Friday, October 21, 2011

Apple Pie Contest

I’m not competitive…I just avoid competition because I hate to lose. There are, however, certain temptations and recently Montgomery Place Orchard in Red Hook New York, presented me with one I couldn’t resist. Every September the orchard puts out a clipboard with a sign up sheet for their apple pie contest. I love their many variety of apples and I’ve often considered the contest. How hard could it be after all? I’ve made dozens of delicious pies in my time and I’m especially good at a tart tatin. There was no category for tart tatin at Montgomery Place; the only categories were traditional double crust or crumb top. I went for the double crust. 
Montgomery place sells a variety of familiar apples like Empire, Fuji, Gala, Jonagold and Golden delicious but I get excited by the less familiar varieties --Esopus Spitzenburg, Karmijin de Sonnaville and Ananas Reinette to name just a few.
I noticed some chestnut crab apples, a small variety with an intense flavor that matches my idea of everything an apple should be and taste like. This was the first time I had noticed them. They are crisp, not too sweet and I decided that this was the apple I would use for the contest.

If you sign up for the contest Montgomery Place gives you a free peck of apples. I took my peck and then bought all the remaining chestnut crab apples they had to make sure I’d cornered the market. Not that I have a competitive nature or anything.

My apple pie testing began. My normal crust is part butter and leaf lard. I tested a few varieties of this crust, with different sorts of butter and varying proportions of butter to leaf lard (I use the leaf lard from Flying Pigs Farm at the Union Square Greenmarket in NYC). I also tried out different flours. The final crust was perfect by my standard, flakey, a bit savory and not too sweet.

The apples cooked beautifully. All I added to them was some maple sugar, brown sugar, thyme leaves and a little flour for thickening.

I felt confident this was the best I pie I could make so and I was ready to bake for the big day.

I made my dough two days before the contest and rolled it out the night before. In the morning the apples were peeled and the pie was ready to be assembled. I decided the morning of the contest to make a bit of caramel and add some fleur de sel and toss the apples with a bit of this mixture along with everything else. Why? Who knows but next year I probably won’t do that.

The pie came out smelling heavenly and I took it over to Montgomery place at 11:30 am. Your pie has to be there by 12:00, so there is no hot pie advantage.

The frenzy around the stand was palpable and exciting. This year’s judges were a group of people who keep the farm running: electricians, plumbers, and other essential workers. There were 28 double crust pies entered and about 15-crumb tops. My pie was given number 10.
One of the volunteers approached my pie and began to slice it with a pie spatula rather than a sharp Japanese blade as I would have preferred. She struggled. “Heavens! She is tearing my pie I thought,” but somehow she managed to sever three slices. She commented how flaky the crust was which surprised me given the fact that she had smashed the crust with her dull contraption. Nonetheless, the pie was now in front of the judges.
After about an hour the winners were announced. To my disappointment I didn’t win. Mary Creech took first place in the double crust division. She used a combination of Swiss Gourmet and Macoun apples. It was a very traditional pie with, I think, Crisco in the crust. It was flakey, and the filling was delicious, light and gently spiced. It was a great pie.
Will I enter again next year? Yes, I feel like I need one more shot which is why I don’t enter contests: I can’t stop until I win.
On a side note, after the judging is completed and the winners announced everyone is given a plate and fork and you can taste any of the pies that were entered. It’s a frenzy. Below is a photo of my pie number 10, which as you can see is almost all,gone? I got much satisfaction from that.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

My Top 10 Favorite things to do in San Francisco

My friends are always asking me for my lists of what to do and eat in cities around the world and here at home. Having been born and raised in San Francisco I thought I would start with one of my favorite cities in the world. This is a top ten list and not an easy list to edit, but I will update them from time to time.

Swans Oyster Depot
A true classic and never out style seafood bar where you can sample the finest seafood the bar area has to offer.

Sightglass Coffee
For the coffee obsessed drinker this is a must stop.

4505 Meats
The Hamburger at 4505 Meats at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market on Thursdays or Saturday is simply one of the best I’ve ever tasted. Simple ingredients equal perfection.  I always pick up a few bags of their famous Chicharrones.

Tartine Bakery
Chad Robertson’s bread is a religious experience and I pick up as many as I can get my hands on, no matter what the occasion.

Mr. and Mrs., Miscellaneous
A jewel of an ice cream shop in Dogpatch serving fun twists on classic flavors and combinations of
everything ice cream.
699 22nd Street, at Third St. 

Mission Chinese Food at Lung Shan Chinese Restaurant
A brilliant pop-up Chinese restaurant inside an existing Chinese restaurant, I go for the dumplings that are made to order.

This wonderful shop is for anyone searching for the finest selection of spirits, and all the specialty ingredients to make genius cocktails at home.

Bi-Rite Market
I especially love the wine selection shop at Bi-Rite and everything else as well. One of the best-edited markets I’ve ever been to.

Omnivore books on Food
New, antiquarian and collectable cookbooks for anyone who loves cookbooks, this is the bookstore for you.

Bar Agricole
Besides the fact that this is an amazing restaurant, it is also serving some of the finest cocktails in the Bay area.