Pink Ribbon Pie

Breast cancer reaches so many lives. Estimates show that by the end of 2012 in the U.S. alone, close to a quarter of a million new cases of invasive breast cancer (there are other types) in women will have been diagnosed.
That number means almost nothing, until it reaches you or someone you know.
I know too many women who have received the diagnosis – a fellow teacher, a neighbor, a friend, an aunt, my husband’s grandmother, my mother-in-law. And my mom. She’s a fourteen-year (this month), two-time breast cancer survivor.

I’ll never forget the day my mom first told my sister and me that her mammogram indicated a lump and doctors confirmed it was breast cancer. It felt like the world came to a screeching halt when those two words slipped off my mom’s tongue and into the air. My sister and I were so afraid of the possible outcome. I can only imagine how scared my mom must have been. And then she had to experience it all over again last year, when she heard the diagnosis for a second time.

Fortunately, my mom regularly had routine mammograms performed, so doctors found the lumps early on both occasions. Because of that, my mom underwent lumpectomies and radiation treatment and was able to avoid chemotherapy.

Thirteen years ago, my mom, my sister, and I walked in our first Race for the Cure, to benefit the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation. We know, first hand, the importance of early detection. Without mammograms, my mom might not be here today.
Aside from a few years with conflicting schedules, we’ve walked in the race each year since 1999. This year’s Des Moines, Iowa, Race for the Cure took place yesterday. My sister couldn’t join us, but this year my children did for the first time. They walked with my mom and me on the one-mile loop. Along the way they were entertained by a very talented corps of drummers. They also took part in the kids' fun run. But the highlight of their first Race for the Cure was having their photo taken with a Star Wars Stormtrooper.

I know my young children don’t understand the real reason we walked in the race. To them it was an experience in walking too closely to a bunch of jubilously crazy people dressed in pink boas and pink wigs, down the center of a crowded city street they don’t otherwise get to walk down, in the cold autumn air. Oh, and to meet a character from one of their favorite movies, who they might possibly deem a hero simply because he’s in one of their favorite movies.

As some of the “bad guys”, Stormtroopers aren’t exactly my idea of heroes. But if they could forever wipe out an enemy like breast cancer from the face of Planet Earth, they just might be.

Someday, my kids will understand why we race. I only hope they don’t have to understand it first-hand.

After all, isn’t that really why we race?

Yours in pie (and in the race),


Since October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and the pink ribbon is the international symbol, I wanted to incorporate a pink ribbon into my pie-baking this week. I decided on Rhubarb Cream Pie from Two Chicks from the Sticks: Back Home Baking since the rhubarb would show up pink. When I rolled out the top crust, I used a knife to carefully carve out a ribbon shape and then carefully adjusted the top crust onto the filling. I’m not very artsy, but I think it turned out looking like a pink ribbon, and the pie tasted great!

Rhubarb Cream Pie

Pastry dough for a two-crust 9-inch pie

1 ¾ c. sugar

3 eggs, slightly beaten

¼ c. all-purpose flour

¾ tsp. ground nutmeg

4 c. rhubarb, diced (if using frozen, defrost and lightly drain off excess liquid)

1 T. butter

Line pie plate with bottom crust.

To prepare filling, combine sugar, eggs, flour, nutmeg, and rhubarb in a bowl. Pour mixture into prepared pie plate. Dot filling with small pieces of the butter.

Adjust top crust, seal and crimp edges. Cut slits to allow steam to escape. Cover edges with foil to prevent overbrowning. Bake pie at 400° for 15 minutes, then lower oven temp. to 350° and bake for another 45 to 55 minutes or until filling is bubbly in center. Cool completely on wire rack before slicing.


Grandmas, Horses, and Apple Pie

As American as mom, baseball, and apple pie.

I started thinking about that while making this apple pie -- except I was thinking about grandmas instead of moms, and horses instead of baseball.

While my husband was busy completing some projects in the warm autumn air, the kids and I spent Sunday visiting my grandma (the one on whose farm I rode horses as a kid). She will be 89 years young in a few weeks and now resides in an assisted living apartment. Though she still cooks for herself, I prepared a meal to take along, and of course, it being Sunday and all, an apple pie.

As a kid, I enjoyed running around on my grandparents’ farm. I remember the sweet smell of hay as I explored the barn, and the freedom I felt as I roamed the property. The farm is where I had my first driving lessons, imagining my own roads and stop signs (and trying not to crash into any buildings). When we weren’t begging to drive the pickup, my cousins, my sister, and I would race the three-wheeler across the length of the farm, from the highway, past the house, and all the way down to the crick.

(Yes, people. I said it. Crick. Also known as creek, for those of you who might be English majors, or unlike me, grew up somewhere north of the 43rd parallel. South of there, sometimes we get lazy and just call it a crick.

Oh, and a pickup? That’s a truck, in case you were wondering.)

At the top of my list of things to do on the farm was riding horses. I didn’t get to ride very often, so it was always special when I did, and to me, horses have always been such special animals. One particular horse with a most calm disposition was Raebo.

My grandma and I talked about Raebo during our visit. A registered quarter horse, my grandma said Raebo lived to be 32 years old. I remember her being a kind and gentle mare, with the patience needed to handle young riders like my cousins and me, especially since I hardly knew what I was doing.

While being impatient ourselves and not wanting to take no for an answer (quite possibly a family trait), I remember a time when my cousin and I decided that we would ride anyway. We needed help with the saddle, and since no one would help us, Neil and I figured we could just ride bareback. We had done it before, but this time we would do it without assistance…and without reins.

Knowing how much the horses loved the apples from the Wealthy tree that stretched across the fence into the pasture, Neil and I lured Raebo to the fence with the apples. Standing on the fence post to give us some height, we carefully mounted Raebo once she was close enough to reach. I rode behind Neil, hanging onto him to stay atop the horse, and he held onto Raebo’s mane.

For a short while, we were quite proud of ourselves, mounting a horse without any adult assistance, riding bareback without a saddle, and without reins, we soon realized we had little control. Raebo was her usual kind spirit and moved slowly, though we had hoped for something closer to a gallop even for a few moments. But even patient horses have their limits, and we soon realized Raebo had reached hers. We did quickly enjoy those few moments of a gallop, and then suddenly, but ever so gently, Raebo put on the brakes, lowered her head and neck, and gave Neil and me our first trip down a horse slide. One right after the other, we slid off the front end of Raebo and landed softly in the pasture. I guess it was Raebo’s way of telling us to get a saddle, or get off.

While I enjoyed riding horses, I also enjoyed eating apple pie. My other grandma (the one who taught me about rendering lard and making pie crust), would take my sister and me to visit our great-grandma on occasion. I remember the pink walls in her bathroom, her cats who liked to bite, and her incredible apple pie. I was very young at the time, but I can still taste the apple pie she would serve us. It was very fresh-tasting, not overdone with lots of spices, just a small amount of cinnamon, perhaps even a dash of nutmeg. I have not tasted any apple pie like it since then, and though I try, I certainly have not been able to re-create it.

The apple pie I made for Sunday is as close as I’ve come to my great-grandma’s apple pie. It has a nice fresh apple flavor, and it reminds me of her. So if you make an apple pie, think of your grandmas, or your mom, and horses, or baseball…..or whatever it is that makes you feel American!

Yours in pie,



Classic Fresh Apple Pie

My favorite apple for pie is the Jonathan. (It’s also my favorite name for a husband.) They are firm apples that hold their shape during the long baking required for pie, and I especially like their tart flavor, which allows you to add the amount of sugar needed to give the pie as much or as little sweetness as you like. If you use another apple (and the possibilities are endless), you may need to adjust the amount of sugar, and possibly the amount of thickener (flour in this case), to achieve the results you desire.

Pastry for double-crust 9” pie

6 to 7 cups peeled and sliced apples (I used 6 ½ c. for this pie)

2/3 c. sugar

2 T. all-purpose flour

½ tsp. cinnamon

Dash of salt

2 T. butter


Sparkling sugar

Combine sugar, flour, cinnamon, and salt; add to apples in a large bowl and mix well. Transfer filling to pastry-lined pie plate. Dot filling with butter. Adjust top crust, flute edges, and cut slits to allow steam to escape. Brush crust with milk; sprinkle with sparkling sugar. Cover edges with foil. Bake at 375° for 15 minutes, lower heat to 350° and continue baking for another 45-60 minutes or until filling is bubbly in center, removing foil the last 15 minutes of baking. Cool completely on a wire rack.



A Thanksgiving Feast and Maple Custard Pie

I know it’s not yet Thanksgiving, but I couldn’t wait for popcorn and maple syrup.

What? Not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Thanksgiving?

It is for me. And for Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang. Remember Snoopy popping a kitchen-full on their Thanksgiving special?

Each year as Thanksgiving draws closer, I recall the annual Kindergarten/First Grade Thanksgiving Feast from my elementary school days. As kindergarteners, we created our construction paper headbands, complete with construction paper feathers, and our paper bag dresses to look like the Native Americans (though I think we were Indians back then). We would make the long treacherous journey across the hallway to join the first graders, who were dressed in their own construction paper hats as Pilgrims, for a bountiful feast – of popcorn and maple syrup. (I’m sure there was more to our feast, I just can’t remember the rest of it because I loved the popcorn and maple syrup so much.) And the next year as first graders, we took our turn dressing as Pilgrims and welcomed the new kindergarteners, dressed as Native Americans themselves.

I don’t know if the Native Americans and the Pilgrims actually shared popcorn and maple syrup at the first Thanksgiving. If they didn’t, they should have. It could have been their early version of caramel corn. With a dash of salt, that’s just what it tastes like.
This is my new favorite popcorn, Farmers Best out of Rockwell City, Iowa. It air-pops light and fluffy.

Thinking about maple syrup, I was prompted to try something new this week. I typically stick to fruit or cream pies; making a pie each week, I have plenty of room to expand my repertoire. Sometime I plan to make a maple cream pie, but while browsing through Ken Haedrich’s Pie: 300 Tried-and-True Recipes for Delicious Homemade Pie, I came across a recipe for Maple Custard Pie. Other than pumpkin, I don’t think I’ve ever made a custard pie, so this was a great time to start.

This pie was definitely the easiest one I’ve ever made. It’s not the most eye-appealing, but it has a nice maple flavor. It did not bake up as high as I would have expected, and at first glance I was disappointed. But after I took a bite, it was just the right amount of custard. Since Ken recommends using a light amber maple syrup, and dark amber was the only kind I could find around here at three stores, I decided to add another touch of maple by whipping some cream with a little maple syrup to sweeten.

Whether you make pie or popcorn (though I don’t know why you wouldn’t try both), add some pure maple syrup to sweeten your Fall days.

Yours in pie,


Maple Custard Pie
Slightly adapted from Pie: 300 Tried-and-True Recipes for Delicious Homemade Pie by Ken Haedrich.

Pastry for 9” single-crust pie


1 ¼ c. heavy or whipping cream

½ c. pure maple syrup (light amber preferred)

1/3 c. sugar

½ tsp. vanilla extract

Pinch of salt

4 large egg yolks

Partially prebake the crust: Line the pie plate with the pastry, then line with foil and fill with pie weights. Bake at 400° for 15 minutes, then remove foil and pie weights and cool on a wire rack.

Combine all filling ingredients in a large bowl and whisk briefly until evenly mixed. Pour filling into cooled pie shell. Cover edges with foil. Place pie on center oven rack and bake until filling is nicely browned and set, 35 to 40 minutes total. About 25 minutes into baking, rotate pie 180 degrees. When done, the pie should be jiggly but not soupy in the middle. Cool pie thoroughly on a wire rack, then refrigerate several hours or overnight before serving. Serve with maple whipped cream, if desired.

For maple whipped cream, whip ¾ c. heavy cream with a wire whisk while slowly and gradually adding about 1 T. pure maple syrup, until just after soft peaks form. (I used ¾ c. cream because that’s what I had left after making the pie. You can use the amount you like and adjust the maple syrup as needed.)



Two Chicks and Chocolate Cream Pie

Chocolate lovers – prepare!

Grab your rolling pin, and get a fork. This pie is so good, you’ll want to eat till it’s gone. (I haven’t done this myself, of course, I’m just saying that you will want to.)

It’s so good, it earned me first place in the one-crust cream class of the Machine Shed Pies division at this year’s Iowa State Fair. This is definitely the best chocolate cream pie I’ve ever tasted. The chocolate flavor is rich and intense, and after you make this pie, you’ll want to make the filling alone for your next chocolate pudding fix. It’s really that good!

It’s so good, that I call it Classic Chocolate Cream Pie, because that’s what I think of when I eat this pie. Though perhaps I should name it again, as The Best Chocolate Cream Pie Ever. After all, that’s what it is, in my not-so-humble opinion.

Two Chicks from the Sticks named it Chocolate Whipped Cream Pie for their cookbook, Two Chicks from the Sticks: Back Home Baking. And this is one of the best baking books ever. (You’ll recall that I love to read cookbooks like novels, and this is one of them.)

Jill Schwalbe Means and Jamie Greenland Gorey, also known as the Two Chicks from the Sticks, grew up on neighboring farms near Grand River in southern Iowa. As best friends, they did everything together, including learning how to bake. As adults, they created a cookbook, to share their love of baking and the recipes they grew up with, as well as to pay tribute to all those hard-working rural women who taught them how.

Jill’s and Jamie’s cookbook is more than a compilation of the best recipes they enjoyed back home in their small community. It’s also full of photographs from their childhood days and stories about the women who influenced their culinary abilities. And it’s like reading the history of my own childhood.

When I came across this…

Jill, with her sisters on the first day of the new school year.


...it reminded me of this.

Me with my rolled-up jeans, and my sister, Amy, with her Trapper Keeper (and her perm).
Not only do the recipes remind me of my culinary adventures growing up, courtesy of the many women in my own life of the rural community of Wellsburg, Iowa. The stories and photos take me back to my days spent as a 4-Her, to church and community dinners and potlucks, to Sunday afternoon tea with my grandparents, to popcorn balls we made with my mom for Halloween, to riding horses with my cousins on my grandparents’ farm, to sleepovers and slumber parties and the treats my friends’ moms would prepare for us, to homemade birthday cake, and to my sister and I rolling up our jeans for the picture our dad would snap of us standing in the driveway on the first day of school each year.

There’s just one thing I wish I could change. I wish I could have ridden the school bus, so my sister and I could share dessert from the night before as our breakfast, the way Jamie and Jill did on their hour-long bus ride every morning. I would happily have taken a duct-taped seat just to have the chance!

If you’re wondering, there are plenty of pie recipes in this cookbook from which to choose, including apple, mincemeat, and specialties like Zucchini Pie. There are also three pie crust recipes, and of course, stories that will make you wish you grew up on a farm near a small rural Iowa town back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, too.

Here’s what Jill has to say about the Chocolate Whipped Cream Pie, the one I made for this week’s pie on Sunday:

This recipe was inspired by Ramadean Shields, a family friend and a highly respected member of our rural community. She is known for her signature chocolate pie. This pie was so popular at community gatherings that it was the first to disappear. Try this creamy, chocolaty, and incredibly yummy treat, and you’ll see why.

I couldn’t agree more!

Yours in pie,


I listed the recipe for how I made the pie. I made a few minor alterations, such as my directions for baking the crust. If you have the Two Chicks cookbook and you make this pie, be sure to either update your recipe from the one listed on their blog, or follow my instructions below. There was a mistype in the directions printed in the cookbook, but if you are experienced at making cream pies, you will easily catch it and adjust anyway.

Classic Chocolate Cream Pie (or, The Best Chocolate Cream Pie Ever)

For the crust:
Pastry for a one-crust 9” pie

Roll out and ease crust into pie plate. Line pastry with parchment paper and pie weights. Bake at 450° for 8 minutes, remove paper and weights; bake 5-6 minutes more or until golden. Cool completely.

For the filling:

1 c. sugar

3 T. cornstarch

½ tsp. salt

2 T. cocoa

3 oz. semisweet chocolate, chopped

3 c. whole milk

3 beaten egg yolks

2 T. butter

1 tsp. vanilla

In medium saucepan, combine sugar, cornstarch, salt, and cocoa; mix well. Gradually add milk and semisweet chocolate, whisking until smooth. Cook and stir over medium heat until mixture just begins to boil. Remove from heat. Slowly and gradually stir 1 cup of hot mixture into beaten egg yolks in a small bowl. Add this to hot mixture in pan and return to stove. Stirring constantly, cook over medium-low heat for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in butter and vanilla. Transfer to a glass bowl and cover surface of pudding with plastic wrap; chill in refrigerator for several hours. Once cool, pour into pie shell and spread evenly.
For the topping:

2 c. heavy whipping cream

¼ c. powdered sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

Milk chocolate shavings

In large mixing bowl, beat cream until stiff peaks form while gradually adding powdered sugar. Add vanilla. Spread about half of whipped cream over pie. Pipe remaining whipped cream onto pie to decorate. Garnish with chocolate shavings.


A Trip to the Orchard, and Caramel Apple-Pecan Pie


Caramel and pecans.

Need I say more?

I’m going to anyway. It’s what I do.

Three quintessential flavors of Fall. Combined in a pie, they become decadent. This pie is so deeply rich and sweet; you’ll still taste it 364 days from now. And on the 365th day, you’ll make it again, just as I did on Sunday. (It may have been only 362 days since I made it last, but who’s counting…)

I love apple season. With the late Spring frost after the apple trees began blooming, I was rather concerned that there wouldn’t be any apples at the local orchards this year. While we haven’t been able to pick the apples ourselves, our favorite orchard does have their apples available in their store. So last week when my son had the day off from school, we headed to Center Grove Orchard near Cambridge, Iowa.

My kids love apples, too, but the draw for them at this orchard is not so much the apples. It’s The Farmyard. With a list of activities and “venues” much too extensive to mention, The Farmyard provides hours of fun and entertainment for kids big and small. A petting zoo, pedal carts, jumping pillow, and giant slide are just a few, and my kids’ personal favorite: the corn pool.
If it weren’t for the fact that millions or billions, quite possibly even trillions, of corn kernels had been dumped into a small arena and surrounded by straw bales, my kids would literally have ears coming out of their ears. (Get it? Ears. Of corn.)  While I didn’t find any corn in their ears, my daughter did deposit a kernel in the toilet as she undressed for the bathtub. She had corn absolutely everywhere. In places I didn’t know corn could reach.
Corny jokes aside (get it? corn-y), my favorite part of Center Grove Orchard, when not picking their apples myself, is the store. This is where I get my pre-picked apples, cider, and cider donuts, among other treats. On this trip I came home with a half-peck of Empires (we love these for eating as well as for making applesauce) and a peck of Jonathans (my favorite for pie).

There are so many versions of apple pie, I could probably make an apple pie every week and still not exhaust all the options. In the next few weeks I’ll be making my favorite classic apple pie, but for now I wanted a change of pace, something a little more indulgent.

Teresa over at My Homemade Iowa Life had requested a caramel apple pie recipe, and the recipe I had in mind certainly fit the bill for indulgence. This pie really is one that I make just once a year, and it comes from the book Pie: 300 Tried-and-True Recipes for Delicious Homemade Pie, by Ken Haedrich (2004). If you’re looking for a helpful companion on all things pie, complete with detailed step-by-step directions, tips for success with each recipe, as well as anecdotes, side-notes, and background on the recipes, this book is so worth the money for its 639 pages. And like the title says, you get over 300 recipes, for every kind of pie you can imagine, and then some.

I’ll admit that I haven’t yet made very many recipes from this book. Yet. That’s one reason I started writing this blog. So in the weeks to come, you’ll likely be seeing several pies from the pages of Pie.

This week, it was the Caramel Apple-Pecan Pie (pages 229-231). Be forewarned, this pie takes a little time. It’s not difficult, but it’s not a pie that you can throw in the oven and walk away from for an hour. It will keep you in the kitchen for a while. (Any pie recipe that covers three pages is going to take some effort, but any pie recipe that covers three pages might be worth it. And this one is!) The caramel makes it indulgent, but the crunchy pecans (incorporated three times) knock this pie out of the park. Even my four-year-old daughter, who doesn’t like pecans, loved this pie. Her comment: “Mommy, I really like the croutons you put on the top. They’re so crunchy!”


Is it a crime not to tell her?

Ken Haedrich calls for using Golden Delicious apples, which I have used for this pie in the past. This time I switched it up a little in an attempt to lessen some of the sweetness, using half Golden Delicious and half Jonathan. The reliable Jonathans did not disappoint, nor did they overpower with tartness, and still allowed for a decadent pie. So if you’re in the mood for some rich Fall flavor, spend a little time in the kitchen, after a trip to the orchard, and indulge in this Caramel Apple-Pecan Pie.

Yours in pie,

Caramel Apple-Pecan Pie

Pastry for a one-crust 9” pie (deep dish will work fine, too)

10 caramels, each cut into 4 pieces

For the filling:

7 c. peeled, cored, and sliced apples (I used half Golden Delicious, half Jonathan)

½ c. packed light brown sugar

1 T. fresh lemon juice

2 T. sugar

1 T. cornstarch

½ tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. vanilla extract

For the pecan crumb topping:

¾ c. all-purpose flour

¾ c. pecan halves

½ c. sugar

¼ tsp. salt

6 T. butter, cut into small pieces

For the caramel and garnish:

3 T. butter, cut into pieces

1 T. water

30 caramels

Large handful of pecan halves

½ c. chopped pecans

Line pie plate with pastry and crimp the edges. Scatter caramel pieces in the pie shell and place in the freezer while preparing the filling. Preheat oven to 400°F.

Combine apples, brown sugar, and lemon juice in a large bowl. Mix well and set aside. Mix sugar, cornstarch, and cinnamon together in small bowl. Stir this into the apple mixture along with the vanilla. Scrape the filling into the chilled pie shell, smoothing the fruit with your hands. Cover edges loosely with foil or a pie crust guard. Put pie on center rack in oven and bake for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the crumb topping. Combine flour, pecan halves, sugar, and salt in a food processor. Pulse several times, chopping the nuts coarsely. Scatter the butter over the dry mixture and pulse again until mixture resembles fine crumbs. Transfer to a bowl and finish combining with your hands to make damp, gravelly crumbs. Refrigerate until ready to use. (If you do not have a food processor, you can use a pastry blender for making the crumb topping. Very finely chop the pecans first.)

Remove pie from oven and reduce oven temperature to 375°F. Carefully dump crumbs in center of pie, spreading them evenly over the surface with your hands. Tamp them down lightly. Return pie to oven and bake until juices bubble thickly around the edge, 30 to 40 minutes, or longer.

Transfer pie to wire rack to cool for about 1 hour.

While the pie is still warm – approaching the 1-hour mark – prepare the caramel. Combine butter, water, and caramels in the top of a double boiler. Melt caramels over (not in) barely simmering water. When melted, whisk mixture until smooth, and then drizzle caramel over entire surface of the pie. Immediately press pecan halves into caramel, then sprinkle chopped pecans over the top. Let cool several hours before serving.