Pie & Pomegranates
Most people think of Labor Day as the last blast of summer fun before settling into the new school year, but since taking on this job, I've considered it my last opportunity to rest, relax, and regroup before the fall season takes off like a runaway train with me just trying to hang on. Before this year, I didn't associate the last official weekend of the summer with any particular foods, but from now on, it will always evoke memories of pie and pomegranates. Here's how that happened: I planned four quiet days of cable TV movies in the company of a stack of new books -- review copies of new cookbooks and culinary fiction that always begin arriving this time of year. Before my sabbatical, a friend and I enjoyed a transcendent meal at DemiEpicurious -- lobster, rabbit, and shrimp, topped off with an unforgettable pomegranate sorbet that was complete puckery perfection. Once at home, I didn't get too far into the stack of books because the first volume enchanted me and wouldn't let me go.
American Pie: Tales of Life (and Pie) From America's Backroads (HarperCollins, $23.95) by food journalist Pascale Le Draoulec, had a profound effect on me -- it's officially my new favorite thing. Le Draoulec's tender tales of piemakers around the country inspired the baker in me to roll out pies for everyone. Today, simply sharing the book seems a lot more practical. News-reporter-turned-food writer Pascale Le Draoulec is a first-generation California girl of French descent with few American culinary traditions to call her own, certainly none concerning pie. When she was hired by Gannet News Service to leave her food-writing job in San Francisco and move to New York City to review restaurants, the author opted for a cross-country road trip in a blue Volvo sedan named Betty, exploring the American "outback" with a friend. The purpose of her driving venture would be to seek out American pies along the route, "pies with character and characters who love pie."
Pascale made new friends, collecting both antique mixing bowls and heirloom pie recipes in her three-week trek across America. Once in her new job, she published a series of newspaper articles about her whimsical journey. The warm response (and journalism award nominations) that the series of articles received convinced Pascale there could be a book in the quest of the fast-disappearing art of homemade American pie. The author and a traveling companion invested another summer motoring along this country's backroads in Betty Blue with a rolling pin wired to the front grill and vanity plates that read "IBRK4PIE." Going along for a ride with the gals in their piemobile is an absolute delight, well worth the reading time.
The more I read of Pascale's pie journey, the more I resisted interruptions. A phone call from Marisela Godinez finally lured me out of the house on Saturday with the enticement of one of my favorite Mexican dishes. In honor of her homeland's September holidays, El Meson is serving one of Mexico's traditional national dishes, Rellenos en Nogada -- plump, roasted poblano peppers stuffed with savory pork and dried fruits, fried in a delicate batter and napped with a creamy ground nut sauce bejeweled with glistening pomegranate seeds! Marisela assured me the rellenos would be on the menu for the entire month of September since both poblanos and pomegranates are in season, but the idea of punctuating my pie weekend with more pomegranates was irresistible. The excellent relleno fortified me for many more hours of reading about Pascale's pie exploits.
I finished American Pie in the wee hours of Monday morning with The Last Waltz winding down on overnight cable. Pascale's long journey culminated with her assembling the necessary ingredients for a first attempt at piemaking. Her book is every bit as satisfying as the best pies she encountered on the trip, sweet but not cloying, with a lovingly crafted framework holding the filling together. I sincerely hope American Pie inspires a resurgence of our distinctly American art before it becomes another casualty of fast-paced modern life. Early Monday morning, I dozed and dreamt of my own pie shop, happy customers eating slices of pie garnished with vivid magenta scoops of bittersweet pomegranate sorbet. Thanks, Pascale.
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