Cooking & Eating Seasonally:
There was a time when cooking and eating seasonally was not an option here in Rochester and there are many places in the world where people are still bound by the growing season in their area to feed themselves entirely. At some point in America we started sourcing our food from around the country (and world) and limited ourselves to a handful of varieties of produce that traveled and kept well. In the process we lost variety and diversity of flavors as well as control and independence. Choosing to cook and eat locally and seasonally is important for our collective food and farming future and in recent years there has been a growing trend not only in home kitchens but in restaurants as well to more towards a modern local/seasonal system. Local seasonal foods taste better and are proven to be healthier and more sustainable than factory farmed and chemically preserved produce shipped in from elsewhere. Less massive farming practices and more small local and diverse farming is infinitely worth supporting not only from a sustainability standpoint but also because those ingredients taste a lot better when you cook with them, which is really the main selling point in my mind.
There is a lost joy to be found in the seasonal menu of life and a forgotten artistry and creativity to keeping to a mostly seasonal food lifestyle. Having a few items in abundance for a time, thinking of ingenuous and delicious uses for them then moving on to another season and another set of flavors can be a lot of fun. I find just as you begin to grow weary of a particular in season item that season ends and you can embark on a new culinary adventure until next year comes around. The Rochester Public Market is one of a number of great places to explore this concept locally and even giants like Wegmans are waking up to this idea to some extent and realizing there is a growing market for fresh local seasonal ingredients, but you have to be savvy in your sourcing and remember to ask any vendor the origin on the products they are selling if they are not clearly marked.
There are few things in the food world more universally beloved than Pie. Pie of any kind is a joy inducing item. Giving someone a pie (especially unexpectedly) that you baked special just for them is one of the kindest things you can ever do for someone you care about. A pure, selfless expression of affection. Recently in my own home my girlfriend joked with me that if I didn’t start making more pies it meant I didn’t like her anymore and we should break up. I have a number of old friends that constantly joke that their religion is Pientology because it’s the only faith that guarantees some happiness in life.
Baking pies with seasonal fillings is something I greatly recommend. Apple and Pumpkin in the fall, Pecan in the winter, Strawberry Rhubarb in the early summer etc. You can even make and can/jar some pie fillings when the ingredients are in season then later on make the dough and use the filling for delicious pies out of season.
The following recipe will outline how to make an alternative style of dough in execution than was presented in The Highlife for Lowlifes Guide to Cooking: Coffee Tart with an apple filling because apples are currently in season, but the dough itself is universal.
The Dough- This versatile dough can be used with just about any filling for pies and pie shells, it also is good for “hand pies” and some tarts. I ALWAYS use my leftover dough scraps when baking to make additional goodies like mini-pies/hand pies/tarts… even little jam cookies. Waste not.
You will need:
1 Cup+ White Flour (I like King Arthur)
1 Cup Pastry/Cake Flour (I like King Arthur)
1 Small Egg (Organic brown is best)
2 Sticks Cold Butter (Unsalted and cut into small pieces)
Start by sifting the flours into a mixing bowl saving some for dusting later on. Add a few teaspoons of sugar (not much more) and a dash of salt and combine. Using a wooden spoon make a well in the middle of the flour and add in the egg then add in the cubes of cold butter and with your hands combine.
Make sure you work the butter between your thumb and index finger and really mush it into the flour. Add a small splash of water and work until the dough appears crumbly. Empty the crumby mix onto a baking sheet that’s been dusted with flour and work the dough into a ball dusting with flour as needed. Once the ball is firm and formed well, cover the outside of the ball with an additional dusting of flour and refrigerate for 1 hour+.
Apple Pie: Americana – What’s more American than Apple Pie? A lie. Apples (at least the ones we cook with) are not indigenous to North America and the cooking of apples into pie form has been around much longer than even the discovery of the continent by Europeans let alone the founding of the nation. Does it really matter? Not even slightly. We love apple pie so much we have branded it as our own and with good reason, it’s a perfect creation. There is a magic to apple pie that is unique. Some undefined alchemy to the sweet cinnamon tartness of an apple pie that has captured our imaginations to the point we have basically made up an alternate common history and stolen the concept from the rest of the world. An apple pie means fall here in Rochester with our abundance of wonderful local apples. Choosing the right apple for pie can be tricky if you don’t know what you’re getting into, but a safe bet is to use larger “softer” apples for cooking like Gala Apples and smaller “firmer” apples like Fuji Apples for eating, but there really is no wrong answer, pie is pie.
You Will Need:
2-3 Large, Tart in season Apples (Peeled, cored and sliced)
1 Pear (Peeled, cored and sliced)
Golden or Baking Raisins (optional)
Sugar (Granulated or Raw)
1 Tbsp. Flour
In a mixing bowl add in the sliced apples/pear, a splash of brandy and dust with the sugar and cinnamon to taste as well as the little bit of flour and mix until everything is combined evenly.
Divide the chilled pie dough into two halves and roll out on a baking mat in a circle larger than your baking/pie pan. Place half the dough into the baking pan and push it out around the edges of the pan carefully (if the dough tares you can patch it with a little piece of dough and a drop of water on your fingertip). Trim the overhanging dough on the edge of the pan then fill with the apple/pear mixture to just below the top.
Using wet fingers gently press flat and moisten the upper rim of the dough along the edge of the pan then carefully place the other half of the rolled out dough over the pie to form the top. Trim as needed then fold the conjoined seam over itself and tuck it behind the pie along the pans rim to from a crust then using a fork press and seal the two halves of the dough together. Using a butter knife cut small vents in the center of the pie top.
Bake in a preheated oven on a middle rack at 350⁰ for 60-70 min (until golden brown and bubbly). You may want to place a pan or large piece of tinfoil under the pie to catch any spill over from the filling in the event that you put too much into the shell. Cool on a wire rack before serving for at least an hour. Once cooled you can (optionally) dust the top of the pie with confection sugar.
*Note: Sugar (or sugar substitute) is necessary in both the dough and fillings of pie but in my opinion should not be used in excess. Often pies are oversweet and you lose the flavor of the filling ingredients. This tendency often happens when working with ingredients that are out of season or not locally grown. In season local ingredients are usually perfect just as they are and need very little help to be delicious.
J.Nevadomski (also known as Juda) is an accomplished musician and artist from Rochester. He has recorded with musicians from all over the world for his project “The Fragile Path” (which he heads and produces) and is a veteran artist who’s paintings have been featured in galleries, newspapers and exhibitions throughout the Rochester area. In 2012 he was the “artist guest of honor” at RocCon: Rochester’s Anime, Sci-Fi and comic book convention. He lives in the NOTA area of Rochester, keeps a yearly urban vegetable garden and regularly cooks and hosts dinner parties for friends and colleagues.