September 2008

Melissa Lion

Culinaria Bookslut

Bubby’s Homemade Pies: Better than a Travel Guide to Oregon

I’m trying to go native here in Oregon. Really, I am. But there are a few things this California girl is having trouble with. First there’s the “law” that says you can’t pump your own gas and no matter how cute and charming I act, the gas pumper guys never think it’s adorable or sweet that I’ve pumped my own gas because I simply cannot wait for him to do it for me. They tell me it’s “illegal” and “against the law” and they could be “fined.” I smile and say, “I’m from California!” as chipper as possible, but now that my license and my plates say Oregon, the excuse has worn out.

I’m also having trouble with the fruit preserving concept. Suddenly it’s nearing fall and every single person, no matter if they are a businesswoman, a homemaker, or a kick boxer, is making jam and canning fruit. I wondered about this to a friend, “I mean, is this what the rest of the country is doing right now? Canning peaches? Is this what I’ve missed out on for 32 years?” She’s from Massachusetts and said, “No, it’s an Oregon thing, and GOD WATCH OUT THOSE JARS ARE HOT!”

I came home from my peach canning and jamming lesson and picked blackberries from my neighbor’s yard and made jam from them. So far, the lengths of my arms are covered in lacerations, my hands are welted from various hot liquid burns and the jars have not solidified or jammified or whatever. I’m not sure what to do now with four pints of non-jammy blackberry jam.

The other thing Oregonians are doing in droves is making pies. Last time I was visiting my mom and I asked to make a pie, thinking we’d have some sort of female bonding thing over baking, she agreed. I said, “Okay, how do we make the dough?” And she said, “We go to the freezer section of the market.” And I said, “Mom, I want to learn how to do it from scratch.” And she said, “No. It’s a pain in the ass and I won’t help you with it. I’ll drive you to the store.” And that’s the extent of my pie-making skills. I can drive. And I usually have enough cash in my wallet to buy a crust.

But, since moving to Portland, I thought I’d give pie-making a shot. I’ve made three pies, all from Bubby’s Homemade Pies by Ron Silver and Jen Bervin. And all have been quite good. I’ve made the Mile High Apple Pie, the Peach Vanilla Bean Pie and the Pumpkin Pie with Caramel Sauce and Candied Pecans.

I felt nervous about piling the apples too high for my mile high pie, so it was more like a few feet high pie. The peach pie was good, but molded very quickly. Both splattered all over my oven, and I’m sure Portland has some sort of natural and environmentally friendly solution to this to which I’ve not been privy.

The winner was the pumpkin pie with the pecans, because of the pecans. The pecans are baked with whiskey, vanilla, and cinnamon and they are a treat on their own. Nutty and sweet without too much sweet. Oh my, they are very, very good.

The book itself is an excellent pie primer. It has pretty little drawings of the fruit and the process for making pies. And the steps are very clear. One thing I learned -- always have cold hands. COLD HANDS -- DID YOU HEAR ME?

Bubby’s has savory pies too, including Empanadas (yum) and instructions for making ice cream from scratch, which I think might be Portland’s October activity, after making candy, costumes and pumpkins from scratch, of course.

So, if you’re like 75% of college educated, middle-class, white America and you want to move to Portland, then I suggest picking up this book. It’s a great way to hide your non-Oregonian roots. Fingers crossed that someone will make a fruit canning and jamming book as detailed and lovely as Bubby’s Homemade Pies. If not a jam book, then at least a small pamphlet on sitting still while someone else pumps your gas.