Peach Crumble Pie: It’s Not Too Late

I love peach season! I just wish it lasted longer. As we approach all things pumpkin-spiced, I used the last peaches of the season to make one final peach pie. Peach crumble, actually, because . . . brown sugar and butter! 


When asked what my favorite pie is I always answer “apple” to keep it simple. But I confess, when it comes to summer fruit, peach crumble pie is my number one. 

Speaking of favorites, last week I did a Facebook Live event with some of my favorite authors — Paula McLain and Patti Callahan Henry. We were hosted by our mutual favorite friend, Ron Block, of the Cuyahoga County Public Library in Cleveland. We talked about our latest book projects, and we also made peach-based food and drink. Wonder what I made? Pie, of course. During the event, Patti Callahan Henry demos how to make crumble topping, and I demo how to make the crust. Here’s a link to the event — https://www.facebook.com/CuyahogaLib/videos/322326998970821/ (also embedded below). My recipe for peach crumble pie is below as well.

Peach Crumble Pie 
 Basic Pie Dough (for a single-crust pie) 
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, chilled and cut into large chunks
1/4 cup vegetable shortening, chilled
1 1/4 cups flour, plus at least 1/2 cup extra for rolling
Dash of salt
Ice water (fill a full cup but use only enough to moisten dough)
1. In a deep, large bowl, work the butter and shortening into the flour and salt with your hands until you have almond- and pea-sized lumps of butter. 
2. Then, drizzling in ice water a little at a time, “toss” the water around with your fingers spread, as if the flour were a salad and your hands were the salad tongs. Don’t spend a lot of time mixing the dough, just focus on getting it moistened. Translation: With each addition of water, toss about four times and then STOP, add more water, and repeat.
3. When the dough holds together on its own (and with enough water, it will), do a “squeeze test.” If it falls apart, you need to add more water. If it is soggy and sticky, you might need to sprinkle flour onto it until the wetness is balanced out. The key is to not overwork the dough! It takes very little time and you’ll be tempted to keep touching it, but don’t! 
4. Now divide the dough in two balls (or three, if your pie dishes are smaller) and form each into a disk shape. 
5. Sprinkle flour under and on top of your dough to keep it from sticking to your rolling surface. Roll to a thinness where the dough almost seems transparent. 
6. Measure the size of the dough by holding your pie plate above it. It’s big enough if you have enough extra width to compensate for the depth and width of your dish, plus 1 to 2 inches overhang. 
7. Slowly and gently—SERIOUSLY, TAKE YOUR TIME!—lift the dough off the rolling surface, nudging flour under with the scraper as you lift, and fold the dough back. When you are sure your dough is 100 percent free and clear from the surface, bring your pie dish close to it and then drag your dough over to your dish. (Holding the folded edge will give you a better grip and keep your dough from tearing.) 
8. Place the folded edge halfway across your dish, allowing the dough of the covered half to drape over the side. Slowly and carefully unfold the dough until it lies fully across the pie dish. 
9. Lift the edges and let gravity ease the dough down to sit snugly in the dish, using the light touch of a finger if you need to push any remaining air space out of the corners as you go. 
10. Trim excess dough to about one inch from the dish edge (I use scissors), leaving ample dough to make crimped, fluted edges.
FILLING

8 to 10 ripe peaches, peeled and sliced (number of peaches depends on size of fruit and size of your pie dish)
1 cup sugar (or less if peaches are really sweet)
1/4 cup tapioca 
1/2 tsp cinnamon (optional, but I love it)
CRUMBLE TOPPING
1 cup flour
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, chilled and cut into large chunks
1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1. Prepare the Basic Pie Dough for a single-crust pie.
2. Prepare the Peach Filling.
3. Prepare the Crumble Topping: In a large bowl, rub together the flour, butter, and brown sugar—and rub and rub and rub—until the texture feels like various sizes of marbles. 
4. With both hands, distribute the crumble topping over the top of the pie. Do not press down on it, as you don’t want your crumbs to look flat. It’s a good idea to place a cookie sheet or oven liner under this pie when baking, as a few bits of the crumble topping may roll off into the oven.
5. Bake at 425 degrees for about 15 to 20 minutes, until browned. 
6. Turn down the heat to 375 degrees and continue baking another 30 minutes, or until the filling bubbles, the peaches soften, and the juice thickens — really thickens!
BETH’S TIP: For a chunky crumble topping, rub the flour, butter, and brown sugar between your hands as if you were rolling ball bearings. It’s the circular motion of the rubbing that will create the little round chunks. Pick it up in handfuls, rub, rub, rub, let it fall back into the bowl, and repeat, repeat, repeat. Be patient and just enjoy the process, as it can take a while to get the desired texture.
CRUMBLE FIX! 
Overworking the crumble topping will turn it into a melted mush. To remedy this, either add more flour or refrigerate it. After it gets cold, you can break it apart into a crumbly texture. Conversely, underworking the crumble topping will result in a texture that is too fine. In this case, just keep picking up handfuls of it and roll it between your hands until the desired texture is achieved.
 ** You might also like my VERY FIRST BLOG POST on this blog called “Peach Grumble Pie”
** And check out my Pie Tutorial videos on my YouTube channel

Stay Calm and Bake Pie — Episode 7: A Celebration of YOUR Pies

Episode 7 of “Stay Calm and Bake Pie” is here. It may be my favorite one, because it’s a celebration of all the pies you’ve been making this month.

After watching it, my friend Kee Kee (who you read more about below) texted me this:

“When this pandemic started you told me you wanted to make a difference, and maybe go stock grocery shelves (I told you that was insane!), but what you are doing with your YouTube series is inspiring people to make memories with their families, and giving them the courage to bake pies themselves (and I’m sure that courage carries over to having more confidence in the kitchen making other yummy food for their families). Such a special special episode!!!!! Bravo!!!!!”

So I guess that answers that question I still keep asking myself: HOW CAN I BE OF SERVICE TO OTHERS?

A few other people sent me messages saying that while watching this episode they couldn’t stop smiling. “So feel good!!!!! My face is sore from smiling the whole way through.” One woman, who watched it first thing this morning, even said, “I couldn’t stop smiling. And I don’t usually smile until I’ve been awake awhile.”

Even if you haven’t followed one of my pie lesson videos or made a pie, I can say with confidence that watching this video is totally worth 12-1/2 minutes of your time.

Again, thank you to everyone who has been participating in making and sharing pies. And because there were a few pictures that I either forgot or didn’t make the cutoff time, I’m posting them here.

Let’s keep baking, everyone. Let’s keep doing whatever we can to make the world a better place.

Love, Beth

EPISODE 7: Celebrating Your Pies
  

My friend Kee Kee’s pie…

I woke up this morning mad at myself, because… HOW COULD I HAVE FORGOTTEN to include these other pies? Especially when this one in particular is by my friend Kee Kee (see quote above). She made her husband Eric a cherry pie for his birthday a few weeks ago. Eric is Eric Troyer, the supremely talented musician who so generously wrote the “Ms. American Pie” theme song for my pie videos!  (Eric is a former member of ELO, now in the band called The Orchestra.)

Yoda, by the way, is Kee Kee’s late dog. She made a “Yoda Pie” as a thank you gift to her vet after his passing and since then every pie she makes has Yoda’s name on it.

Eric not only contributed a song to my pie video series, he wrote a them song for the pandemic called “I Can’t Stop Touching My Face.” Kee Kee, a talented filmmaker, initiated the music video they made for the song, appropriately in their pajamas and bathrobes. Take another 3 minutes out of your day to watch this.  Then your face is really going to hurt from smiling. And I promise you will have this song stuck in your head for days. But it’s a good song to have stuck. And it will make you more mindful about touching your face….as in don’t!

Meanwhile in Seattle…..

My friend Dixie Wilson in Seattle has three very creative kids who, while cooped up at home, have proven just how industrious they can be. They set up a domino line that stretched the full length of the house. They wrote their own sermons for their stay-at-home Sunday church services. And they made pie!  Here is her 11-year-old daughter Madison making a banana cream pie. The pics came in just minutes after I posted the video and I was so sorry not to include them. But I realized my blog was a way to showcase them, and here they are….

And in Los Angeles….
My friend Winky’s daughter, Kay Kay, is a young musician who has been creating YouTube videos for her preschool-aged music students. She has taken her creativity a step farther by doing a pie-making video, demonstrating my key lime pie recipe. And she’s taken this effort up a hundred more notches by conducting her demo in Portuguese! She is just learning her husband’s mother tongue and, wow, am I impressed! For all the hours and hours I’ve spent studying German, Spanish, and French, there is no way I could teach a pie class in another language. Even if you don’t understand Portuguese, this is fun to watch because Kay Kay is just so dang adorable.

Kay Kay digs in to a slice!

Previous episodes:  Here’s the playlist on YouTube

Please follow me on my social media pages:

And subscribe to my YouTube channel.

Lastly, continue sending me pictures of your finished pies!!! I will post them in my “victory shot” album on Facebook. Or who knows? Maybe I’ll have to do a second episode of your pies.

Stay Calm and Bake Pie — Episode 6: Gluten Free Strawberry Rhubarb

Because I had so many requests, I made a gluten free pie crust for this episode of “Stay Calm and Bake Pie.”

I’m no expert on gluten free baking — and I don’t need to be! That is the whole point of this series — to show you that pie does not have to be perfect to be good. People LOVE and appreciate a homemade pie, no matter how it turns out.

This pie crust is about managing your expectations. It won’t roll out smoothly and lift into your dish the way regular pie dough does. It will be sticky. It will be messy. It will break. It will look like a disaster. AND….like an ugly duckling, it will still become a gorgeous, delicious swan of a pie. I promise!

Use cookie cutters to transform your
pie into an art piece!

Gluten free flour can be hard to come by these days, so if you can’t find the GF all-purpose flour then use almond flour, or rice flour, or whatever GF flour variety you can find. The recipe is pretty much the same no matter which type of GF flour you use and it’s a simple one.

For a double-crust pie, you will need:

3 cups GF flour (plus extra for rolling dough)
1 cup butter
2 eggs
Ice water (or milk — some even use sour cream in addition to a liquid)
Salt
1 to 2 tablespoons sugar (optional)
2 teaspoons Xantham Gum (I didn’t have any, but it can help bind the dough and give it elasticity)

For strawberry-rhubarb filling:

8 cups chopped fruit — combo of strawberries and rhubarb
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup Minute tapioca

Watch this episode to the end, because….baby goats.

 

Previous episodes:  Here’s the playlist on YouTube


Please follow me on my social media pages:

And subscribe to my YouTube channel.

Lastly, please send me pictures of your finished pies!!! I will post them in my “victory shot” album on  Facebook.

Stay Calm and Bake Pie — Episode 5: Chicken Pot Pie

In episode 5 of “Stay Calm and Bake Pie,” Doug is back by popular demand, demonstrating his culinary skills. Not sure if it’s him or my improving editing skills, but damn if he doesn’t look like a professional chef in this episode.

Also, there’s some great music in this one.  The Mike and Amy Finders Band gave us permission to use their song, “Man in the Kitchen.” It’s a PERFECT fit for Doug’s segment!  And legendary musician, Eric Troyer, of The Orchestra featuring ELO former members, wrote a pie song JUST FOR ME! There’s a short version of it playing in the intro, and the full version for the ending.

This pie lesson project has turned into a joyful labor of love. I am enjoying the learning curve of the editing process (I’m shooting with an iPad, and only using iMovie to edit. I haven’t yet advanced to Premiere or Final Cut.) It keeps my creative juices overflowing, almost as much as my chicken pot pie filling.

I especially love all the positive feedback. I am hearing over and over again, “Thank you for these videos.” You. Are. So. Welcome. Thank you for watching them!

I continue to receive photos of your finished pies — “victory shots,” I call them. Sorry I have gotten behind on posting them all to the Facebook Victory Shot album, but I’m so focused on getting the next videos made I haven’t had the time to go back and collect all the pie photos. There are so many! But I do see all of your pics and every single one of them, along with the accompanying stories, makes me swell with happiness and pride.

As for this particular pie, I confess, I had not made a chicken pot pie in years, so my skills were rusty on this one. And because I was nervous, and thus rushing, I spilled milk all over my stove. But guess what? That pie turned out great. It was so effing delicious it went from being comfort food to un-comfortable food because we ate WAY TOO MUCH! I hesitate to mention that because I am sensitive to the fact that there are people going hungry out there due to job loss, homelessness, illness….I am aware of how privileged we are to have this abundance of food to eat. I am also aware that for all that I preach about how pie is meant to be shared I’m not giving away many pies these days. It’s not easy to get out of the house, and we live 25 minutes from town. Still….I want to be doing more to help others. I just hope that by sharing these lessons I am doing something to give back to the world.

So without further ado, here is the chicken pot pie lesson…

Next episode: GLUTEN FREE PIE!!!!

Previous episodes:  Here’s the playlist on YouTube

Please follow me on my social media pages:

And subscribe to my YouTube channel.

Stay Calm and Bake Pie — Episode 4: Key Lime

My farmer’s hands.
They not only
build strong fences,
they make good pie!

And now for something a little different in the “Stay Calm and Bake Pie” video series. Doug appears as the guest baker in this episode, making key lime pie.

There are many approaches to making pie and yet the same pie made in different ways can still turn out equally good. Doug and I, with our mismatched baking styles, are proof of that. Instead of debating it, we embrace it — and have a little fun with it in this “he said-she said” format.

Previous episodes:
Click here for my previous lessons on YouTube (apple, berry crumble, banana cream)

Next episodes:

  •  Chicken Pot Pie
  •  Gluten-free pie 
  •  Pie-in-a-Jar and other various shapes and forms 
  • Please follow me on my social media pages:

    And subscribe to my YouTube channel.

    Love, Beth

    Doug also shares some tips for what rum pairs well with the pie.

    Stay Calm and Bake Pie — Episode 3: Banana Cream Pie

    My “Stay Calm and Bake Pie” series continues with episode 3, and my dad’s favorite pie: banana cream.

    A friend pointed out, “This is the first time I’ve heard your story where you didn’t talk about how your parents met.”

    That’s true. In fact, it’s a story that has become THE story of my pie journey.

    “I was born because of banana cream pie,” I tell people in my talks. “My mom and dad had been dating 6 months when she invited my dad over for a homemade supper of tuna casserole, Jell-O salad, and banana cream pie for dessert. She knew banana cream was his favorite. He hadn’t even finished his first slice when he proposed to her. So if not for banana cream pie, I would not be here!”

    My brother Mike with his first pie!

    This video is far shorter than the first two, but it took twice as long to edit. The reason, I’m sure, is that I wanted to make it special — for my dad. It’s a kind of tribute to him. You’ll see what I mean during “The Stirring Scene.” The music that accompanies that part is DeBussy’s Clair de Lune, a song my dad used to play on the piano. You wouldn’t know the significance of that unless a) you were a family member or b) I told you. So I am telling you.

    One thing that happened since this video went live (and I admit, I am several days delayed in posting it here), is that my younger brother Mike watched it and, as a result, made his first pie. I sent the video to him merely to watch it — to see how I honored our dad. But he surprised me by replying with a text and pictures of him with the pie he made.

    After getting the news from one of my large sponsors pulling back their funding promise… I took to pie making… and felt better,” he wrote.

    I choked up with a confusing, bittersweet kind of joy, at once being proud of his accomplishment, moved to tears by the giant smile on his face, and hit with a pang of grief knowing how much our dad would have loved it.

    I miss my dad so much. But his memory lives on in this pie.

    I hope my pie lesson is helpful to you. Send me pictures of your results. I’ll post them in my “Victory Shot” photo album on Facebook.

    Meanwhile…  Stay home. Stay Calm. Keep baking. And share your pie with others who need it.

    Next episodes:

  •  Key Lime Pie 
  •  Gluten-free pie 
  •  Pie-in-a-Jar and other various shapes and forms 
  • Please follow me on my social media pages:

    And subscribe to my YouTube channel.

    Love, Beth

    Stay Calm and Bake Pie — Episode 2, Mixed Berry Crumble

    I am learning how to do the video shooting and editing on the fly — flying solo, at that. I am using Doug’s iPad to film and iMovie to edit. I’m starting to get the hang of splitting clips and splicing music. But the sound quality needs a lot of improvement. I need a wireless lavalier (clip on) microphone. I want to wait on shooting the next episode until I get the mic, but the next one is banana cream pie and Doug already bought the bananas… So to that I say, videos, like pies, are not about perfection!

    In this berry crumble episode, I think (hope) you’ll find the baking instruction useful and the farm scenery soothing. Even if you can’t hear a damn thing! Enjoy and send me pictures of your pies — and stories of who you baked them with, and shared them with.

    Someone commented on my Facebook page that all this pie is going to make us fat! I had a whole spiel about that in this episode but the footage got deleted somewhere along the way. I was blathering on about how this berry pie is “just fruit,” full of vitamins and antioxidants. I also added that while pie making is good for your heart and soul, exercise is good for your heart and body. So go for a walk or do an online dance class to balance out the eating. I don’t want to be preachy, but I do feel it’s worth mentioning.

    Next episodes:

    • Banana Cream Pie 
    • Chicken Pot Pie 
    • Key Lime Pie 
    • hopefully a gluten-free pie in there somewhere, by request. 
    • and if I keep going, then Shaker lemon, spaghetti pie, French silk, peach…the list could be a long one!

     Please follow me on my social media pages:

    And subscribe to my YouTube channel.

     Love, Beth

    Stay Calm and Bake Pie — Episode One: Apple Pie

    After two months in Tucson, I’m back on the farm in Iowa because….the virus. It feels good to be with Doug, Mali, Maybelline, Chaps (our lone surviving goat), and I even brought Peanut the Foster Dog along, though she is no longer a foster, she has been adopted as a permanent family member. And for a little chihuahua she is adapting very well to farm life. Dogs LOVE Camp Doug!

    To keep myself busy — and to contribute something positive to the world during this most challenging time — I am offering FREE PIE CLASSES, though in the form of homemade videos. I am shooting these myself with Doug’s iPad. It’s not as hard as I thought. In fact, it’s been fun, and best of all it is taking my mind completely off the news!

    This will give you something to do while you’re #STAYINGHOME. And I’ve kept my language family friendly so you can do my pie classes with your kids. ENJOY! And stay healthy!

     

    Next episodes will be:

    • Mixed Berry Crumble Pie
    • Chicken Pot Pie 
    • Banana Cream Pie 
    • Key Lime Pie 
    • …and hopefully a gluten-free pie in there somewhere, by request. 

     Please follow me on my social media pages:

    And subscribe to my YouTube channel.

     Love, Beth

    Pedaling Across Iowa for Pie

    RAGBRAI, the Des Moines Register’s Annual Bike Ride Across Iowa, is really all about the pie. The Amish, the church ladies, home bakers and commercial bakers alike can be found all along the 500-mile route feeding the masses their homemade goods from strawberry-rhubarb, peach, blackberry, apple and more. Sometimes they even have homemade ice cream to go with it. Which is why I just HAD to pump up my tires and join in the fun for three out of the seven days — along with nearly 30,000 other people on bikes.
     

    I hadn’t planned on riding this year, but once the event got underway and I started seeing all the pictures and the social media posts of all those people smiling and laughing and exercising — and yes, eating all that pie — I developed a severe case of FOMO (fear of missing out) so I hitched a ride to Bloomfield and joined in the sea of bicycles as it flowed eastward.

    L to R: Scott Horsley, me, Les Cook

    I caught up with Team NPR — the acronym can stand for National Public Radio or “No Pie Refused,” depending on how you choose to see it — and rode a few days with economics reporter Scott Horsley and business editor Les Cook. I thought I was in pretty good shape, but oh man, I had a hard time keeping up with these dudes. I thought these guys had desk jobs! But they were motivated by — and fueled by — pie. (Scott told me that he first read about RAGBRAI in a Wall Street Journal article that said it’s the only long-distance bike ride where you’ll gain weight. He’s been doing the ride every year since.)

    Special delivery: banana cream pie! (photo by Madeline King)

    Some of those weight-inducing calories were provided by yours truly. After putting in a 50-mile day on my bike, I went home and baked until midnight. The next morning I delivered pies — banana cream, apple, peach crumble and key lime — to their support vehicle. When Team NPR rolled in for their daily pit stop they tanked up — and as you see in the photo below — some even did a toast with their pie.

    photo by Madeline King, IPR

    They all commented that you don’t see a lot of cream pie on RAGBRAI. That’s for obvious reasons — like 90-degree days with high humidity. (Great biking weather! Especially when there are relentless headwinds. Luckily RAGBRAI provides a sag wagon to transport you to the end of the day’s route if you just can’t take it anymore.)

    Their favorite of my pies, hands down, was the key lime. (The recipe is below.) And guess what? I didn’t make that one! Doug did. He’s a good pie baker too. But then he had a good teacher. Ha!

    I’ve done the full RAGBRAI ride three times, starting when I was 19 years old — all the way back in 1981. (RAGBRAI started in 1973 as a bet between two newspaper reporters and is now going into its 48th year.) I’ve jumped on for a few days at a time during the past nine years I’ve been back in Iowa, yet never fully committing to the whole week.

    But after riding this year — after getting caught up in the contagious joy and unity of the fellow cyclists (ranging from 10-year-olds to 93-year-olds), after making new friends from all parts of the world, after getting swept up in the common goal of reaching the Mississippi River, after feeling the sense of accomplishment and freedom that comes from covering great distances under your own power, and after breathing in all of rural Iowa’s beauty on those car-free country roads…after all that, I am already planning on doing the entire weeklong ride next year.

    I even have a team name already — Team Pieowa.

    I posted my team name on Facebook last week. I was only half-joking, but like most of the crazy adventures that happen in my life, it gained momentum almost immediately after several people left comments. They wanted to join, someone offered to help with the support crew, and the next thing you know the idea has gone from wishful thinking to really happening.

    If you want to join me, let me know. We’ll need a support vehicle (maybe a van or bus or RV or just bike trailer) and a driver. We’ll want to get team jerseys designed. (Any graphic artists out there jonesing for a project?) If nothing else, this will be something fun to focus on during the long winter months, something to look forward to and a reason to not slack off on the exercise. There will be no last-minute decision to go, no FOMO. Only miles of cornfields and open sky; thousands of happy, healthy people; new friends to be made; local communities welcoming visitors; pies waiting to be enjoyed. Like labor pains, I will have long forgotten about the trifecta of heat, headwinds and hills, forgotten a
    bout the sore muscles and sunburn, and I’ll be excited to do it all over again.

    Next summer — July 19 – 25, 2020 — you will find me, along with thousands of other people, pedaling across Iowa in a community effort of endurance and fun.

    I hope you’ll come along for the ride.

    For more info on RAGBRAI: https://ragbrai.com

    KEY LIME PIE 

    GRAHAM CRACKER CRUST  

    1-1/2 cups graham crackers (about 9 to 12 crackers, at least one sleeve), crushed (increase amount if you’re using a large, deep-dish pie plate)
    5 to 6 tbsp butter, melted

    Optional ingredients: 1 tsp cinnamon and 1/4 cup sugar (I make mine without these)

    Crush crackers by putting in a ziplock bag and roll with rolling pin. Mix melted butter into cracker crumbs, then press into pie plate. Bake at 350 for 10 minutes.

    FILLING

    1 (14-oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
    4 egg yolks (save 2 egg whites)
    1/2 cup fresh squeezed lime juice (To get ½ cup of juice will take about 6 Persian limes.)
    2 tsp lime zest (optional but zesty!)

    Whisk 4 egg yokes, add condensed milk and lime juice.

    Optional step, but one that I always do: Beat 2 egg whites until stiff and fold into this mixture. This will make your filling lighter.

    Pour into pie shell. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until filling is set. Let cool, then chill for at least 3 hours. Top with whipped cream. Store in refrigerator up to a week.

    TOPPING:

    1 cup heavy whipping cream
    3 tbsp sugar

    Beat cream and sugar until peaks form. Spread over top of cooled pie.

    TIP:  
    Instead of little key limes, you can also use “regular” limes, also known as “Persian” limes. They are bigger and juicier and thus easier to squeeze, but are said to be less tangy than key limes. However, I did a taste test with a few key lime pie aficionados in Key West, people who swear by using key limes, and they all voted for the pie made with the Persian limes. Even the experts were fooled. Go figure. (This is why I insist on questioning authority and thus dispelling myths.)

    TIP:
    You can use bottled lime juice. Recommended brands are Nellie and Joe’s or Manhattan (unsweetened). It’s a lot faster and easier than squeezing those mini key limes and will keep your fingers from pruning. That said, I always prefer using fresh fruit.

    Time Capsule: A Letter to the Future Owners of Camp Doug

    Dear Future Owners of Camp Doug,
    If you are reading this it means you are either remodeling the kitchen (and thus gutting it to the studs) or you are tearing down the house (or a tornado finally took it out) and you found this letter in the pile of rubble. Either way, a warm hello from the year 2016.

    The red-roofed four-square house in autumn.

    This house, which we fondly call “Camp Doug,” was built around 1900. It is (or was) what they call a Four Square, a common farmhouse design back then. Practical, functional, simple, solid, and a little plain, the architecture personified Midwest values. The house’s white siding with the red roof was also the common color combo in the region. A front porch, however, was not a standard feature on these houses, and the three-sided porch on this one was added much later.

    We don’t know who built the house. It is said a log cabin sat on the site first. A rock foundation remains from some other original structure and there is another foundation built around that. Here’s what we do know: Milton and Ardis Sander lived in it for about 50 years, until 1970. They raised their kids here, including a son who moved to the West coast and became a big executive at Apple computers. (Do they still make MacBook laptops and iPads and iPhones in whatever year it is when you are reading this?) When the house was built it did not have a kitchen or a bathroom. I don’t think it had indoor plumbing at all. The section of the house where you found this “time capsule” was built later, a one-story, flat-roofed rectangle addition that included a small bathroom and a kitchen in an uncommon reverse L-shape layout. Before getting a real kitchen the cooking was done on a wood-fired stove in the dining room; evidence of the chimney and stovepipe connection is still visible. We don’t know what the first kitchen looked like, but Milton and Ardis remodeled it in what appears to have been the 1950s. They painted the walls mint green, the color of young caterpillars. They chose a tortoise-shell-pattern of green and yellow linoleum for their floor. Not the most appetizing of hues for a room that is meant for cooking. Fortunately trends and tastes and flooring choices evolve—even improve—with the years.

    The kitchen right before its demolition
    Our “retro” kitchen, prepared for take down.

    Milton and Ardis eventually grew too old to maintain the farmhouse so they moved into town, then into a nursing home until they eventually moved on to the next life. They kept the farmhouse, renting it out for several years, but as soon as young Doug Seyb graduated from college in 1977, he bought the house and moved in. Doug grew up next door (the definition of next door being a quarter mile down the gravel road), where his grandfather, then father, and then Doug and his brother, and then his nephew, all farmed the land. When I met Doug, the Seybs had owned and farmed these 1,000 acres of corn, soybeans and cattle for over 100 years, thus being granted Century Farm status. Maybe, as you read this, it is still owned by Seyb descendants. I wonder if there could be a Two Century Farm status designated in the future.

    Doug sitting among the shooting stars.
    April 2016.

    Because he grew up next door, Doug knew Milton and Ardis very well. It was Ardis who planted the shooting star wildflowers on the hillside located just a short walk across the pasture, and it was Ardis who introduced Doug to the appreciation of these delicate-yet-hardy perennials, their leaves appearing first, then a stem shooting toward the sky, and finally a whole meadow lit up with light pink petals. When Doug moved in, he continued to protect the flowers and their habitat, and always took his guests on springtime wildflower walks to see the shooting stars in bloom.

    By the time you discover this letter, Doug and I will have passed on. Doug wants to be cremated and have his ashes spread on this “Shooting Star Hill,” as he calls it. So if you follow the fencerow to the north and turn west at the row of cedar trees (farmers don’t say right or left, they give you compass points), you will eventually come to that wildflower patch. Surely those shooting stars will no longer be so delicate with Doug’s DNA thrown into the soil mix. He was a fit and lean man, a rock climber, kayaker and marathon runner. With all that muscle transferred into the ground as fertilizer, those flowers might be as strong and tall as the trees by now.

    When I met Doug he had already lived in the house for 40 years. I don’t think I ever knew anyone else who lived in one place that long. He had lived here at least 20 years before updating the kitchen. He put on a new roof over it (one can only resurface with tar paper so many times.) He raised and angled the roofline as high as the second-floor windows would allow. He then painted the kitchen walls white, the cabinets bright yellow, the door trim burgundy and created a chili pepper theme. Even the light switch was painted with peppers. Alas, Ardis’s tortoise shell linoleum floor remained.

    This is what a pork tenderloin
    looks like. Pounded & fried and
    as big as dinner plate.

    When I met him, in 2014, nothing, including the decorative chili pepper cluster hanging next to the door, looked like it had been dusted for a year. Doug was a bachelor. He was a redheaded, freckled farmer and outdoor adventurer whose attention was devoted to all things exterior. The inside was only for showering, sleeping, making toast, and laundering his Carhartts. Even dinners were outdoors, as he grilled meat (beef or pork from his own livestock or venison from his annual hunt on the farm) on his charcoal grill. Unless it was the height of harvest when he drove his tractor until after dark, and the late night meant ordering pizza from the local gas station or wolfing down a pork tenderloin at the local tavern.

    This kitchen got a much-needed renovation in April of 2016, which is why we were able to place this letter in the wall.

    The current state of the kitchen as
    I write this letter to you, when there is still
    time to place the time capsule in the wall.

    I moved in with Doug last September (2015) and discussions of home improvements soon followed. I always joked to him that the impetus for this kitchen renovation was his beer bottle collection. A numerous but not exactly impressive assortment had been prominently displayed on a shelf close to the ceiling. This shelf was meant to be a plate rail. You’ve probably never seen one as even now in 2016 they are considered old-fashioned, but a plate rail is for displaying decorative dinner plates. Instead of just dusting his bottles, he let me get rid of them. That’s how much he loved me and wanted me to feel like his home was my home too. But it didn’t stop there. Poor old bachelor, he didn’t know what he was in for when he let me move in. No sooner were the beer bottles deposited in the recycling bin, I took the skis off the opposite wall. Yes, skis. He had his cross-country ski gear, including the boots, adorning the door transom, right above the table where we ate. And then there was the triangular beer box. Sure it was clever in its shape, but that box was better suited for a dorm room.

    Still, the house—the way he had it set up, dust and all—was charming, warm and inviting. You could feel the good energy, the solid bones, the happy spirits permeating the layers of wallpaper and plaster.

    Our kitchen table has a temporary home in the dining room during construction.

    As we began our life together, we started having dinner parties. And house guests. And soon the round oak kitchen table didn’t feel big enough. No matter how beautiful or inviting the other rooms in the house may be, everyone loves to gather in the kitchen. It’s the heartbeat of a home, where nourishment of both stomach and spirit originates.

    This is me in my old house, where I
    could open my oven all the way.

    “Wouldn’t it be great to have a bench seat?” I said over wine and candles one night. “We could fit more people around the table.” Doug agreed so I threw out my next line. “And you know what would be really great? To be able to open the oven door all the way.” I don’t know who was responsible for the earlier construction—surely Ardis couldn’t have lived with an oven door that opened only half way, blocked by the door frame—but this was the one thing I was really hoping to change. I was a pie maker (not a pastry chef, but you could say a semi-professional one given I had run a pie stand and written a pie cookbook.) But I couldn’t get my pies in and out of Doug’s oven without burning my arms. “It’s so much easier to be happy when you eliminate life’s little irritations,” I prodded him.

    Doug’s key lime pie

    Doug had learned how to make pie too—I taught him a year earlier—and he made plenty of them (Key Lime Pie was his specialty), so he understood the issue. So when we talked about what started us on the renovation project and I say “beer bottles,” he says “No, it started with pie.” He’s right. That’s why I’m leaving you a pie recipe in this letter. Because assuming you are renovating this kitchen and not tearing down the whole place, my hope is that you will keep our memory alive and bake lots of pies here.

    I wonder what your lives will be like in this kitchen—in your new kitchen. Will you find this note twenty years from now or 50? Or more? Will you be able to read my cursive handwriting? Do they still teach that in schools or has it been relegated to history like hieroglyphics? What will your world be like? Will there still be fighting in the Middle East? Will terrorist attacks have become an everyday thing? Will everyone be armed? With nuclear weapons? Will there still be 4-H and county fairs? How will farming be done? Will tractors be high-speed hovercrafts? Will GMOs and fertilizers and pesticides have caused genes to mutate beyond repair? Will water still be drinkable? Surely there won’t be newspapers in print, but will there still be Facebook and Twitter? Or will you laugh at what we call social media and call it obsolete? Maybe you won’t even have internet, rather something more advanced, something solar powered, maybe telepathically connected with other planets. Whatever it is will surely be an improvement over the painfully slow information pipeline we have today. (One thing I guarantee, Windstream Communications will have ceased to exist. God willing.) The way the world is going we aren’t doing the best job for you and for future generations. I wish we could do better, be more mindful of those who will follow us when we are gone. Still, we manage. In spite of ourselves, our oddities and our imperfections at being human, we are doing our part to keep the species going.

    It was a bittersweet day when we said goodbye to the old cabinets.

    As I write you this letter we have only just started our renovation—the cabinets carved out, the walls peeled away, the beams exposed. Hopefully we will be lucky enough to enjoy many years in our new and improved kitchen. I say “our” kitchen, because even though we are not married and don’t plan to get married (Doug is 61 and I’m 53), renovating the kitchen has become symbolic of our commitment to each other. We picked out the quarter sawn oak Mission-style cabinets because their wood is a little rough, and will fit well with Doug’s collection of Arts and Crafts antique furniture in the rest of the house. I wonder if there are any pieces of it left behind for you to use. We are building extra counter space into our new design to make it easier to roll pie dough. We are building in the bench seats below the east window to be comfortable when we linger long hours at the dinner table. And since we had to move the stereo, on which Doug’s cat Maybellene liked to sleep to keep warm, we are still trying to configure a heated perch for her out of my dog’s reach. (My terrier, Jack, likes to chase the cat, while Doug’s dog, Mali, a springer spaniel/beagle mix is better at coexisting.)

    Maybellene in her favorite sleeping place.
    We still need to find a new warm spot for her.

    We finally tore up the tortoise shell flooring—someone had suggested they didn’t even want to walk on it because it looked like something that should be wiped up! But we did save a few sections of it. We took our carpenter’s joke seriously when he suggested using it to make picture frames. We’re going to frame some old house photos with this green and yellow stuff (even though it’s probably toxic) and send them to Milton and Ardis’s grandkids. Their nostalgia was ignited when they learned we were renovating. They remember visiting their grandparents in this house and have fond memories of this kitchen. They should have a piece of it as a keepsake.

    Doug and I don’t have grandkids to become nostalgic over our kitchen when you gut it. It is your kitchen now. You have to make room for your own houseguests, your own meals and memories, your own choice of flooring. But you have to admit, our neutral-toned, linen-pattern flooring is (or was) very tasteful. I hope it doesn’t look too dated, too “period,” by the time you decide to rip it out. It will have served us well, worn down from the traffic and mud of farm boots and dog paws. I will have spent many days, hopefully years, scrubbing it, cleaning up everything from coffee to ketchup to the colostrum replacement Doug mixes up to bottle feed baby calves, and surely plenty of pie crumbs.

    Beth and Doug at Camp Doug

    I just hope you love this house as much as we did. And that you love and honor this land—as well as each other, your friends, your families, your neighbors—as much as we did. And that you try your best to leave not just this kitchen, but this world, a better place, like we did.

    Now, please, go make some pie!

    With love and gratitude,
    Beth and Doug

    One of the many apple pies made in our old kitchen.
    We look forward to baking many more
    in the new and improved kitchen!

    APPLE PIE RECIPE

    CRUST (Basic Pie Dough for double-crust pie) 
    2-1/2 cups flour (white all-purpose)  (Plus extra flour for rolling dough)                                      
    1/2 cup butter, chilled
    1/2 cup vegetable shortening  (or skip this and use all butter)
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    Ice water (fill one cup but use only enough to moisten dough)
    In a deep bowl, work the butter and shortening into the flour with your hands until you have a lumpy consistency (you want to leave mixed nut-size chunks of butter which will give you a flaky crust.) Add ice water a little at a time, sort of “fluffing” the flour. Keep your movements light, as if you are tossing dressing into a salad with your hands. When the dough feels moistened enough, do a “squeeze test” and when it holds together you’re done. Do not overwork the dough! You are not kneading it like bread. It takes very little time and you’ll be tempted to keep touching it, but don’t! Now divide the dough in two, form each half into a disk shape and roll flat and thin (thin enough to where you could start to see the table through the dough) then fit your pie dish. Sprinkle flour under and on top of your dough, and keep rolling surface and pin free from gunk to keep dough from sticking. Trim excess dough to about 1 inch from the dish edge with a scissors, leaving enough extra hanging over the edge for crimping later.
    FILLING
    7 to 10 large Granny Smith apples, peeled (see tip below) 
    1/2 tsp salt (you’ll sprinkle this on so don’t worry about precise amount)
    1 to 2 tsp cinnamon (use however much you like, but remember it’s a powerful spice)
    3/4 cup sugar (more or less, depending on your taste, tartness of apples, and number of apples)
    4 tbsp flour (to thicken the filling)
    1 tbsp butter, to pat on top of filling
    1 beaten egg, to brush on top crust
    The pie is “assembled” in two layers, which is not only a nice shortcut, it saves you from having to wash an extra bowl! 
    1. Prepare the Basic Pie Dough for a double-crust pie. 
    2. Prepare the Filling: Slice half of the peeled apples directly into the pie, arranging and pressing down gently to remove extra space between slices. Fill the dish enough so you don’t see through the first layer to the bottom crust. 
    3. Cover with half of salt, cinnamon, sugar, and flour. 
    4. Slice the remaining apples into the pie, arranging and pressing down gently on top of first layer, and cover with second half of ingredients. 
    5. Add a pat of butter on top, then cover with the top crust. 
    6. Trim the edges with a scissors, leaving about 1 to 2 inches overhang, and then roll the top and bottom crust together underhand so that it’s sealed and sits on the rim of your pie plate. 
    7. Crimp the edge with your fingers or a fork, then brush with a beaten egg. (The egg gives the pie a nice golden-brown shine. Do be careful not to let egg pool in crevices. You will use about half an egg per pie.) 
    8. Use a knife to poke vent holes in the top (get creative here with a pattern), then bake at 425 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes to set and brown the crust.
    9. Turn oven down to 375 degrees and bake for another 30 to 40 minutes, until juice bubbles. Keep an eye on it as it bakes. If it gets too dark, turn down the temperature. 
    10. To be sure it’s done, poke with a knife through the vent holes to make sure apples have softened. Do not overbake or apples will turn mushy.
    VARIETY IS THE SPICE OF LIFE…AND PIE: It’s okay to use a variety of apples. Try Braeburn and Royal Gala. I don’t use Fuji (they are too juicy) or Red Delicious (they have no taste). Tart apples work best for pie. The number of apples you use will depend on the size of apple and the size of pie dish, but the general amount is about 3 pounds per 10-inch pie.
    BETH’S TIP: Slicing your apples too thick will mean your pie takes longer to bake. But slicing them too thin will translate in filling that’s like applesauce. I don’t like to suggest numbers, but think 1/4 inch thick. Also, keeping your slices a consistent size will help the pie bake more evenly.
    KEEP CALM!
    Don’t worry about your apples turning brown. I mean, think about it: what color is cinnamon? Exactly! No one will ever know.