In the introduction to "The Artful Pie: Unforgettable Recipes for Creative Cooks," by Lisa Cherkasky and Renee Comet (Chapters Publishing, $24.95), Ms. Cherkasky relates her 80-year-old grandmother's story of baking pies during the Depression.
"She began to tell me the story of the 14,000 pies she had baked between the years of 1933 and 1937, six days a week, between 4 and 7 a.m." That works out to nine pies a day! Her husband peddled them on his bakery route and sold them for 25 cents apiece.
Because her grandmother was "a woman of few words," Ms. Cherkasky does not have her grandmother's exact recipes to put in "The Artful Pie," although her mother's are among the 38 recipes included.
The presentation of each dish makes for a delightful flight of fancy for Ms. Cherkasky, who also doubled as the food stylist, and her collaborator, photographer Renee Comet. They gave 36 artists free rein to create settings for each dish -- as long as the art included a life-sized plate on which to place a slice of pie. The result is a book of considerable appeal.
All appear to be relatively easy for the average cook, and many are quite creative, such as sweet cheese raspberry pie, eat-me-quick buttermilk custard pie, peppery sweet potato pie, upside-down fried pear pie, backyard green tomato pie and figgy almond pie. These are alongside a few that are more traditional.
If you are not into the larger-than-average format of "The Artful Pie," consider "Perfectly Simple Pies and Tarts," by Marion Maxwell (Putnam, $6.95). It's so small it could get lost in a busy kitchen.
Ms. Maxwell is an author who also cooks at her family-owned restaurant in Northern Ireland. Her 28 recipes are more traditional than the whimsical creations found in "The Artful Pie" and, because the format is so small, a few corners are cut to save space.
Also, there are occasional lapses into British terms, such as "superfine sugar," also known as castor sugar. It is a very fine sugar, but granulated sugar can be substituted.
"As easy as a cobbler, this pie is foolproof," the author of "The Artful Pie" says. "The brown sugar not only sweetens it but imparts its own distinctive flavor." Ms. Cherkasky also suggests serving it warm for breakfast with a slice of country ham, a suggestion I did not take her up on.
Brown sugar apple crumb pie
Makes 1 10-inch double-crust pie
1/4 cup lemon juice, freshly squeezed (from 1 large lemon)
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
7 medium Granny Smith, pippin or other firm, tart apples that will hold their shape when baked
1/4 cup golden raisins
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
In a large non-aluminum saucepan, stir together the lemon juice, water and brown sugar. Peel, core and slice the apples. Stir the apples into the lemon-and-sugar mixture. Stir in the raisins. Place the saucepan over medium heat and cook until the apples are tender, about 5 to 6 minutes. Stir them occasionally and gently as they cook.
Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
L Thoroughly butter the sides and bottom of a 10-inch pie pan.
In a medium mixing bowl, stir together the all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, brown sugar and salt. Use a pastry blender to cut the butter into the dry ingredients until the butter pieces are the size of small peas. This also may be done in an electric mixer on the lowest speed, but be careful not to overmix. Cut the egg yolk into the crumb mixture until it is evenly distributed.
Set aside 1 cup of the crumb mixture. Press the remaining crumb mixture into the bottom and sides of the prepared pie pan.
Spoon the apples into the crumb-lined pan and pat them down lightly. Sprinkle the reserved 1 cup of crumbs over the apples.
Dot the top of the pie with the butter pieces. Bake until bubbling and brown on top, about 50 to 55 minutes.
Serve warm or cool.
From "Perfectly Simple Pies and Tarts" comes this dessert, "a true peasant dish traditionally served in central France for feasts and celebrations." Although cherries are traditional for a clafoutis, a dessert in which the fruit is topped with the batter, apples, pears, peaches or plums also may be used. Says author Maxwell, "The authentic accompaniment is creme fraiche -- and a little glass of cherry eau-de-vie."
Ms. Maxwell also points out that the batter "will puff up during cooking, then settle as it cools."
A final note: Ms. Maxwell doesn't say to remove the pits before putting the cherries in the pie, but I thought it more genteel to do it then than at the table.
Makes 6 servings
3 tablespoons flour
pinch of salt
3 1/2 cups milk
scant cup sugar
few drops of vanilla extract
4 tablespoons fruit brandy or kirsch
2 pounds ripe black cherries
Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
Beat the flour, salt and eggs in a bowl until well blended, then add in the milk gradually, crushing any lumps. Add sugar, vanilla extract, and kirsch or brandy and beat well.
Put cherries in a large, shallow oven dish and pour batter over them. Dot with butter and bake for about 45 minutes, or until set and lightly browned. Sprinkle with superfine sugar and serve warm.