This is the second in a series of weekly farm reports from our own Tom Hirschfeld, complete with recipes, cooking and gardening tips, and wisdom dispensed.
Today: Tom on peach pie and cooking by hand (and overalls).
As Honest as Peach Pie
I always thought my friend Steven was lying when he told me that over the course of a few years he sold enough of his handmade old timey-looking leather fly swatters at the Indiana State Fair to pay for his log cabin and farm, until I myself moved to the country. Turns out he is a way smarter man than I because when you live on a farm, at some point during the summer, and especially if you have animals, flies are going to invade the house. It is inevitable and it is just a part of country life.
Like any man, I am always looking for the best tool for the job, and at day's end I usually come back to the one I started with, because only after trying them all do I realize I had the right one to begin with. This is how I have come to understand that the fly swatter is an important time-honored, tried and true tool. One of those that works as well today as it did hundreds of years ago and is so simple even children like to use it.
So a couple of months back, when my KitchenAid stand mixer went down for the count it was like breaking a fly swatter, as far as I was concerned. But lo and behold, I was in the throes of Paul Bertolli’s Cooking by Hand, which I took as a sign. I just had to wonder what would happen if I didn’t run out and replace it immediately, but instead went without and cooked like I did when I first started.
You see, a KitchenAid is like having a bottle of bourbon hidden in the cupboard. I mean really, as long as the bourbon is there you aren’t going to stop drinking, just like if you have a KitchenAid you won’t not use it. But is a mixer better, was my question, than, say, your tried and true, time-honored hands?
A decision was made: I had the shakes, I would go cold turkey and I would cook by hand. Do it the old way. The “on the fly” theory, I would call it. Now don’t get me wrong -- I am no blast from the past wannabe. I like my technology, my cell phones, computers, my gas stove and car -- although the car is black. Nevertheless, I am not about to grow a beard sans mustache and ask you to call me Graber. (Full disclosure: I will, on the other hand, sometimes wear overalls because I am the anti-ass. Yes, when you are the anti-ass, overalls and outdoor labor make sense because when you have no butt you can never pull a belt tight enough to keep your pants from ending up around your ankles when working, and while I know overalls are not the best look -- although I think they are making a comeback on Etsy right next to the Hobo Wedding -- they are practical.)
So, as I was saying, I had always heard rumor that making doughs, breads and pastas by hand made them more tender, gave them a better rise in the oven or a more satiny feel in the mouth. I just needed to know.
I dove in head first and started out with a couple of yeast breads. One was a very dense whole grain bread and the other was my whole wheat farmhouse loaf. What I noticed right off was the difference in feel. The whole grain at the end of kneading felt like the wet green block of floral foam that you stick flowers into. You know how when it gets damp and you push on it, it gives a little but seems crunchy and sandy on your hand? The farmhouse loaf is somewhat of a sticky dough and what happened there, how I have come to know the right hydration, is you get barnacle hands. Sounds funny, but these little pieces of dough should sparsely spot your hands and, well, look like tiny barnacles. The wetter the dough, the more barnacles.
I quickly moved on to crusts and the resulting pies have been great. They are more tender, have a better crumb and they aren’t any more difficult to make, although you do need practice to get the feel of it.
The biggest benefit to cooking by hand though is the girls and I aren’t standing there looking at a paddle attachment go round and round, but instead we are getting our hands dirty and learning about different flours and dough. The elasticity, the hydration and all the other technical stuff which, once you know how a dough should feel, allows you to become more confident and more efficient in the kitchen and build an intimacy with your doughs that allows you to make adjustments by intuition.
While I have procured another stand mixer and will use it (probably not for crusts), the one thing I learned that was probably most important and something you will want to remember and just might be the best kitchen tip I can give is: people keep their best liquor hidden in the cupboard and sometimes, maybe that's where the KitchenAid belongs too.
Tom's Tips for Making a Pie Crust by Hand
1. Never add all the water to the dough that a recipe calls for. Always stop short and, as you work the dough, you will know pretty quickly if it needs more.
2. Use a bowl that is three times bigger than you think you need to keep the flour from shooting over the sides.
3. Don’t over-knead the dough. There should be a quarter cup or so of crumbles that fall onto and around the crust when you dump it out of the bowl onto the counter. Knead the dough a little more to incorporate them and stop. It doesn’t have to be one homogenous and smooth mass. While the dough rests it will continue to hydrate and when you roll it out the rolling pin will bring it together.
4. Rotating the dough 45 degrees between each use of the rolling pin is key to ending up with a round crust.
5. Always place your rolling pin in the middle of the dough round and roll away from yourself, then put it back in the middle and roll/pull the pin towards you.
Honest Peach Pie
Serves 8 to 10
For the crust:
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup lard
1/2 cup butter, cubed and chilled
1/2 cup ice cold water
For the peaches:
6 to 8 peaches depending on their size, firm but ripe
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons of cornstarch
juice of half a lemon
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 egg white mixed with 2 teaspoons of water
sugar for dusting
Want more life on the farm? See Tom's post from last week: Garden Planning and Zucchini Frites.