A Year of Pies: A Seasonal Tour of Home Baked Pies Paperback – Aug 7 2012
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"English’s talent is twofold: repurposing a traditional dish while staying true to its food legacy and giving us foolproof instructions and color step-by-step photographs for making piecrusts right. Also, her approach, as with all good chefs, is seasonal, as is her collection, divided into winter, spring, summer, and autumn. Interspersing savory with sweet, she proffers some intriguing, gotta-make-this kinds of pie: rosemary-bourbon sweet-potato pie, ratatouille and polenta pie, carrot pie, and buttered-rum shoofly pie." --Booklist
“Pie is one of those nearly universally loved dishes. It's beautiful, delicious, and incredibly versatile. However, you would think that after a few centuries of tweaking this quintessentially American food, there wouldn't be a whole lot left to say about it. Ashley English not only proves this wrong, but she manages to make us look at pie in a new light. From the decadent Chocolate, Coffee, and Orange Marmalade Tart to the veritably heart-warming Curried Winter Vegetable Pie, English sparks the impetus to dust off the old pastry blender and 9-inch pie pan and make something delicious. Prepare to be transported by her infectious enthusiasm and independent spirit.” -- The Joy of Cooking (official site)
“If you buy one pie book this year, make it this one.” --Rurally Screwed
“Ashley English's passion about pies is felt throughout her entire book . . . Her enthusiasm comes out through each and every recipe . . . It's dangerous to read this book on an empty stomach.” --About.com Baking
“Ashley English's new cookbook, A Year Of Pies: A Seasonal Tour of Home Baked Pies, offers much inspiration. Seasonally organized and brimming with both sweet and savory pies, the book gives step-by-step instructions on all the technical details of making pies, from tools, to crusts, to decorating. It's packed with useful and good-looking photography, and a host of recipes for pies (and tarts, quiches, and galettes) made with both traditional and innovative flavor combinations.” --Garden and Gun
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As a pretty good home cook who's ventured into the realm of pies and quiches with fair success, I have to say that I've recently been looking at my collection of cookbooks and thinking of weeding out a bit. One gets to the point where there are useful books, and then a great weight of books that are never opened. Some of them are awkwardly bad. But there's a short shelf, about a foot long, of cookbooks I keep in the kitchen as a trusted resource, while the rest are relegated to bookshelves in the den.
Ashley English's "A Year of Pies" is going on the special shelf, along with James Beard and "The Joy of Cooking" and a few rarified others. I'm not a fan of niche cookbooks or specialty cookbooks for the reserved shelf. But Ms. English's book on pies, I expect, will inform quite a bit of my gustatory choices when it comes to feasting.
I love pies, and associate them with Thanksgiving (my grandmother's berry pies, mincemeat pies, and of course pumpkin) and summertime (Mom's lemon meringue), coconut creams at Easter, and others in-between. But Ashley elevates pie to more than a slice of sweetness on a plate. She has taken something quintessentially American and simple and unfortunately sometimes mundane, and made it into a yearlong song of amazement.
If you're looking for something special to take to a dinner, or to serve when hosting, there is no end to options in Ashley's book. I love that it is arranged by season, as I try to cook seasonally with fresh ingredients. I love that she devotes the first 35 pages to crusts, ingredients, and techniques -- the foundation. I love that the recipes are simple to follow, and have beautiful photos to accompany them. And I love the fact that as I read each recipe I can practically see how it will unfold in preparation, and how it will taste on the fork.
I mean, almost. I really need to make these pies. One pie's description was so provocative, I decided to set aside my dietary fears and order this book: rosemary bourbon sweet potato pie. Now let's just think about this for a second, shall we? I love sweet potato pie, but for many folks in Northern states, the closest cognate might be a pumpkin pie. And bourbon with sweet potato or pumpkin pie is a fine combination, one I've tried (via bourbon whipped cream). But this is what Ashley does, again and again, recipe after recipe: she takes the familiar, tastes that you know, and she ups the ante, puts a twist on things, and makes them magical. How does rosemary fit with sweet potato pie and bourbon? Just thinking about it makes me crazy.
My wife and I kept passing this book back and forth with amazement, asking "have you seen THIS recipe?" And I don't want to spoil all the fun, but there are sweet pies, and there are savory pies; there are round pies, square pies, and freestyle galettes; there are pies like the caramelized onion and blue cheese galette that take recipes I've used often and successfully and put a new spin on them. There are regional pies like the fried green tomato and pimento cheese tart, or the buttered rum shoo-fly pie. I live close to Amish country, and shoo-fly pie was novel when I was young, but you get over it. Until, of course, Ashley asks you to revisit it with her signature twist on the familiar.
That's the genius of this book. Every recipe, or darned near every one, seems like something you know and have eaten, with a whip-smart update or variation. There's no experimentation for the sake of showing off, there's nothing in this book that won't succeed. What you have is an entire year's repository of ideas when it comes time to bring something fantastic to the feast, whether you are hosting or attending. These pies don't require exotic ingredients, or exceptional patisserie skills, and yet recipe after recipe turns out something exceptional.
Here, let me taunt you with a few more. Nectarine and lavender crostada. Lemoncello lemon meringue pie. Peach and plum tart with walnut pesto. You see how the author takes the known, twists it a bit, and makes it sublime? Sublime is what you might call this book.
I'll offer a few criticisms now, lest you think I'm in the employ of Ms. English. There are guest recipes, one of which is a saltwater taffy pie. I have to admit to not being a fan of saltwater taffy, and this one recipe seems a tad cloying. I also wish that, alongside basic crusts of butter and shortening and all-butter, Ms. English would have explored crusts that used traditional fats such as lard or beef tallow (possibly in combination with butter). But these are minor quibbles.
I cannot wait to see what Ashley English does next. I see that she has published a series of homesteading books, but I think she can reach an even broader audience with her cookbooks. Unlike some cookbooks, one gets the sense that each recipe has been tested in a real home kitchen, and eaten by real people like you and me, and that the only disappointment has been that the pie ran out too quickly. This is good stuff, folks.
I have found the recipes easy to follow and have been impressed that I haven't had to go looking so far for crazy, hard-to-find, expensive ingredients to make outstanding pies. Her basic all-butter pie crust is incredibly flavorful and flaky. I will never buy another frozen pie crust! Prior to purchasing this book, I had always been afraid of making pies- it was the pie crust that worried me. But, her instructions are simple and it really did make a difference to put everything in the freezer.
I have shared each pie with my husband, neighbors, and friends and everyone has been in love with the pies. Out of all the cookbooks I have, this is now in the top three. I really like that she has included savory and sweet pies and divided them up according to the seasons. With the exception of the Coconut Cream Pie that I made for a friend because it is her favorite type of pie, I am trying to be good and follow the progression of pies through the year.
The recipes are laid out well and the photography is lovely. This book is truly a pleasure to look at as much as it is to cook from. My only "complaint" is that it would have been nice if there had been a photo of each pie. For some recipes, the photo is just of the ingredients, although I will admit that fresh lavender buds are much prettier than cooked ones (Nectarine and Lavender Crostata).
I highly recommend purchasing and using this cookbook! Definitely read the introduction of the book to include the tools she recommends for pie-making. I purchased a pie-bird because of this book and for the first time ever my double-crust fruit pie did not bubble out of the top and cause a mess in my oven. "A Year of Pies" is definitely going to become years of pies for my family. Don't hesitate- get this book.
The book is very easy to follow and is a visual delight. I plan to send a number of copies as holiday gifts.
I`ve also decided to check into the author`s other books.
I enjoy savory pies just about as much as sweet, and since I had recently been gifted with a large sack of onions, I thought it was the perfect time to try the Carmelized Onion and Bleu Cheese tart. It was much simpler to make than the photo implied, I topped the pie crust with the carmelized onions and blue cheese and then folded the edges of the pie crust over the mixture, galette style. It made for a beautiful and completely delicious main course and I will definitely be making it again.
I had to try a fruit pie as well, and the Peaches and Cream Crumble topped pie really stood out to me, especially after reading that the author's friends said it was the "best peach pie they had ever eaten." It has a custard filling, rather than a clear fruit gel filling and the almond flavoring adds a perfect touch. The crunchy topping really made it for me, especially with the chunks of pecan!
I really appreciated the tips (and photos!) in the chapter devoted entirely to pie crusts, since the crust is the foundation of every pie. Types of crust, tips and decorative top crust ideas fill out this section and offer a lot of classic techniques, as well as some new ideas -- I can't wait to try the Almond Shortbread and Gingersnap crusts!