Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Meyer Lemon Chess Pie

On finals week, my department at work has a potluck Christmas party, and I usually bring some type of dessert. This year our Meyer lemon tree was doing so well, that I thought about bringing a lemon meringue pie, but after reading about how meringue pies can be a bit tricky to make, I ended up going with a chess pie instead.

Chess pie is basically a custard pie with cornmeal in it, which gives it an interesting texture. Plain chess pie is extremely sweet, but lemon chess pie sounded good because the tartness should balance the sweetness. The problem was that when I searched for recipes, I found a lot of recipes that varied widely. Recipes varied between using only 1 Tbsp. of lemon juice all the way up to a quarter cup, a quarter cup of buttermilk to a full cup, 1 Tbsp. of cornmeal to 3 Tbsp, 4 or 5 eggs, 1 and a half cups of sugar or maybe two whole cups, half a stick of butter or maybe two sticks. I had no idea which one to choose. They even varied on how long you bake it, at what temperature, and whether you pre-bake the crust or not.

I finally printed out four different recipes and decided to combine them into my very own recipe! It was risky, but I think I've made enough other custard-type pies that I had a general idea how they work.

Turns out it worked great! It's a good thing I cut myself a sliver right away at the potluck, because when I came back later to collect my pie plate, it was CLEAN. My coworkers completely devoured it and didn't leave anything leftover for me to take home to my husband.

Glad I wrote everything down so I can make it again!

Meyer Lemon Chess Pie

  • Pastry for a single-crust pie
  • Juice of 2 Meyer lemons (about 1/4 cup of juice)
  • Zest from 2 Meyer lemons
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. cornmeal
  • 4 eggs
  • 2/3 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 stick of butter, melted
  • 1/8 tsp salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Beat lemon juice, lemon zest, sugar, cornmeal, eggs, buttermilk, melted butter, and salt together until smooth. Place pastry into regular pie plate (not deep dish) and trim. Pour in filling.

Lay some aluminum foil over the top and bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake for another 30 minutes.

Let cool on a wire rack, and then chill in fridge before serving.

This pie had the gooey texture of a pecan pie, and a nice sweet-tart flavor. I used homemade pie crust with butter and lard, but you can use whatever your favorite pie dough recipe is, or store-bought. Regular milk might work instead of buttermilk, but I had buttermilk in the fridge already, and I think it's more traditional for chess pie. Regular lemon juice would work if you don't have Meyer lemons, but you might want to increase the sugar to 2 cups and/or use regular milk instead of buttermilk, because Meyer lemons are not as sour as regular lemons.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Sweet Potato Pie

I'm the pie maker for our family's Thanksgiving at my in-law's house. Each year I bring two pies. This year I made an apple pie, and a sweet potato pie from homegrown sweet potatoes.

It was a good opportunity to use up the Garnet sweet potatoes that had split (like the one in the picture) or been damaged during harvest (a few of them got broken in half or stabbed with the digging fork). The damaged sweet potatoes weren't going to last very long in storage and needed to be used up soon. I ended up having enough damaged Garnets to get the 2 cups mashed sweet potato needed for the pie. I considered using the Molokai purple sweet potatoes, but decided to save those for something else. I wasn't sure how a purple sweet potato pie would look.

One of my sweet potatoes was a bit confused about whether it was an orange or purple sweet potato, but once I had them cooked and mashed up, the purple streaks didn't show. I cooked the sweet potatoes in the microwave and then mashed them with a fork.

Sweet potato pie is similar to pumpkin pie, but not exactly. Sweet potatoes have a denser texture than pumpkin, with more starch. I used a recipe from my Better Homes and Gardens red and white checkered cookbook, so I'm not sure if it's legal for me to reprint it here.

One difference from a pumpkin pie is it used a prebaked pie crust, which I made myself. With pumpkin pies, you use a raw crust, and the crust and filling cook together. It also needed 3 eggs, while a pumpkin pie needs 4 (maybe because sweet potatoes are denser) and a cup of buttermilk. The buttermilk seemed weird, but it gave the pie a nice tangy flavor. The spices were allspice and nutmeg. No cinnamon or ginger like pumpkin pie.

The recipe also called for only half a cup of sugar. It probably depends on how sweet your sweet potatoes are to begin with, and I was afraid mine weren't sweet enough, so I increased the sugar to 3/4 a cup. I'm glad I did too, because the pie still ended up being not especially sweet and probably could have been OK with a full cup of sugar. It was fine the way it was, though, and probably healthier than a sweeter dessert. Next time I think I'll use brown sugar instead of white.

And here is the finished pie. A lot of the time my pumpkin pies end up too soft and the slices don't stay together, but we had no problem with this pie holding together because of the density of the sweet potatoes. It looked like a pumpkin pie but had a distinctly different flavor because of the different spices and buttermilk.

Oh, and of course it was served with plenty of whipped cream.

The only problem I think needs improvement is the pie filling was a little bit lumpy. Next time I'm going to try mashing the sweet potatoes in the food processor or stand mixer to get a perfectly smooth puree.

But overall both pies were a big hit, judging by how we only had one piece leftover from each for us to take home.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Mistletoe Moon

It's been a strange winter so far, if you can even call it a winter. It got down to 30 degrees one night on the week before Thanksgiving, which is when I harvested my sweet potatoes. It hasn't gotten anywhere near freezing again since. Some days it even got into the high 70's during the day.

The light frost we had wasn't even enough to kill the eggplants and tomatoes, and now the eggplants have started to grow new leaves back. They're in for a disappointment once we do get a killing freeze.

The peppers are also still going strong. I've been harvesting a lot of Serranos, which I think I'll make more fermented hot sauce out of.

The garlic and multiplier onions are also doing well. The wire has prevented the chickens from digging in them any more.

The root crops are doing well. I've started harvesting radishes. I've also got carrots, beets, parsnips, and turnips growing.

It's gotten cold enough to get rid of the bugs that were eating the greens, but now the deer have found them. They don't like the arugula, but ate the tops off of most of the red lettuce I had mixed in with it.

The kumquats (in the picture above) and Meyer lemons in the front are almost ripe. I'm thinking of making a Meyer lemon meringue pie for Yule, even though it's not that traditional. But they should be ripe by then.

I planted a lot of Tuscan kale in the back to save seed, and it's doing OK but growing very slowly. There's also a lot of weeds coming up back there.

The peas are starting to climb their trellises in the back. I planted two varieties: Tall Telephone and Dwarf Grey Sugar.

And I have some more winter crops in trays to plant later: fennel, cauliflower, and more kale and collards.

I already started my pepper plants for next year. I wonder when I should start my other nightshades. I usually start my tomato seeds around Christmas, but I'm feeling impatient with how warm it's been lately.