I'm a yard-sale addict, a thrift-shop junkie -- not unlike a lot of you out there.
But where many justify junking as a means of obtaining life's necessities and not-so-necessities at bargain prices, I delude myself into thinking there's a higher motive for my thrift safaris.
I'm convinced that the penny-priced treasures offered at such locations give me valuable insight into what friends, neighbors and cooks in general are doing in their kitchens.
Take pie tins, for example.
I've been finding them in every yard and garage recently, priced so low -- from 5 cents to a quarter -- that it told me home cooks were dumping the once-valued plates because they no longer had use for them.
On the surface at least, it made sense.
We lead busier lives than our pie-baking mothers did. And while Mom may have bought the expression "as easy as pie," we know better.
Ah, but do we?
With a minimum of research, I was able to concoct five impressive pies whose recipes appear in this section. None need more than a few minutes to assemble.
Four of the pies take advantage of those ready-to-shape-and-bake pie crusts that come, two to a package, from the supermarket's refrigerated case, usually near the eggs.
The pastry circles are flat in the package but fit nicely into your own pie tin, letting you make a decorative edge that suggests that the crust was made-from-scratch.
Are the crust's flavor and texture on a par with homemade?
They might even be better. You'd be amazed at how many times I've complimented a pie baker on the pastry only to learn that it was the packaged product.
The fifth pie in our recipe collection has a crust of shredded coconut blended with butter and uncooked oatmeal. It's patted into a pie tin and baked.
Yes, and it looks and tastes terrific.
All of the pies have quickie fillings.
The plum-tart recipe uses purple prune plums for their wonderful flavor but also because the little plums need only to be pitted and quartered to make them ready for the filling.
The same is true of the nectarines in a second pie.
A word of warning, however. Many recipes specify firm fruit. Be certain that you use only firm, ripe, delicious fruit. Anything less will be a waste of your time and ingredients.
Although all the pies got raves, the Blonde Brownie Pie, lavished with chocolate chips and walnuts, was everyone's favorite.
No recipe is foolproof and I'm certain there's a way to mess up on this one, but you would have to work at it. Just blend and bake.
It's not a bad idea to put a drip shield of some sort under any baking pie, but it's especially important with this one because the pie shell is filled very full and some filling may run out.
Check the oven during baking. If you find a few little blobs have escaped the pan, lift them out with a spatula after they've baked a little but before they brown too much. Consider them free cookies.
For a surprise, bake the Buttermilk Pie. The recipe is one that has been around forever, and it sounds so plain that I concocted a blueberry sauce thinking it would relieve the severity of the pie.
What I hadn't expected was the purity of the filling's flavor and the lovely, super-light, custard consistency. Because there are so few ingredients, they should be the best you can buy. I used premium vanilla, unsalted butter and our neighbor's barnyard-fresh eggs, and it definitely showed.
Buttermilk, which is inexpensive and a good keeper, gives the filling a gentle tang. Since I bought a quart, and there was leftover milk, I experimented and found it worked well with the low-cal mayonnaise in coleslaw.
I'm not a big fan of pudding mixes -- they're awfully sweet -- but in the fifth pie, which I named Taste of Tropics, the somewhat tart crushed pineapple, sliced bananas and barely sweetened whipped cream topping brought the sweetness level to one that seemed acceptable.
The tropical treat takes the least time of all the easy pies to fix, but even the brownie pie, which needs an hour to bake, isn't that awful a time-killer.
Interested? I thought you might be. Now go find a pie tin.
Blonde brownie pie
Makes 8 servings
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar
6 tablespoons butter, melted, cooled
2 teaspoons vanilla
3/4 cup flour
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate morsels
1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts
1 unbaked 8-inch pie shell
Beat eggs lightly. Beat in sugar, butter and vanilla until blended. Stir in flour, chocolate and walnuts. Stir to combine.
Spoon into pie shell. Bake in lower half of 350-degree oven for one hour.
Old-time buttermilk pie
Makes 6 servings
8 tablespoons butter
2 cups sugar
3 tablespoons flour
3 eggs, beaten
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
dash nutmeg, optional
1 unbaked 9-inch pie shell
Cream butter and sugar together well. Beat in flour and eggs. Stir in buttermilk, vanilla and nutmeg. Pour into pie shell. Bake in 350-degree oven 45 to 50 minutes or until custard sets. Cool before serving.
Autumn plum tart
Makes 6 to 8 servings
1 package (2 crusts) refrigerated pie crust
2 1/2 pounds purple prune plums
2 tablespoons flour
5 tablespoons sugar, divided
2 tablespoons butter
Flour refrigerated pie-crust circles lightly. Place one crust flour-side down in 10-inch tart pan with removable bottom. From second crust cut enough 1-inch ribbons of pie crust to make an edge around inside circumference of tart pan. Press into place, sealing joined edges. With cookie cutter, cut shapes from remaining dough. Refrigerate.
Pit and quarter plums. Mix flour with 2 tablespoons sugar; sprinkle over shell. Place plums in shell; sprinkle with remaining sugar. Cut butter in small pieces and use to dot tart surface.
Place pastry leaves on top of filling. Place tart on baking sheet. Bake on bottom rack of 375-degree oven 45 minutes.
Taste of tropics pie
Makes 10 servings
1 1/3 cups flaked coconut
2/3 cup quick-cooking oats, uncooked
3 tablespoons softened butter
1 package (3 ounces) prepared instant vanilla pudding
1 can (9 ounces) crushed pineapple in juice
1/2 cup whipping cream, chilled
2 teaspoons sugar
1 firm, ripe banana
Combine coconut, oats and butter and press into 9-inch pie pan to form pie shell. Bake at 300 degrees 20 minutes or until golden. Set aside to cool
Make pie filling according to package directions. Drain pineapple well (reserve juice for other use). Spread drained pineapple into pie shell. Top with prepared pie filling. Refrigerate until filling is firm. At serving time beat cream with sugar until stiff. Spread over pie. Slice bananas and arrange over cream topping.
Makes 8 servings
1 package (2 crusts) refrigerated pie crust
3 1/2 pounds ripe nectarines
5 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon sugar mixed with 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
Lightly flour one pie-crust circle and place, flour-side down, in 9-inch pan. Slice nectarines thinly and toss with sugar and flour. Turn into pie shell. Brush rim of crust with water. Flour second pie-crust circle and place on top of first, pressing to seal edges. Trim excess crust. Fold under to make a fluted edge.
Brush pastry with milk and sprinkle with sugar-cinnamon mix. Pierce crust in several places to let steam escape. Place on baking sheet and bake on low shelf in 400-degree oven about one hour or until evenly browned.