Summer fruit pies are America’s birthday cake. Just as the blueberries are ripening in Maine, the peaches blushing in Georgia and the olallieberries deep-purpling in Washington, we gather in backyards and on patios to cheer the founders and make best wishes for our national future.
So, of course, we celebrate (now and all summer long) with the dish that defines us as Americans.
Honey-sweet apricots and winy cherries together under one flaky-crisp crust, a trio of berries thickened into a jam-like filling in another, the rich fruit flavors of nectarine and blackberries playing off each other in a third -- thanks to the abundant fruit of orchard and bramble, pies that we make at this time of year can be a glorious blend of flavors.
Some of our best-loved pies are single-ingredient classics, but there’s great reason to mix and match: The more complex interplay of flavors in a two- or three-fruit filling is admirably set off by the simple sweet flakiness of pie crust.
And you don’t have to peel the apricots. Or blanch the nectarines before peeling. For baking, the nectarines should be firm but not hard; they should give to gentle pressure when pressed with your thumb.
Use less sugar and a smaller amount of thickening agent (such as tapioca) than you might have seen called for in the past. With the wide availability of gorgeous farmers market produce, it’s best to use both sparingly and allow the true fruit flavors and textures to be enjoyed. Which is not to say these pretty pies are plain-Jane creations in any way. Well-chosen details give them originality and oomph.
A judicious pinch of black pepper in the crust of a nectarine-blackberry pie adds a mysterious and intriguing dark note; vanilla bean enriches an apricot-cherry filling.
To bring the combination of raspberries, blackberries and blueberries to their full expression of flavor, add a little Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise, the sweet peach-scented wine from the southern Rhone region of France. You could also use another sweet white wine such as Sauternes or Monbazillac.
A few notes on technique are helpful, even if you’re an experienced pie maker. Use glass pans to make fruit pies; they won’t react with the acid in the fruit. And chill the dough before rolling it out. If you’ve gotten distracted and left it in the fridge longer than an hour, let it sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes before rolling it out.
Don’t shy away from making lattice or cutout crusts -- they’re not hard to master and it’s so rewarding to see the glowing colors of caramelized fruit revealed through the windows of golden brown crust.
Stars and pies forever.