Can She Bake a Cherry Pie, Charming Billy?

First place in the church pie bake off is in Shirley Tedesco’s sights. Ever since she joined as a newly-wed wife, her goal has been to reach the coveted spot held for far too long by fellow contestant, Claudia Romero. A sour cherry rhubarb pie is Shirley’s first third-place win, and Claudia can feel the younger woman breathing down her neck as she inches closer with every delicious baked creation.

I included cherry pie in my novel, The Tedescos, because it’s been a favorite since childhood. As delicious as sweet cherry pie is, there is just something—how can I describe it—more old-fashioned tasting about a sour cherry pie. The inclusion of rhubarb, traditionally featured alone or in combination with strawberries, makes Shirley’s pie a titch more special. Then there is the addition of a few ingredients even Claudia can’t discern.

Sour cherries were more readily available when I was younger. These days I have to travel a bit to find them, but they are worth it. Their too-short season of availability makes them even more desirable. If you can pick and pit your own, do so. However, fresh, pitted sour cherries can be purchased from farmer’s markets. I’ve heard good things about particular brands of jarred sour cherries in syrup, but I’ll let you do your own research and taste testing. Buying frozen sour cherries is an absolute last resort. I will say, though, that if you freeze sour cherries yourself, you’ll have better luck with them because the delicate fruit won’t be bashed about during transport and the defrosting process can take place slowly in your refrigerator.

Pre-picked and pitted sour cherries come in juice. Measure out four cups to a bag (enough for a ten-inch pie), and freeze them. Take care to evenly distribute the juice and don’t stack the bags on top of each other or place them where other frozen items will be stacked.

Rhubarb is easier to find in grocery stores and can be frozen until used. Neither the amount of red on the stalks nor the width has any bearing on the flavor. Wash the stalks, trim the ends, pat them dry, and cut into half-inch pieces. Lay the cut rhubarb in a single layer on a baking sheet with edges, freeze them for a couple of hours, and transfer the frozen pieces to a large plastic bag that can be sealed. Return them to the freezer immediately.

Because I freeze fruits and vegetables in amounts for one pie, the following recipe makes two pies because I’m combining sour cherries and rhubarb. Don’t be overwhelmed by the quantity, though. The pies will get eaten, and if you’re feeling guilty about consuming too much pie, you can always give one away or cut the recipe in half.

One last note: this recipe uses fresh sour cherries that came in their own juice. If you use cherries you picked, you’ll need to cook them with a little water, store bought cherry juice, or liquid from cherries you juiced yourself to soften them and bring out their natural juices.

Shirley Tedesco’s Sour Cherry Rhubarb Pie

For the Crust:

4 c all-purpose flour

2 t sea salt

4 sticks cold, unsalted butter, cut into ½ inch pieces

Ice water

Sift the flour and salt into a bowl. Work butter into the flour/salt mixture until it resembles coarse meal. A pastry blender or two knives is recommended, but you can work quickly with your hands so the mixture stays cool. Add ice water a little at a time, forming a dough ball with your hands. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate while preparing the filling. Preheat your oven to 375° while the dough is chilling.

For the Filling:

4 c sour cherries, with their juice

4 c rhubarb, cut into half-inch pieces

3 c sugar (I used raw)

4 T kirsch

⅛ t mace

1 t sea salt

4 T butter

6 – 9 T corn starch

In a large pot over a medium heat, add the sour cherries with juice, rhubarb, and sugar. Stir gently to incorporate the sugar but not break apart the fruit/veg. When the sugar is melted and the mixture begins to steam lightly, add the kirsch, mace, butter, and salt. Stir gently.

Start with six tablespoons of cornstarch in a bowl and ladle hot liquid from the pot into the bowl until there is equal dry to wet. Stir the corn starch and juice until thoroughly blended, and then slowly pour it back into the pot. I pour the mixture into a particularly juicy area and whisk quickly to incorporate. Gently stir through the mixture and increase the heat to medium high to thicken the juice. Only use the remaining three tablespoons if your sour cherries and rhubarb are particularly juicy. Keep a close eye on the mixture so the bottom doesn’t burn. When the sour cherries and rhubarb are thickened, set them aside to cool.

Assembling the pie:

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and divide it into quarters. Return the other three to the refrigerator while working. Roll one quarter into a circle to cover the bottom of a ten-inch pie plate. Place the dough in the bottom of the pie plate and trim the edges to fit. Remove and roll another quarter for the bottom of the second pie and trim the edges.

Divide the sour cherry/rhubarb mixture between the bottom crusts by ladling it in. Remove and roll another quarter of dough for a top crust. Place it over the filling and tuck the edges of the top crust beneath the bottom crust. Crimp the edges between your fingers or seal them with the tines of a fork. Do the same with the last dough quarter for the second pie.

Place the pies on the middle rack of the oven with a baking sheet on the rack below to catch any drips. Bake the pies for 45 minutes, and then check them. You may need to keep baking in ten-minute increments until the crusts are golden brown. Allow the pies to rest for fifteen minutes to set up. Serve with fresh whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Enjoy!

A Plum of a Restaurant

What passes for a family restaurant today just doesn’t quite compare to those of the 1970s. These days there’s a television mounted on every wall blaring sporting events and music videos, loud pop music piped throughout the building, and waiters and waitresses who look as if they’ve pulled an all-nighter studying for tests or indulging in kegers at a friend’s dorm. And don’t get me started on what passes for a uniform.

I recall one of my parents’ favorite places to eat during my childhood was Jack Horner’s Restaurant in Akron, Ohio. Perhaps it was because I was so young, but I remember all the waitresses being adults, not teens or twenty-somethings. They were professionals, and their friendly nature came through as they took orders and served meals.

Tasty cooking and good service appeal to any family, and the Tedescos are no different. After experiencing a special surprise one Christmas, the entire Tedesco clan heads to Jack Horner’s to celebrate with Joe’s best friends, Smiley Roberts and Officer Ted Conley, as well as Father Moretti and Sister Mary Agnes from the church where the Tedescos attend.

The history of Jack Horner’s began in 1942 when Frank Wren opened the restaurant at 395 East Market Street, Akron, Ohio. William P. Owen purchased the restaurant named after a nursery rhyme in 1946 when Wren’s health began to fail. The original twenty nine-seat building was torn down and replaced with a seventy five-seat restaurant in 1960. Three more additions followed, and by 1984 Jack Horner’s seated four hundred.

When William P. Owen bought the restaurant in 1946, he couldn’t afford to replace the sign, so the name stayed the same. Signage had little to do with the success of one of Akron’s most frequently visited restaurants over the next five decades.

Owen made home-cooked meals, affordable prices, and great service synonymous with Jack Horner’s. Delicious pies, fresh-cut hash browns and fries, bread and dinner rolls made from scratch kept customers returning as did light and fluffy pancakes and the Sir Beef (a roast sirloin sandwich). All this and more could be enjoyed seven days a week from six a.m. until one a.m.

According to William James “Bill” Owen, son of the founder, the terrific wait staff had much to do with the restaurant’s success. Eighty five people stayed in the employ of Jack Horner’s for thirty five years because the Owen family invested in their employees with paid uniforms, pregnancy leave, and profit-sharing.

Location also contributed to the success of Jack Horner’s with easy access from the freeway. Employees of Goodyear, Polsky’s, O’Neil’s, Akron City Hospital staff and visitors, and the University of Akron staff and students were regulars at the restaurant.

In 1996, Summa Health System bought the property on which Jack Horner’s stood. Bill Owen and his son, William John Owen, attempted to make a go of it at Fairlawn Town Center, but the profits couldn’t withstand high rent and a percentage of sales to out-of-town landlords. Only three years into the five-year lease, the Owen family closed the doors of Jack Horner’s Restaurant for good. Although the family lamented the end of an era, they should be proud of all the memories they made for anyone who ate there whether real or fictional.

Targeting the Location

It’s been a while since my brain toggled back and forth between spellings of words with the same pronunciation and multiple meanings as my poor fingers struggled to keep up. One can’t always depend on the red, blue, or green squiggles of Word to proof that sentence for you, you know.

This time it was “she had it in her sights.” No, sites. No, I was right the first time, it’s sights. Oh hang it all. Time to check the dictionary.

Site:

A place where something it located

Today we’ll be investigating the site of the burglary.

A website

Check out my new site with all the cool apps.

Sight:

The ability to see

Everything is blurry, and I appear to be losing my sight.

One’s field of vision

The toddler casually walked out of his mother’s sight.

Something seen

What a sight she created with her shaven head, pierced nose, and combat boots.

A place or thing worth seeing

Philadelphia is a great place to visit for historical sights.

The part of a firearm used to aim

I had the criminal in my sights.

An extended version of the last definition was the one I needed:

To defeat someone or achieve something, or be close to doing so.

She had first place in her sights.

Even Peaches Have Stones

You’ve heard it said that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Fortunately, good food eaten in the company of great friends also reaches a woman’s heart, and Shirley Tedesco’s heart definitely needs reaching one particular Mother’s Day.

Shirley and Joe Tedesco have recently experienced some heartbreak, but it’s Shirley who is having a hard time getting back into the swing of things. On the outside, she appears to be the same wonderful wife and mother she’s always been. Fortunately, Joe can see through the warm and fuzzy façade to the broken heart within, and he won’t let his wife’s heart turn to stone.

Together with their best friends, Smiley and Charlene Roberts, Joe plans a Mother’s Day surprise for Shirley that includes delicious food sure to melt anyone’s defenses. Shirley understands that she’s been loved from the inside out, and the once unhappy mother finds the strength to direct her heart back to her family.

I featured peach cobbler on the Mother’s Day menu at the church where Smiley and Charlene attend. The following recipe is the one I had in mind for the above-mentioned scene. It’s easy to make, but it looks quite impressive and tastes like you slaved over it.

Old-Fashioned Peach Cobbler

8 Georgia peaches, peeled and sliced, about 6 to 8 cups

¼ c bourbon

¼ c dark brown sugar

2 T corn starch

1 t ground cinnamon

2 t vanilla

 

Dumplings:

1 1/2 c all-purpose flour

½ c raw sugar, plus more for dusting

2 t baking powder

1/2 t sea salt

16 T (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter

3/4 c heavy cream, plus more for brushing

 

Heat the oven to 375° F.

In a large bowl add the peaches, bourbon, dark brown sugar, cornstarch, vanilla, and cinnamon. Mix well to coat the peaches evenly. Set aside.

To prepare the dumplings, sift the flour, baking powder, and salt into a bowl. Add the sugar, and stir to mix well. (The large crystals of raw sugar will not pass through a sifter.) Cut twelve tablespoons (1 ½ sticks) butter into small pieces.  Add it to the flour mixture and cut it in with a pastry blender or your hands until the mixture looks like coarse bread crumbs.  Pour in the cream and mix just until the dough comes together.  Don’t overwork; the dough should be slightly sticky but manageable.

In a twelve-inch cast iron skillet over medium-low heat, melt the remaining four tablespoons butter.  Add the peaches and cook gently until heated through, about five minutes.  Drop the dough by tablespoonsful over the warm peaches. There can be gaps as the dough will puff up and spread out as it bakes.  Brush the top of the dumplings with heavy cream and sprinkle with sugar. Put the skillet into the oven with a baking sheet on the next rack down to catch any drips.  Cook for 40 to 45 minutes until the top is browned and the peach juice is bubbling.

Allow the cobbler to sit for five minutes, and then serve it warm with fresh whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. Enjoy!

The Pleather Labyrinth

This past Shabbat, a friend at church looked at my purse sitting on the table and said, “You’re quite an organized person, aren’t you?”

I pulled my beloved purse toward me, smiled proudly, and said, “Yes, yes I am.”

Allow me to explain. Two weeks ago I went on a day trip with two close friends. When I stepped away to powder my nose, fashionista friend said to mischievous friend, “Ugh… I really need to give her a new purse.”

I am not into purses the way the majority of women seem to be. I find a purse that meets my size requirements and compartment needs, and I carry that baby until tidbits of pleather flake off the handles exposing the fabric beneath and the lining rips out. I loathe purse shopping. Besides, the stupid things are so freaking expensive for something that’s going to be chucked into the back seat of my car, flung into a shopping cart, and occasionally forgotten at Home Depot or a restaurant.

I actually do have a lovely, leather purse my mother brought me from Italy, but it’s only big enough to accommodate a whispered secret and a tissue. Not practical. I carry it to weddings, funerals, and really fancy lunch dates.

What probably tipped fashionista friend over the edge was my horror story of how I once stapled the broken strap of a favorite purse and went right on carrying it. No doubt this is what prompted her to ask me upon exiting the bathroom, “How do you feel about black and white herringbone?”

A moment of confusion overcame me until mischievous friend spilled the beans on fashionista friend’s disdain for my bedraggled purse.

“Are you embarrassed to be seen with me and my purse in public?” I asked, laughing.

“Yes,” fashionista friend replied emphatically. She descended to the Fashionista Cave where she stores a bin of spare purses. I believe said bin has a keypad lock (with a code known only by her), is wired with explosives, and is guarded by a German Shepherd. Upon her return, she said, “I chose this one for you because I knew you’d like all the compartments.”

“You want me to switch out purses before we leave, don’t you?”

From the look on her face, I’m pretty sure that was understood. I plopped down on her living room floor and began sorting stuff into all the wonderful compartments of my lovely new purse. It was amazing. Everything just fell into place as I separated the most important items from those used less frequently. I even cleaned out a bunch of garbage I’d been hauling around and tossed it into a plastic shopping bag for disposal. Fashionista friend granted me one pardon when she allowed me to cut the handy little license holder from the old purse and slip it into the new one. Then she threw my old purse away, and we left.

Skip ahead to the next day when my husband noticed the new purse. I swear purses are like magnets for men in the weirdest way. They spy your purse, and suddenly they need something out of it. Of course, I couldn’t have hubby rooting around in my new purse like a warthog grubbing for food. Men are notorious for turning purses into disheveled messes as if a bear pawed through it.

For a microsecond, I entertained the thought of explaining to him how the setup of the new purse really wasn’t that different from the old. Inside the main zippered section (always the largest) was a tiny zippered section where cash and credit cards are stored. That was the same as was the open portion where lipstick, Chapstick, cough drops, and tissues were tucked.

The new purse also had a middle section with a place for my cellphone, check book, and sunglasses. So, slight up grade. Actually, super, awesome terrific upgrade because there are two zippers to this compartment that only need to be opened halfway to reveal a particular side. Lovin’ it!

But wait, there’s more. The next level down is yet another zippered section with a metal zipper pull where I store my keys. Husband should be kissing the ground where fashionista friend walks because in the past two weeks, I haven’t misplaced my keys once since I’ve owned this purse all due to the special place in my purse for keys. “Why did she mention the metal zipper pull?” you ask. Well, I’ll tell you. It’s because my metal keys go in the section with the metal zipper pull. See how that works. Easy enough for any husband who needs to put gas in my car to remember in which section he can find my keys.

Oh, but that’s not all. The whole back of the purse is open, so incidentals like brochures from gourmet olive oil shops and the business cards of women trying to sell me Viking refrigerators land there. No zipper or snap ensures that they fall out which is actually my goal.

There’s a tiny pouch with a snap where my business cards live and another with a zipper where gift cards I have yet to use and restaurant rewards cards are tucked. Brilliant, isn’t it? A place for everything and everything in its place. Did I mention that my lovely, new purse has handles and a shoulder strap? What’s not to love?

But just try explaining why things are where they are to a man, and the whole system breaks down. A woman would look at my purse and know in seconds where to begin searching for whatever she needed. Not that a woman would rummage through my purse without asking. Oh, no—that’s the sort of criminal behavior only men would commit.

Now I know there are many jokes about how scary the inside of a woman’s purse is. There’s even a stupid song about it. I am here to tell you that’s no accident. If we could fit a Minotaur in our purses to keep men out—or at least deter, possibly maim them for tossing it like inexperienced burglars—we would. And don’t bother suggesting that we draw them a map or label the compartments. Our husbands would ask us to store the map in our purses, and it’s not as if we’re going to number the compartments with a black Sharpie.

So now you understand how the friend at church pegged me as an organized person. I like to think she was a little bit envious of my purse. I’m going to carry this one forever, and when I say forever what I mean is until tidbits of pleather flake off the handles exposing the fabric beneath and the lining rips out.

When Georgia Gets the Blues

Pie baking is serious business, and you don’t want to get in the way of a young wife determined to climb up the church-pie-bake-off hierarchy to a first place win. Such was the case for newly-wed Shirley Tedesco when she found the outlet to express her skill with cooking. But Shirley’s baked wonders get up Claudia Romero’s nose. Claudia, who frequently holds the position of president of the Ladies Auxiliary, has held the coveted first place position for years. In Shirley, the woman has met her match.

The following recipe is just one of Shirley’s pies featured in my novel, The Tedescos. I’ve fallen in love with Georgia peaches, so if you can get them in your area, I strongly recommended using them. I’ve been most fortunate to purchase these luscious, little jewels from The Peach Truck once or twice a year. The addition of blueberries to this pie not only makes it taste divine, but the blended color of juices is beautiful to behold!

Deep Dish Blueberry Peach Pie

For the crust:

2 c all-purpose flour

2 sticks unsalted butter, chilled and cut into ¼-inch cubes

⅓ c ice water

1 t sea salt

1 T sugar (I used raw)

 

For the filling:

2 T unsalted butter, cubed

6 large Georgia peaches, peeled and sliced

1 pint blueberries, washed and drained

½ c sugar (I used raw)

½ c dark brown sugar

½ t cinnamon

¼ t nutmeg

1 t vanilla

¼ c water

¼ c amaretto

2 T cornstarch

 

Parchment paper

Baking weights

Ten-inch cast iron skillet

 

In a large, metal mixing bowl that has been chilled, combine the flour, salt, and sugar. Add the chilled butter. Cut the butter in with a pastry blender, two knives, or your hands. If you use your hands, take care to work quickly so as not to warm the butter. The mixture should look coarse with pea-sized pieces of flour and butter. Add the water a tablespoon at a time, mixing it in carefully until you can press the dough together and form a neat ball. Remove the dough ball from the bowl and flatten it into a disk on a lightly floured surface. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill for at least fifteen minutes.

Preheat your oven to 375°. Remove the dough from the plastic wrap and cut it into two pieces approximately one-third and two-thirds. Rewrap the one-third piece for the lattice top and return to the refrigerator. Role the larger piece into a circle big enough to fit across the bottom and up the sides of a ten-inch cast iron skillet. Cut a piece of parchment to fit the diameter of the skillet as well as up the sides (crumpling the parchment in your hands makes it more pliable for use). Place baking weights in the skillet. Bake for ten to fifteen minutes or until the crust is lightly golden. Set aside to cool.

In a separate skillet, melt the butter for the filling. Add the remaining filling ingredients except for the blueberries. Cook until the liquid reduces to a syrupy consistency. Stir in the blueberries. Spoon the filling into the bottom crust with a slotted spoon. Ladle the thickened syrup over the fruit a little at a time so it doesn’t come up over the edge of the bottom crust. (Juicy peaches yield more liquid.)

Roll out the remaining dough to approximately ⅛-inch thick and cut into ½-wide pieces as long as the skillet.

For the truly talented: Lay eight strips across the pie. Fold back every other strip, and lay a horizontal strip across the center of the pie. Unfold the folded strips, and then fold back the remaining strips. Lay another horizontal strip across the pie. Repeat folding and unfolding the strips to weave a lattice pattern. Repeat on the remaining side.

For people like me: Lay your strips in one direction taking care to leave space between them. Lay the remaining strips in the other direction also leaving space between them. Voilà! Lattice on a pie so delicious that no one notices it’s not woven.

Sprinkle the top with sugar. Bake the pie for thirty minutes or until the crust is golden and the juices are bubbling. You may need a cookie sheet beneath the pie in the oven to catch drips. Allow the pie to stand for at least ten minutes, and then serve it warm with vanilla ice cream or fresh whipped cream.

Enjoy!

Side Note: Baking weights can be purchased at most cooking stores, but I find a bag of dry beans works just as well. They don’t impart flavor to your baked goods, and once they’ve cooled, you can store them in a sealed jar for future use.

%d bloggers like this: