The Zen of Slicing Pie

Cutting pie in the restaurant business involves more than a steady hand and a good eye. At Mrs.Rowe's Restaurant and Bakery, employees need to prove themselves before being trained to cut the pie. Here are some pie slicing tips from owner and general manager, Mike DiGrassie,  that you can use at home:

  • Don’t give in to the temptation to cut into a warm pie. It will taste good, but will be a mess.
  • Use a blunt-tip serrated knife.
  • Keep the knife hot. (The restaurant keeps their knife in a jar of hot water.)
  • Place the knife back in the jar of hot water after each cut.
  • If cutting a meringue pie, slice through the meringue first. Then go back, using your meringue cuts as guides, and slice through the filling and crust.
  • Make sure you slice through the crust, or the pie will tear when you try to scoop it out.
  • Cut the pie in half, turn it, cut it in half again, then cut each quarter once more for eight slices. For six slices, cut the pie in half, turn it; make your next cut at quarter-angle. (If you are looking down on the pie, the cuts now make an X). Then cut through the center of your two largest slices.

More Pie for Everyone

Why Pie? Why Now?

When my publisher asked if I could write the Mrs. Rowe’s Little Book of Southern Pies Cookbook, I jumped at the chance. It's a natural follow-up to the Mrs. Rowe Restaurant Cookbook: A Lifetime of Recipes from Shenandoah Valley because Mrs. Rowe was famous for her pie. We could not possibly include all the pie recipes in the first book.

The other reason I jumped at the chance is that I love pie. The mix of textures and flavors in any piece of pie—whether it’s fruit or cream-based, suits my personality. It delights me.

But even more than the actual bite of it in my mouth, I love the idea of pie. It conjures images of home and hearth to some, yet to others it conjures more base appetites—lust and passion enclosed in a perfect crust or perfectly crafted meringue. These two images don’t necessarily have to be at odds with one another—as those of us who are married with children can attest to. 

In fact, pie is many things to many people. It can mean whatever you want it to mean. It can also be as simple or elegant as you want to it be. You can bake a blackberry pie, for example, with more expensive but locally grown blackberries, or you can buy a can of berries or even frozen ones. You can stick with a simple pumpkin pie, made with Libby’s canned pumpkin—or you can go as far growing your own pumpkins for mashing.

As I researched this book, I talked to a lot of people about pie—cookbook authors, food writers, restaurant owners, neighbors, friends and family members.  It became clear to me that many people have strong feelings about it.  Unfortunately, one of the feelings that cropped up about it is crust-anxiety. That’s a topic for another discussion. Another thing that kept cropped up frequently was that most people judge pie by the way their own mother’s made it for them as a child. How’s that for a link between love and pie?

So, I say more pie for everyone.  It’s the perfect time for it—we all could use a little more love, a lot more fun, and a simple bit of joy baked in our own ovens.

Our Little Book of Pie

The developmental edits of Mrs. Rowe's Little Book of Southern Pie are done. The editor emailed me the manuscript with questions and changes for me and I sent them back to her. First, I needed to get our tester and the owner of the restaurant to weigh in on some of the questions—especially those of a technical nature. Baking can be like that. This book is not meant to be an encyclopedia of pie baking, but more of a fun take on pie, with loads of delcious southern recipes. But still some technical issues need to be addressed. For example, I added in two paragraphs about equipment—double boilers and pie cutters.
So after I sent in the latest version, my editor sent it to the copy editor. By Friday, she already had a list of more questions for me. This, I think, after just a quick reading of the manuscript. Copy editors are truly a different breed. It's so helpful to have some outside eye come into a project like this, especially a trained one. You never know what they might catch. At this point, I hope there's not much to catch—but I know that it is absolutely the best thing for everybody that she query everything that strikes her fancy.   I hope for another push for excellence.

Day in the Kitchen at Mrs. Rowe’s, part 2

Okay. I figured out the vertical picture thing.
The new baker is a happy guy. Patrick Sullivan started out cooking at Mrs. Rowe’s a few years ago,  and is now being trained as a baker. He loves his new gig. Gee, I did not get the potato guys name—but I talked to him about his job. He says he loves it because he gets to work alone, in corner by himself, which suits him fine.  I always wondered what kind of a person thrives simply peeling potatoes. There you have it. I wanted to ask him more—but by then, I knew he wanted to just be LEFT ALONE! Ha.
Oh yeah, I had to get one shot in of those rolls in the cooling racks. They smelled heavenly…Dscf2341

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Day in the Kitchen at Mrs. Rowe’s

I spent some time with the new baker at Mrs. Rowe’s. While I was there, I took some pictures of the pie and bread proofing. I’ve also taken pictures of the baker and the potato peeler guy–but they are vertical and I need to figure how how to turn them around!
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New Book

Okay. I am in an awkward space, sort of still promoting my first book, "Mrs. Rowe’s Restaurant Cookbook: A Lifetime of Recipes from the Shenandoah Valley," and beginning my next cookbook project. I should be getting the contract from Ten Speed any day. I am thrilled to be working with them again—this time on "Mrs. Rowe’s Little Book of Southern Pie," a great title, yes? But both books work together, so it’s not as awkward as it could be.
There are, as usual, plenty of projects on the horizon. I am still working on my essays that I hope to compile into a book and still longing to do more work on Mary Johnston. My article on her in Virginia Living has been pushed to March. Getting that article published is the first step to generating more interest in her.
Well, I am off to the restaurant this morning for a meeting about pie…can’t beat that.

Amazon rankings and the ups and downs

I wonder what Amazon rankings really mean—in the book publishing industry at large. Do editor and publishers have time to check?  They REALLY seem to fluctuate. I noticed today that the Mrs.Rowe book has been selling well—the count of books available is way down. That’s good news. The book has been out well over a year and for it to be selling so briskly, well, I am very proud of it. Last year, at this time it was much higher—I think at one point it was up to 2,000.
Along with the good comes the disappointing, of course, especially when you are book writer. One of my proposed projects just got another rejection. While rejection is just part of everything, and I usually handle it well, this time I am perplexed and angry. It’s probably not a good idea to go into the details on this blog, but I wonder what is really going on with this editor–who asked to see more of my writing. (More of the warm stuff, which is what I gave her.)  But the rejection said she wanted something completely different—hard core, confessional stuff about my hard-scrabble life in Pa. (Not going to happen.) And the first proposal never even hinted at that. It’s really kind of offensive that she thinks that because I grew up in a mobile home and was poor that I should be writing that kind of book.  Yes, all that is true, but the heart of this book is the goodness and warmth that was created in our home, in spite of all that. So, really she just did not get it.
But then again, now, I REALLY to to look at the proposal (AGAIN) to see if I was not doing my job well enough as the writer. If she did not get it, was it my fault or hers? It seems like there was some huge misunderstanding. So, I guess  we just need to move on from here, find another publisher, find another way. Onward!

Signing at Stone Soup Books, Waynesboro!

Hope to see some of you tomorrow afternoon at Stone Soup Books, Waynesboro, Va. I’ll be signing books from 4 to 6. I am also going to have a sign-up sheet for people who are interested in taking a writer’s workshop with me. I am in the planning stages with Stone Soup about offering something there.
If you haven’t been there yet, it is a fabulous independent book store that sells both used and new books. It located in a big, rambling, old house and in the back is an exquisite cafe. OKAY. That is where the food writer belongs. 😉 They will have me set up at a table, where I can chat with customers and smell the incredible food being cooked and baked.

What is a Narrative Cookbook?

I am often asked what a narrative cookbook is. And I smile.
A narrative cookbook is a cookbook that tells a story. If you think about all the different kinds of cookbooks there are, you’ll note that some of them just give recipes and hints about food. Narrative cookbooks have recipes, along with stories about the food, history, the people making the food, and so on. The Mrs. Rowe’s Restaurant Cookbook: A Lifetime of Recipes from the Shenandoah Valley tell the story of Mrs. Rowe’s life, restaurant, food, and give some local history. It tells the story through overlapping techniques—the main one in the narrative that flows throughout the book, which is accented by photo captions, sidebars, recipe head notes.
So.
A narrative cookbook is what it says it is. 😉 A cookbook that tells a story. Any other thoughts about that?

Book signing

Next week, Saturday, November 3, Mike DiGrassie and I will be signing the Mrs. Rowe’s Restaurant Cookbook: A Lifetime of Recipes from the Shenandoah Valley at Sam’s Club in Charlottesville, Va., 1-3. Please stop by!