Watermelon Pie for the Fourth of July

I often get asked what kind of pie to make for holidays. I imagine that a lot of people are making apple pies for Independence Day. While I am all for apple pie, I have taken a stand against it being called the most American pie. It is not. Nor is watermelon. But it’s the season for watermelon here in Virginia and watermelon pie is so easy to make.

Fresh watermelon is a summertime treat throughout the South.  Many of us still grow the melons in our gardens, even though you can get them any time of year in the grocery store.  This pretty pink pie is so easy to make, though it doesn’t travel well, unless you keep it cool. It’s as refreshing as pie gets during these long, hot days of summer. This recipe is from MRS. ROWE’S LITTLE BOOK OF SOUTHERN PIES (Random House 2009).

Makes one 9-inch pie

1 Graham Cracker Crust, baked

1 3-ounce package watermelon gelatin

1/4 cup boiling water

1 12-ounce package non-dairy whipped topping, thawed

2 cups cubed seedless watermelon

In a small bowl, dissolve gelatin in 1/4 cup boiling water.  Allow to cool to room temperature.

Whisk in the non-dairy topping until completely blended.

Fold in the watermelon cubes.

Do not add any liquid that has drained from the watermelon.

Spoon into the piecrust.  Chill for 2 to 3 hours or overnight.

Killer Hobbies and Me

Today, I am a guest blogger at Killer Hobbies, a blog written by several “craft” mystery writers. Joanna Campbell Slan invited me to blog about pie and I couldn’t resist, even though I’ve moved on to writing mysteries. Pie will always be a huge part of my life, of course. And  I am always willing to share.

Joanna has written quite a few scrapbooking mysteries herself. (Check out my interview with her here. ) She’s warmly welcomed me into the mystery writing community—as have many others. I’ve been touched by so much generosity and kindness. Please visit the blog and click around while you’re there. You won’t be sorry.

Dreams. Recipes. Life. My Grandmother’s Recipe Book.

I come from a long line of savers.   Sometimes I curse them for all the things they’ve left behind for me to sort through from time to time, other times I feel incredibly blessed.

One tattered blessing is a brown notebook brimming with recipes cut out of magazines and newspapers pasted on the pages, along with recipes written in my grandmother’s  handwriting. Some of the clippings are from the 1930s. This was when she first married, had a whole married life ahead of her, and was dreaming about what she would cook and bake for herself and her new husband in the years to come.

But there were wars to fight, careers to wield, and one very special baby girl to adopt, raise, and love. My grandfather went off to the war; my grandmother went to work—and found that she loved it, changing the landscape of their family life.

When I asked my mom about the recipes in this notebook, I was a bit surprised to find that my grandmother had never cooked most of them—at least not after my mom arrived on the scene. But only a bit.  After all, so many of us love our cookbooks, read them, dream over them, and yet don’t cook from them. As my mom said,  “As cooks we perfect several dishes we learn to rely on and sometimes we never branch out.” As the author of two cookbooks, you might think this trend upsets me, but it doesn’t. Thinking of readers dreaming over my cookbooks is every bit as satisfying to me as thinking of cooks cooking from them.

Still, as I run my fingers over the yellowed pages neatly put together and organized by my own grandmother’s hands, along with the comfort that envelops me, I feel a sense of regret. The passage of time requires us to pick and choose which dreams to follow and which recipes to make.

What I see here is so clearly my grandmother—the neat handwriting, the clear, organized mind at work in her table of contents and a meticulous index. (Unfortunately my camera doesn’t focus that well on her text.) Her passion for Chinese food is evidenced by these recipes and clippings, as well. She lists several recipes for chop suey, yet Mom only remembers her making chow mien.  Gram embraced Chinese food while my grandfather was stationed in China, then Burma. Chinese restaurants were popping up here and there, as well. My grandmother was the kind of a woman who would wake up at 2 a.m., hungry for Chinese food, and drive 40 miles to the nearest all-night Chinese restaurant to quell her craving. Such is the stuff of family history.

My mother waxes poetic over certain dishes her mother prepared. One of them is doughnuts. Eureka. Several doughnut recipes are contained in this book. The baked doughnut recipe calls to me and we’ll try it out sometime over the next few weeks. As we mix the dough and make a mess in our own kitchen,  I’ll tell my daughters stories about their greatgrandmother, her dreams, her recipes, her life.

Baked Doughnuts

Full disclosure: I’ve not tried this yet. If you try the recipe and it doesn’t work, please let me know. I’ve copied it exactly as my grandmother wrote it.

2 cakes compressed yeast of 2 packages dry granular yeast

¼ cup lukewarm water

1/3 cup shortening

2 tablespoon, salt

2 eggs beaten, melted butter and granulated sugar

1 ¼ cups scalded milk

½ cup sugar

1/1/2 teaspoons nutmeg

4 ¾ cup all-purpose flour

Soften yeast in the lukewarm water. Meanwhile scald the milk and pour it over the shortening, sugar, salt and nutmeg measured into a mixing bowl. When milk mixture cools to lukewarm, stir in softened yeast and eggs, the flour and beat until thoroughly mixed. Cover and let stand in a warm place until double in bulk (about one hour.) Then turn dough out onto a well-floured board. Shape into a soft ball, but do not knead. With floured hands, gently press the dough out to about ¾ thickness. Then use slightly floured rolling pin to roll dough to uniform ½ inch thickness. Brush off lightly any excess flour on the top. This dough is very soft. Cut-out with a floured 3-inch doughnut cutter, lift carefully with a pancake turner so as not to distort the round shape, and place 2-inches apart on a greased baking sheet.

Brush gently but thoroughly with melted butter or margarine and let rise until double in bulk—20 to 25 minutes. Bake in a 425-degree oven from 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from the oven and immediately brush with hot melted butter while on the baking sheet, the remove from the pan and put two or three at a time into packer sack containing granulated sugar. Shake gently to coat. These are elegant served warm, but if any are left, they may be reheated in the oven for 5 to 10 minutes and will be just as delicious as when first baked. Makes 2 ½ to 3 dozen.

Five thing I thought about during my morning run:

1. Hey, I think that’s Christy, wearing a yellow shirt. Just like I am. 😉

2. Sometimes when I run, it’s barely a run. I am slogging. But today, I was able to speed up a bit and I tried to concentrate on lengthening my stride.

3. The woman with the Coonhunt Club t-shirt. Why would you hunt raccoons? Fur? Meat? I can’t imagine.

4. O, I’m going to eat at Stone Soup today. Always a treat. But today, it will be even more of a treat. I meeting with Deborah, who I met at the VPW conference last and we found out that we had a lot in common and that we are both ASJA members. Cool.

5. I wonder if pie is on the menu?

Red Velvet Lovey-Dovey Pie for Valentine’s Day

Red velvet is special in the Bryan house. Last year, I made my first red velvet cake from scratch for my husband of now nearly 20 years. Red velvet cake is his favorite. We’ve bought so many of them over the years for him that I really had no idea what a homemade red velvet cake would taste like. He asked for a homemade cake and that is what he got. Quite happily.

Of course, the cake was so much tastier. And I fell in love with the process and idea of making cake. But pie is more a part of my family tradition—and it is the subject of my cookbook, even though it’s Mrs. Rowe’s pies, not my own.

So as I found myself enjoying making the cake, I also felt a little like a traitor to pie. But I learned a lot about the cake that I wouldn’t have known without actually making it. It’s not a simple chocolate cake—as some have suggested to me. It’s really a buttermilk-cocoa cake. I’m no fan of sipping buttermilk—but it adds a depth of flavor and tang to cooking and baking that’s hard beat.  As I was mixing the cake, I thought of Mrs. Rowe’s buttermilk pie. How easy would it be to make it into a “red velvet” pie? Quite easy, as it turns out.

I just added cocoa and red food coloring to an otherwise perfect buttermilk pie recipe. The pie gets a thin cakelike skin on it as it cools, which is lovely for topping purposes. It would work with a number of toppings. But for me, it’s not red velvet without the cream cheese icing.

This recipe is a perfect example of how versatile pie is—once you have a good, solid recipe that works, it’s fun and easy to experiment with it. I call this pie my “Lovey-Dovey Red Velvet Pie” because I’m honoring my husband’s Southern traditions and tastes while also acknowledging my own pie-loving Yankee family and traditions. Perfect for Valentine’s Day.

Makes one 9-inch pie

1 pie crust

1 cup unsalted butter, melted, slightly cooled

1 cup sugar

½ cup all purpose flour

3 eggs

1 cup buttermilk

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 heaping teaspoons of cocoa

1 ounce of red food coloring

Preheat oven to 325. Line a 9-inch pie plate with dough and crimp the edges.

In a bowl, combine the butter, sugar, and flour, and stir
well. One at a time, add the eggs. Mixing well after each addition. Add the buttermilk and vanilla and stir well. Next, add the cocoa and stir into filling. Last, stir in the food coloring. Red, isn’t it?

Pour the batter into the pie crust.

The original buttermilk pie recipe called for baking for 25 to 35 minutes, until a thin knife inserted into the center comes out clean. But it took 45 minutes in my oven for it thicken. When you insert the knife, there will be a little filling on it—but it continues to firm up as it cools.

Transfer it to a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes, until the filling firms up. Serve warm, at room temperature, or chilled.

You can top this with just about anything; I used a cream cheese icing recipe that was a bit too sweet. I’m still searching for a better cream cheese topping for this pie.

Disclaimer: this post is a rehash of an earlier one.

Exciting New York City Week Ahead

I’ll be in New York next week so I won’t be posting regularly. But if you’ve been following along on my Facebook and Twitter feeds, chances are you know why I am going to New York.  I’ve a lot of reasons for going now.

Last year, when I attended the Roger Smith Food Writer’s Conference, someone said New York City doesn’t have good pie. So, I have been checking into it a bit and while it’s true that it doesn’t seem to have a reputation for good pie—like it does for say, cheesecake—it looks like there are some restaurants in Manhattan worth checking out. I’m willing to sacrifice (a-hem) and find out IF good pie exists in the city.

Now, that said, I’m not making any promises. The city is an unforgiving place when it comes to time.  So many things could happen along the way. I’m allowing myself some time to explore what ever may come up. But pie is one of my priorities.

I’m also going to get a chance to meet with my fiction agent, Sharon Bowers, which is always a pleasure. I just love picking her brain and hearing about all of her exciting projects. One of thing I’m sure we’ll discuss is my transition into fiction writing. (And I’m just a wee bit exited about that!)

Also, I will be meeting with my new editor at Kensington, Martin Biro, who will give me a little tour and then we will meet over lunch to get to know one another. We’ll be working together over the next 3 years (at least) and this meeting gets us off to a grand start.

I’m going to pop in at Random House and meet with an editor there who is on my ASJA panel in the spring— Rica Allannic.  It will be wonderful to meet her before the conference in April.  Now, Random House is the publisher of my cookbooks, so it will be extremely cool to check it out.

Along with all these meetings, I’ll also be catching up with some dear friends—one very close friend of my family back home, so close that I always refer to her as my cousin.

I will try to keep you posted as I go along next week. Stay tuned.

Five things I thought during my morning run:

1. Long, slender silver-edged white clouds.

2. I should NOT have had that slice of key lime pie last night, but it was so good. As was everything.

3. I needed that. Thank you, Christy, Kristie, and Jen.

4. Next Saturday will be completely PIE-FILLED.

5. I’m so sore today–not from running or walking, but from cleaning and packing. Cross training?

Have Green Tomatoes, Make Pie

are never any leftovers of this flavorful pie at Mrs. Rowe’s Restaurant and
Bakery Staunton, Va. Customers look forward to it—such a short season—with its
robust spice and vinegar flavors,
perfectly mingled with an underlying sweetness. The flavors unfold with every
Long-time regular customers know to get to the restaurant early enough
to enjoy a slice.  If the green tomato season
slips by, try tomatillos instead. This pie also works as a side dish with pork chops, chicken or veggie burgers.

you’d like another way to use your green tomatoes, check out my other blog for
a sandwich spread recipe.)

two 10-inch pies.

12 cups of mincemeat

recipes pie crust (You will need a top and bottom crust for both pies.)


pounds green tomatoes (or tomatillos) 

3 1/2
pounds apples

pounds brown sugar

pounds seedless raisins

tablespoon salt

2 ½
tablespoons cinnamon

teaspoons ground allspice

tablespoon nutmeg

tablespoons lemon juice

1 1/4
cups vinegar

the tomatoes though a food chopper. Add
salt and let stand for one hour. Drain
the tomatoes and add water, enough to cover. Bring to a boil and cook for five
minutes. Drain. Pare,
core, and chop the apples until very fine. Add
the tomatoes and other ingredients. Mix thoroughly. Bring
to a boiling point and simmer for one hour. Stir frequently to keep from
burning on bottom of the pan. Cool. This will take about 3 hours at room
temperature. This
will keep in refrigerator or will freeze well.

oven to 425°F. 

the unbaked pie shell with mincemeat (approximately 5 cups).   Cover with top crust and seal

at 425°F for 15 minutes.

temperature to 350°F and continue to bake for 35 minutes.

for 2 hours at room temperature before serving.