I have a friend who will sometimes pour us what she calls “let’s be honest” glasses of wine. These are very full—very full. I have yet to determine whether she wants to be honest about how much wine we want to drink in the first place or if she thinks that if we drink more, we’ll be more honest. Maybe it’s both.
Ok, so let’s be honest.
I don’t really like peaches. Sure, perfectly ripe peaches are divine, or at least point us in the right direction. Eating an under-ripe peach, I’m positive, is akin to eating squishy tree bark. Eating over-ripe ones: just don’t. I will admit there is a narrow window of acceptable peachiness. That version of peaches, I could eat until I die.
Unsurprisingly, I don’t like peach pie. What is worse than a raw peach that is outside of the acceptable ripeness window? Cooked peaches. This includes canned peaches. This includes peach cobbler. This includes all peach-flavored things. To quote an incredibly obscure song from an incredibly obscure musical I was in once, “Peaches have fuzz, and I don’t like ‘em cuz, they’re soft and squishy, kinda slimy like a fishy.” Mix that with a dry, heavy, crumbly crust, over-sweetened filling, and corn starch holding all the goo together, and you have a pretty terrible pie.
You can imagine my skepticism when my mom told me about this fantastic peach pie she had made. Even though there was no wine involved, I pressed her to be honest about why she thought this particular pie was so good.
My grandparents used to live in a house with a peach tree in the front yard. This provided a plethora of peaches in late summer, which my grandpa preferred to eat with cream. I decided to make the pie, not because I thought I would like it, but because it would give me a way to use up a lot of peaches. At the very least, my grandparents could enjoy the dessert.
I wrote down the recipe based on my mom’s instructions. I gathered ingredients. The crust called for lemon juice and butter instead of shortening, yielding the best crust I had ever come across. This was encouraging.
The filling called for mace.
I know what you’re thinking. Claire, don’t you use mace to ward off an attacker or scare away evil demons? The answer to this is yes. However, mace can scare away the demons of your soul when you eat it, by being delicious, because it’s made from the outer casing of nutmeg.
Additionally, the filling called for flour, not corn starch to keep the juices from being too oozy; it also called for an egg wash over the top crust.
The resulting pie was the best pie I have ever had.
It was gloriousness wrapped in a flaky, light crust that had been browned to perfection. The mace gives it a kick of spiciness—not too much. There wasn’t too much sugar, allowing for the best part of all: the peaches tasted like peaches. Sure, they were softer and warmer, but they still tasted like the sun-kissed glory that peachy perfection should be. It also doesn’t even need ice cream.
So now, when I make a pie, it’s a peach pie. I have made dozens by now.
I am a pie particularist, meaning I can get really picky about pie—about most dessert, really. So, when people offer me pie and I tell them I’m not really in the mood for dessert, the truth is that I am just not in the mood for that dessert—this is about honesty, after all.
I imagine there are other pie particularists out there. Maybe some of them think that peach pie can only be mediocre, inferior to the glory days of a finicky fruit. This recipe is for them. I have tweaked it slightly, but a similar recipe can also be found in The Gourmet Cookbook, edited by Ruth Reichl.
Let’s Be Honest Peach Pie
3 cups all purpose flour
3/4 tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 Tbs fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup cold water
3 lbs perfectly ripe peaches, pealed, pitted, and sliced
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
3 Tbs rum
6 Tbs all purpose flour
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
pinch of mace
2 Tbs butter
1 large egg yolk
1 Tbs water
For Crust: in a large mixing bowl, mix flour and salt. Cut in butter with a fork or by hand until the butter is pea-sized or smaller and the mixture feels grainy. Add lemon juice and blend gently with a fork. Add cold water one Tbs at a time, blending with a fork until the crust is slightly sticky and all the mixture forms one lump of dough. Do not over-mix. For the most delicate crusts, the less friction created during the assembly, the better.
Separate the dough into to pieces and form into disks about 1.5 inches thick each. One should be slightly larger than the other (this will form the bottom crust). Wrap each in wax paper and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
For Filling: in a large mixing bowl, combine peaches, lemon juice, rum, flour, brown sugar, salt, and mace. Be sure to stir very gently, tossing the peaches so they maintain their shape, being careful not to bruise them.
Preheat oven to 425°F.
For assembly: Remove crust from refrigerator. Generously flour your counter-top or pastry board. You should give yourself at least 18×18 inches. Take the larger piece of dough and roll it out, beginning from the center and pushing out. You may want to turn the crust over once or twice to ensure that it won’t stick to the counter. When you are finished, the crust should be even, less than 1/8 inches thick. Gently fold crust in half and in half again and transfer to a 10 inch pie plate. Unfold the crust and center it in the plate.
Add the peach mixture, spreading it evenly. Next, roll out the second piece of crust in the same fashion as the first. Instead of folding it, cut 1-1.5 inch wide strips and lay them across the top of the pie to form a lattice.
In a small bowl, mix large egg yolk with water. Using a pastry brush, slather the egg wash over the pie. Using a fork, press the edges of the crust together, then trim the excess crust with a knife.
Place pie on center rack and bake for 20 minutes. Reduce temperature to 375°F and continue baking for 45-50 minutes. Let cool for at least 1 hour before serving.
Don’t forget to eat the entire thing right out of the plate at least once.