Cooking by Hand and Peach Pie

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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).

Peach Pie

As Honest as Peach Pie

- Tom

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.

Peaches  Making Pie Crust

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.)

Peeling peaches  Peeling peaches

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.

Rolling out pie crust  Peach Pie
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.

Lattice top pie  Eating Pie, Happy

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.

Peach Pie

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

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Want more life on the farm? See Tom's post from last week: Garden Planning and Zucchini Frites.



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Comments (75)


over 3 years ago luvcookbooks

Meg is a trusted home cook.

I just read this and agree that mixing bread and making piecrust by hand are sometimes better than using a mixer. I have not yet opened the stand mixer I got for Christmas two years ago (my kitchen is very small and I am very mechanically declined) and can manage by hand for everything except frosting. (Use a hand electric mixer) did you make other things from Bertolli's book? What did you think of it?


over 3 years ago thirschfeld

I have made other things from his book, several of the pastas and I often go to it for the different kinds of noodles. I think this book is great in more respects then just the recipes in that it teaches cooking in a such a thoughtful manner. Teaches that ingredients are important not because using fresh and good quality will save the planet, not that it is healthy for you but because it is how you get the best flavor into the final dish. In all honesty it is refreshing to take the politics off the plate and do something solely because it is how you make something really good. Sorry for the diatribe but that is what I see in this book that happens to have some great recipes in it too.


almost 4 years ago cowgirlculture

I have a four year old and a one year old and I hadn't thought about how much more fun they have when we mix by hand and roll out cookies/pie dough. Good point! I think I will try to do more the old fashioned way so we can have better quality memories! After all isn't that a big reason we cook with our kids in the kitchen!? We know it isn't for their neatness! Great article! Loved the okra one too!


almost 4 years ago speak/tompach

Tom. Love reading you. I smile and laugh. It makes my day brighter!


about 4 years ago cabdab

Tom - Your recipe sounds delicious (reminds me of Grandma Coopers pies except yours is alot prettier) Love your article. (P.S. The girls are adorable.)


about 4 years ago cabdab

Tom - I love your column and your recipe sounds delicious. Reminds me of Grandma
Coopers except yours is alot prettier. (The girls are adorable)


about 4 years ago pegmo2

I use no lard, only butter. The crusts are flaky and taste wonderful. Butter, salt, flour and water. I sometimes add some sugar to the bread board when rolling out whatever dough is left over and make butter cookies. Delicious way to test the crust before the pie is done.


about 4 years ago DavidMKraus

Bosch makes a much better mixer as it is belt driven and the dough attachment actually kneads. I only use it for bulk purposes though (doubled pizza dough or cookie dough). Pie dough and pasta are best when the warmth of our hands invokes the dough with love and our brains confirm delivery. the line between tender and flakey is too thin for a mixer's mighty turn and our eyes cannot pass enough info to avoid over working dough.


about 4 years ago DavidMKraus

Bosch makes a much better mixer as it is belt driven and the dough attachment actually kneads. I only use it for bulk purposes though (doubled pizza dough or cookie dough). Pie dough and pasta are best when the warmth of our hands invokes the dough with love and our brains confirm delivery. the line between tender and flakey is too thin for a mixer's mighty turn and our eyes cannot pass enough info to avoid over working dough.


about 4 years ago djgibboni

Delightful photos and story. I'm so happy to see you using lard in your crust -- doesn't it make the best-tasting crust?

I like to use Minute tapioca for thickener. (Find it in the pudding aisle at the supermarket.) Works brilliantly for fruit pies.



about 4 years ago Jaynerly

I do love peach pie and Im loving this your series! Having a space challenged kitchen I am very mindful of whether I can "just do it myself" when thinking of any kitchen gadget purchase.


about 4 years ago vvvanessa

gorgeous pie, gorgeous kidlets!


about 4 years ago SEW

Hummm, beautiful picture. I can smell it and hear my Grandmother yelling at me from another room in the house, Don"t touch that pie, it's for dinner! Sometimes it worked, sometimes not. Cooking, baking, flour on your hands, clapping to remove it, cutting the finished dough and placing in the pan, crimping the edges...I'm at work, thanks for the break and traveling back to a special time when every meal was cooked by hand.


about 4 years ago Smallpeace

Honestly, for the pie-challenged (you lookin' at me?), this posting is completely motivating. Guess I'll have to drag grandma's retro mixer back down to the basement. Thanks.


about 4 years ago elenakathryn

Great Column, Tom! I'm really enjoying this series.


about 4 years ago gluttonforlife

Lard, overalls and getting your hands dirty--3 things on which we are definitely in sync. Beautiful piece, Tom!


about 4 years ago Hilarybee

I love this reports, Tom! I love the photos, especially of your precious girls. The recipe looks simple and fantastic, as always. I will give it a try for sure. I cannot wait for next week's column.


about 4 years ago Pegeen

Pegeen is a trusted home cook.

Wonderful column, Tom. Thank you! (But who/what is Graber?)


about 4 years ago thirschfeld

Thanks. Graber would be a reference to an Amish name that is fairly common, or at least at one time was, sort of like Joe.


about 4 years ago one perfect pie

Pie is one of those foods that inspires people to unplug and do it the old fashioned way. It's fun getting your hands in there, isn't it? I think you can taste the difference in a crust made by hand and one made in the processor. Your pie sure is pretty.


about 4 years ago thirschfeld

I think you are right on all accounts one perfect pie and thank you.


about 4 years ago EmilyC

Tom, I love your new column. That pie is beautiful.


about 4 years ago thirschfeld

Thank you EmilyC


about 4 years ago mcs3000

Great advice. I wish your column was around when I first started making pies. A few failed pie crusts later, I finally figured out tip #1.


about 4 years ago thirschfeld