About a month ago, a friend of Betty Deville’s asked me to bake some pies for a house bake/craft sale she was organizing. She asked a few of her friends to put together some things to sell and an organized a nice little event at her house last weekend.
I was very tentative about agreeing to do this, because historically, I have been very good at over extending myself and since starting graduate school, I have been very careful not to. I was also short of funds to finance the ingredients for my baking. But I do love sharing my treats and promoting Pretty Pies and got offers for a lot of help with ingredients and I just couldn’t say no. After committing, I decided to make apple and pumpkin pies. I would bake some and freeze some so people could buy frozen pies if they wanted to take home and eat another time and so I wouldn’t get stuck with way to many pies in the event sales were low. There was also going to be a “by the slice” sales counter and for that, I would make air force cake and apple and mulberry rhubarb sassy pies. Ambitious, no?
The week prior to the bake/craft sale, I started ramping up preparatory activities. I was at an all time low in terms the ingredients I stock up on so I had a lot to do. I pealed and sliced apples, rendered lard, ground cinnamon sticks, roasted pumpkin, gathered and purchased other ingredients. I graduated to the 25 lb bag of all purpose flour for this particular adventure among other bulk purchases.
Then I started cooking. Every night, I would come home from classes and go straight to the kitchen. I approached everything very systematically: I would spend one night preparing ingredients like measuring out lard and cubing butter for crust, then the next night I would make a bunch of batches of pie crust, and then the next night I would roll out all the dough, and then the next night, I would assemble the pies. It was a busy week in my kitchen. By the end of the week, I had six frozen apple pies, four frozen pumpkin pies, apple and mulberry rhubarb sassy pie filling, and sassy pie dough.
I had never frozen pumpkin pie before and there seemed to be a lot of conflicting opinions about it around the interwebs. Some said freezing a baked pumpkin pie and then thawing it in the refrigerator worked great. I knew this was a bunch of phoey! There is no way crust under those conditions would be crusty. It would be soggy and chewy and unacceptable for a Pretty Pie. Others said that freezing uncooked pumpkin pie filling wouldn’t work because freezing degrades some properties of the eggs and so when baked, the filling would not set right. I was more apt to believe that explanation but wanted to try it out myself. To experiement, I baked an empty crust shell, liberally applied an egg wash to create a moisture barrier between the crust and filling, and froze the baked crust shell. Once frozen, I mixed up pumpkin pie filling and cooled it as much as I could before it started freezing, and then poured the very cold filling into the frozen crust and froze the assembled unbaked pie. Once it was fully frozen, I baked the pie. The filling set up perfectly fine, the crust was nice and crusty, and the bottom was not soggy. I could tell it had been frozen but the change was small. It was an acceptable Pretty Pie!
Saturday before the show, I made two air force cakes and baked two apple pies and two pumpkin pies. Air force cake is a special family recipe than comes from an Italian grandma that I am related to on my Chinese side through marriage. Grandma Rose was an amazing cook and made many truely unique and different tasty desserts. Luckily, some of her recipes were written down and passed on to the family. Air force cake is one of those recipes. While I have tried to do some research into this type of cake and its origins, I’ve never found anything like it in any cookbooks or online. The closest way I have come to describe it is like an angel food cake but with egg yokes, and not as sticky. It is very light and airy and requires a lot of careful attention when making it. Everytime I make air force cake, I remember the two amazing women, Grandma Rose and Ah Hun (my great auntie), who made this cake for our family and are no longer with us.
The morning of the bake sale, I fried 12 apple and 12 mulberry rhubarb sassy pies. I fry my pies in lard in a cast iron skillet over a gas burner with a fry thermometer. It is probably one of the harder frying setups in terms of controlling the fry temperature and adjusting cooking instructions to accomodate the lower smoking point of lard, but after a summer of practice, I did quite well keeping the temperature constant and frying the pies to a beautiful golden brown, while being completely cooked but not greasy.
So this is what I brought to the show: two baked apple pies, two baked pumpkin pies, four frozen apple pies, two frozen pumpkin pies, 16 piece of air force cake, 10 apple sassy pies, and 10 mulberry rhubarb sassy pies. Here is what I sold: two baked apple pies, one baked pumpkin pie, three frozen apple pies, two frozen pumpkin pies, eight pieces of air force cake, and all 20 sassy pies. I didn’t know how many people were going to show up but a lot of my family came out to support me and helped bolster my sales. It was great to see everyone and share my tasty treats next to the other treats and crafts that were on sale. Betty Deville was selling the cutest flower hair piece, Bear Face and Pretty Boy came and ate sassy pies, the Mojo Monster stopped by, and Dr. Sam bought an apple pie. I love my tribe!
I’m glad I participated. It was an exhausting week but I definitely came out ahead. I priced things low enough that they would sell and I could at least comp my intial investment (which they did and I did), but not quite high enough to pay for my time. Pricing is something I am still fine tuning and this was a great eduational exercise. I’d like to breath a sigh of relief, slow things down, and get back to studying now that the whole ordeal is over, but I’m apparently not very good at that. I’ve launched myself into my list of things to cook and have been keeping the kitchen busy on top of my studying. Coming up are pumpkin pie croissant bread pudding, crunchy vanilla chocolate chip cookies, and bacon cheddar biscuits along with breakfasts and dinners for the Mojo Monster, Pretty Boy, who ever else happens to be around, and me.