have become most welcome gifts. A kit usually provides more yarn than needed to complete the project, so a devotee of needlework kits ends up with masses of leftover yarn, good-quality wool in a dazzling array of colors. My sister Penny is also a dedicated craftsperson, and has found a use for the leftovers. Inspired by the Frugal Knitter’s Scarf I invented as a knitting project in Murder, She Knit, Penny (yes, she is the inspiration for Pamela’s daughter Penny in my series), created a frugal crocheter’s afghan.

Photo courtesy of Penny, with the unexpected bonus of Murder, She Knit waiting on the arm of the sofa for a cozy read!

Here’s another view of the afghan.


PeggyHeirloom of the Future
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Antique Kitten

I found this kitten at an estate sale billed as offering “Americana.” Indeed the owners of the house had assembled a collection of silver pieces that looked as if Paul Revere could have made them, as well as lovely old wooden furniture and folk art. I don’t think this kitten is handmade but she certainly is old. At the sale she was sitting in a highchair made of wood so aged it must have served many generations of babies.

She even has a tail.

And such a sweet face.

PeggyAntique Kitten
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Vintage Woven-Square Blanket

I found this interesting blanket at a tag sale. The color combination struck me as quite old-fashioned, and soon afterwards an article in the Real Estate section of the New York Times included a photo of a bathroom in a 1924 house featuring exactly the same color scheme: tile in the lighter shade of green with trim in the darker shade of green–and salmon-pink plumbing fixtures! I suspect that bathroom had been updated some time after its1924 construction–modernized to reflect the happening colors of the 1940s or 1950s.

The other interesting thing about the blanket is that it looks handmade, as if it was assembled from individually woven squares and then finished with a crocheted edge.

You can see in this close-up of the reverse side that the squares have been sewn together, leaving little yarn tails at the corners. I did a bit of online research, looking for evidence of weaving kits that people might have used for this craft in the past, but I couldn’t find anything. If anyone reading this knows of weaving kits as a bygone hobby, please tell me. You can get in touch by clicking on the “Contact” tab.  Thanks!

Since I posted this, I’ve received a very interesting response, from Barbara Minerd, a retired professor of visual communication. She wrote, “Your photo blanket was woven on a ‘Weave-It’ loom made by Hero Manufacturing Co., Inc., in Middleboro, Massachusetts. They also made knitting needles, crochet hooks, accessories, and gift kits. I have two sizes: the one which was used for your photo blanket 3 7/8″, and the other makes a smaller square about 1 7/8”. The larger square takes me about 15 minutes to weave, so you can imagine how much time it takes to weave and then sew the squares together, plus crochet the edge. I enjoy designing different color schemes as well as repeating patterns. It is small enough to take to the beach or anywhere to be creative!”

Thank you, Barbara!

PeggyVintage Woven-Square Blanket
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Hand Crocheted By …

I found this beautiful scarf at an estate sale in a neighboring town. The house was charming  and old, and it was obvious the occupant had been a devoted crafter. I love the rounded ends, the color combination, and the quite random stripes. And the best part of the scarf is …I like to think the creator of this scarf would be happy to know her creation is still being admired.

 

PeggyHand Crocheted By …
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June–Coconut Cream Pie

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Just like the blues, Caribbean music owes much of its power to African rhythms brought to the New World by slaves–in this case, slaves imported to work on the sugar cane plantations.

Rum was a by-product of the sugar-making process, and I knew this pie had to have rum. Who can think of the islands without thinking of coconuts? But most recipes for coconut cream pie omit that crucial ingredient.

I finally found what I was looking for in a Caribbean cookbook I bought long ago at a flea market. It’s from the Time-Life series, a wonderful cookbook series dating from decades ago, when travel and exotic menus weren’t such an easy part of our lives as they are now. Nearly every cuisine you can name is represented in the series, and each gets two books—a big hardcover with pictures of food and festivals, plus recipes, and a small spiral-bound booklet with even more recipes.

I have quite a collection of these cookbooks, assembled from garage sales, flea markets, and used-book stores. Usually I find either the big hardcover or the small booklet first, then have the thrill of finding the missing half of the set at some whole other venue.

Anyway, the Time-Life version of the pie is very labor-intensive, so I invented a variation that uses the same flavorings—dark rum, nutmeg, and vanilla—but substitutes boxed pudding mix.

The crust is a variation on one we’ve used before—very flaky and rich with butter AND lard.

Crust:

1-1/2 cups flour
6 tablespoons butter, very cold, cut into small pieces
2 tablespoons lard, very cold, cut into small pieces
1 tablespoon sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
4 to 6 tablespoons ice water

Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl and add the butter and lard. Use two knives scissor fashion or your fingers to mix the flour mixture and the shortening together till the result looks like coarse meal.

Add 4 tablespoons of ice water, one at a time, tossing the mixture with a fork till it clings together. Add more ice water if necessary. Flour your hands and gather the mixture into a ball, wrap it in plastic wrap, and refrigerate it for ½ hour or more.

When you are ready to roll it out, flour your rolling surface and rolling pin. Pat the dough gently into a circle an inch thick or even thinner—this makes it easier to keep a circular shape when you begin to roll. Make sure to use plenty of flour and rotate the dough from time to time, sprinkling more flour underneath to make sure it doesn’t stick to your rolling surface.

When you’ve shaped it roughly into a circle large enough for your pie pan, fold it into quarters and gently transfer it to the pan, unfolding it and smoothing it to fit. Trim the edges, if necessary, so you have only an extra half inch all around. Now tuck the overhanging crust under. To make a fancy edge like in the picture, place the index and middle finger of one hand on the edge pointing out and with half an inch between them. Use the thumb of the other hand to push a little ridge into the dough, working your way all around the edge of the pie doing the same thing.  Prick the bottom and sides of the crust with a fork.

Bake the empty crust at 400 degrees for 10 minutes, then check on it and pat the dough down if it’s starting to puff up. Bake it for an additional 10 minutes or more. It should be starting to turn slightly brown when you take it out. (You’ll be baking the pie again to brown the meringue so you don’t want the edges of the crust to get too brown now.)

Let it cool while you make the filling.

Filling:

1 box Jell-O “cook & serve” vanilla pudding and pie filling—not instant
2 cups milk
1 cup “sweetened flake coconut”—from the aisle of the grocery store where you find flour and other baking supplies
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons dark rum
½ teaspoon nutmeg

Bring the milk and pudding mix to a full boil, stirring all the while. Turn off the heat and add the coconut and other ingredients. Let the pudding mixture cool on top of the stove while you make the meringue.  Stir the mixture occasionally. 

Meringue Topping:

4 egg whites
6 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon cream of tartar

Beat the egg whites and cream of tartar until the egg whites are frothy, then slowly add the sugar, beating all the while. After a minute or two, the egg whites should become quite stiff. Continue beating until stiff peaks remain if you remove the beaters.

Meringue can be tricky. To make sure you aren’t beating a soupy mess forever instead of getting the result you want, make sure the beaters are perfectly clean and there are no specks of egg yolk or shell in your egg whites before you start. You can scoop extraneous objects out with a spoon. 

Turn the pudding mixture into the pie shell.  Spread the meringue over the top.  Make sure the meringue touches the inner edge of the crust–it has a tendency to shrink while it bakes and this will keep you from having bare spots around the edges of your pie. 

Bake the pie at 350 degrees for 15 minutes or until the meringue turns a delicate brown.  Let the pie cool a bit and then refrigerate it.  Serve it cold, and refrigerate the leftovers.

PeggyJune–Coconut Cream Pie
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May–Strawberry Fields Pie

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A slice of Strawberry Fields Pie

A slice of Strawberry Fields Pie

“Strawberry Fields Forever” isn’t the blusiest of tunes, though the Beatles certainly owe a debt to the blues tradition. But please indulge me . . .

These early summer days are perfect strawberry weather, and for me strawberries always evoke those moments when time stands still and life seems unbearably sweet. There were more of them in the sixties than there have been lately, and music was always a part of them. How appropriate that the John Lennon memorial in Central Park is Strawberry Fields.

I’ve been making this pie since I was in high school. One of my friends taught me how, and when I make it I still pull out the postcard she sent me in 1965 when I wrote to her from college asking her to remind me of the details.

The beautiful thing about this pie is that the strawberries don’t end up being cooked, so they taste as sweet and fresh as if you were picking them yourself and eating them as you went along.

Prepare the crust well in advance so it’s cool by the time you add the filling.

Crust:

1-1/4 cup sifted flour

1/3 + 1 heaping tablespoon shortening

1/2 teaspoon + 1 pinch salt

1/6 cup cold water + extra

Sift the dry ingredients together, then cut the shortening in using two knives scissors style. The shortening shouldn’t be completely blended or the crust will be tough. You want bits of shortening, no larger than lentils, to remain because they melt as the crust bakes and make the crust flaky.

Next, sprinkle the water over the flour, salt, shortening mixture and use a fork to toss and blend. Use more water if necessary, but only a little bit at a time. The dough should be moist enough to adhere together in a ball, but not sticky. Form the dough into a flat patty, using plenty of flour on your hands, then roll it out. Use plenty of flour on your rolling surface and rolling pin too. Turn the dough frequently as you roll it out, and sprinkle with more flour, so it doesn’t stick to the rolling surface.

When you’ve shaped it roughly into a circle large enough for your pie pan, fold it into quarters and gently transfer it to the pan, unfolding it and smoothing it to fit. Trim the edges, if necessary, so you have only an extra half inch all around. Now tuck the overhanging crust under. To make a fancy edge like in the picture, place the index and middle finger of one hand on the edge pointing out and with half an inch between them. Use the thumb of the other hand to push a little ridge into the dough, working your way all around the edge of the pie doing the same thing.

Prick the bottom and sides of the crust and bake it at 450 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes or until it turns a nice golden color.

Filling:

1 box strawberry jello

1 ¾ cups cold water

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1 teaspoon vanilla

16 oz. fresh strawberries = 1 pint

Whipping cream

Wash the strawberries, remove the stems, and slice the berries. If they are really huge, as strawberries tend to be these days, cut them in half lengthwise before you slice them.

Bring the jello, water, cornstarch, and vanilla to a boil, then take it off the heat and let it cool to room temperature. If you’re in a hurry, you can refrigerate it, but don’t let it set up. Add the strawberries and pour the jello-berry mixture into the cooled pie shell.

Chill the pie till the jello is firm—two hours is usually enough.

Serve the pie topped with sweetened whipped cream.

Next month: Coconut Cream Pie

PeggyMay–Strawberry Fields Pie
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April–Rhubarb Custard Pie

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I promised a custard pie this month. The blues purists will be horrified, but my blues connection is Led Zeppelin’s “Custard Pie,” in all its sexual innuendo-laden glory. In creating it, they reached back to wonderful Delta tunes like Sleepy John Estes’ “Drop Down Mama,” Bukka White’s “Shake ‘Em On Down,” and Blind Boy Fuller’s “I Want Some of Your Pie.”

Like Led Zeppelin, I added something to the mix. In my case, it’s rhubarb. And the custard effect results from the combination of eggs, sugar, and rhubarb juices, rather than from eggs and milk.

When my husband was growing up, his family had a rhubarb plant in their yard, and one of his earliest cooking experiments was rhubarb pie. Now rhubarb is hard to find. We’ve tried several times to grow it but it doesn’t thrive in a yard overshadowed by huge trees.

Most grocery stores ignore it these days. Who’d want rhubarb when you can buy any fruit or vegetable you want all year round? In earlier times, rhubarb would have been appreciated as one of the first fresh growing things available in the spring.

I tracked mine down at the fancy Whole Foods store, an hour round trip for me because of New Jersey traffic, and $5.95 a pound!

Crust:

It’s the standard crust we’ve used before so I’m recycling the instructions from earlier pies:

 

1 cup sifted flour

1/3 cup shortening

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/6 cup cold water

OR

1-1/4 cup sifted flour

1/3 + 1 heaping tablespoon shortening

1/2 teaspoon + 1 pinch salt

1/6 cup cold water + extra

I’ve discovered that increasing the ingredients slightly makes it easier to roll out a nice piece of dough that fits the pan with no thin spots around the edges.

Sift the dry ingredients together, then cut the shortening in using two knives scissors style. The shortening shouldn’t be completely blended or the crust will be tough. You want bits of shortening, no larger than lentils, to remain because they melt as the crust bakes and make the crust flaky.

Next, sprinkle the water over the flour, salt, shortening mixture and use a fork to toss and blend. Use more water if necessary, but only a little bit at a time. The dough should be moist enough to adhere together in a ball, but not sticky. Form the dough into a flat patty, using plenty of flour on your hands, then roll it out. Use plenty of flour on your rolling surface and rolling pin too. Turn the dough frequently as you roll it out, and sprinkle it with more flour, so it doesn’t stick to the rolling surface.

When you’ve shaped it roughly into a circle large enough for your pie pan, fold it into quarters and gently transfer it to the pan, unfolding it and smoothing it to fit. Trim the edges, if necessary, so you have only an extra half inch all around. Now tuck the overhanging crust under. To make a fancy edge like in the picture, place the index and middle finger of one hand on the edge pointing out and with half an inch between them. Use the thumb of the other hand to push a little ridge into the dough, working your way all around the edge of the pie doing the same thing.

If you want to speed things up, you can use a prepared crust. I’ve discovered that the frozen crusts that come in their own little aluminum pie pans work very well. They are surprisingly flaky, and the only giveaway that they are not home-made is that the decorative edge is a bit too regular. I’ve also tried the prepared crusts that are sold in the refrigerator case, already shaped to go into your own pie pan and then curled up into long rolls that you unroll. Those are not so good.

Filling:

3 beaten eggs

1 ½ cups of sugar

¼ teaspoon of nutmeg

A pinch of salt

4 cups of rhubarb, cut into half-inch chunks

Mix the filling well and spoon it into the prepared crust, smoothing it out evenly. Bake the pie at 400 degrees for 45 minutes or until the crust is nicely browned and the custard isn’t runny.

It’s great with vanilla ice cream.

Next month: My childhood strawberry pie

PeggyApril–Rhubarb Custard Pie
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March–Key (to the Highway) Lime Pie

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The cloth is from a huge open-air market in Accra.

The cloth is from a huge open-air market in Accra.

I picked this pie for March with a nod to St. Patrick’s Day because when we think of limes, we think–GREEN.

Except key limes are yellow and that’s part of the story behind Key Lime Pie. It’s an American classic, and like many great recipes is a result of making do with the ingredients at hand. Key limes are unpromising little things, smaller than golf balls, and probably introduced to the Florida Keys when the Spanish came in the 1500s. Sweetened condensed milk is used because before the 1930s, the Keys had no fresh milk, no refrigeration, and no ice. Canned sweetened condensed milk had been around since 1856 and was a great boon to dessert-lovers.

“Key to the Highway” is a great blues song. I doubt whether the highway to the Keys is the one the song’s creators had in mind, but that road does lead south–about as far south as one can go in the US.

You will probably not be able to get key limes; they are even hard to find in Florida now. But the pie turns out great with ordinary grocery-store limes. 

Crust:

1 ¼ cups graham cracker crumbs = 9 whole (rectangular) crackers

¼ cup sugar

¼ cup butter

Mix the crumbs, butter, and sugar with your fingers till it’s all very well blended and looks like damp sand. Press it into your pie pan, working it up the sides with your fingers or the back of a spoon. Use your thumb to make a smooth edge at the top. Bake it for 10 minutes at 375 degrees. Let it cool while you make the filling. Turn the oven down to 350 degrees.

You can use a grocery-store graham cracker crust instead—you’ll find them in the aisle with boxed cake mixes.

Filling:

5 egg yolks

1 cup sweetened condensed milk

½ cup lime juice = 4 medium limes

1 teaspoon grated lime rind = 2 limes

Grate the rind before you cut the limes in half to squeeze them. It’s much easier to keep a good grip on a whole lime. Beat the egg yolks till they are light yellow. Add the other ingredients slowly and beat on lower speed just to mix. Pour the mixture into the crust and bake for 15 to 20 minutes at 350 degrees. Let it cool while you make the topping. Turn the oven up to 425 degrees.

Meringue topping:

5 egg whites

1 cup sugar

½ teaspoon cream of tartar

Beat the egg whites till they are frothy. Add the sugar and cream of tartar a little at a time, continuing to beat till the whites are very stiff.

Meringue can be a challenge to make. Be sure that your bowl and beaters are perfectly clean and that your egg whites are room temperature. If there are any specks of yolk or shell in the whites, it will be hard to get them stiff and you might have to beat them a very long time. You can pick yolk and shell out with a spoon or the corner of a paper towel.

Cover the pie with the meringue, making sure that it comes all the way to the edges. Otherwise it will shrink while cooking and you will have bare spots. Bake the pie at 425 degrees for 5 to 15 minutes or until the meringue is lightly browned. Oven temperatures vary greatly so keep your eye on things to monitor how brown the pie is getting.

Chill the pie before serving.

Next month: Custard Pie

PeggyMarch–Key (to the Highway) Lime Pie
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February–Cherry Pie

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Can she bake a cherry pie?

Can she bake a cherry pie?

Cherry Pie is traditional for February because of Washington’s Birthday, but this month’s pie was inspired by Miles Davis too.

The ancient children’s song, “Billy Boy,” includes a verse that starts with the line, “Can she bake a cherry pie, Billy Boy Billy Boy . . .” (Here’s a link for the song.)  

What’s the Miles Davis connection? Milestones, the 1958 album from Miles’s bebop period, includes an instrumental version of the tune—such a tribute to the playfulness and inventiveness of that art form, to start with a children’s song and improvise it into one of the most out-there tunes ever recorded.

Now . . . a note on the pie itself:

I found the recipe for this crust in an out-of-the-way cookbook. You’ll notice that the proportion of shortening (vegetable shortening and butter) to flour is much greater than the proportion in conventional pie crust. This makes the crust hard to handle, and I ended up with a pie that is not as photogenic as some of my previous ones.

In fact I was going to start over with a new batch of filling and a crust made with the standard two-thirds cup shortening to two cups flour, but my husband and I each had a piece of the pie for dessert. We continued to nibble to the point that I was afraid there would be no pie left to photograph unless I grabbed the camera fast, so I decided to use this crust. It may not be very photogenic, but it is incredibly rich and flaky. 

Crust:

3 cups flour

½ teaspoon salt

¾ cup vegetable shortening

¾ cup butter, in little pieces

cold water

Sift the flour and salt together into a medium-sized bowl. Cut the shortening and butter in with two knives, scissor fashion, or use a food processor with the normal blades. If you’re using a food processor, return the mixture to the bowl afterwards.

Now add cold water a tablespoon at a time, tossing the mixture with a fork till it starts to cling together. You might need anywhere from three to six tablespoons of water, or more, but don’t add more till you’re sure you need it. You don’t want your dough to become gummy—you just want it to cling together so you can form it into a ball.

With floured hands, knead the dough together but don’t handle it too much. Divide it into two portions, one a bit bigger than the other, and pat them into flat rounds. If you have time, chill them for twenty minutes or so before you try to roll them out.

All the shortening in this recipe makes the dough very fragile and chilling it helps it hold together. Whether you chill or not, you’ll find that you end up with a crust that’s a bit thicker than with a normal pie crust because it’s very hard to roll this rich dough thin without having it fall apart.

Roll out the larger piece of dough and use it to line your pie pan, patting it into place. Trim the edges so you have a half-inch overhang. Add the cherry filling.

Filling:

3 15-ounce cans pitted dark sweet cherries in heavy syrup, drained

¼ cup sugar

2 tablespoons cornstarch

½ teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon nutmeg

Mix together gently before spooning into the bottom crust.

Roll out the smaller piece of dough and lay it over the top of the pie. Trim the edges to match the bottom crust. Press the top and bottom crusts together and tuck the overhanging crust under all the way around.

To make a fancy edge like in the picture, place the index and middle finger of your left hand on the edge pointing out and with half an inch between them. Use the thumb of your right hand to push a little ridge into the dough, working your way all around the edge of the pie doing the same thing. You’ll have better luck getting a nice edge to form if you have chilled your dough before working with it.

Bake the pie at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes or until the crust is golden and looks thoroughly done.

Vanilla ice cream probably isn’t necessary but it’s a great addition.

Coming next month: Key to the Highway Lime Pie

PeggyFebruary–Cherry Pie
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