Last year a friend of mine started a book club. It’s just six of us and we take turns picking books and meet once a month at someone’s house for dinner and discussion. Sometimes the cook tries to match the dinner to the book. This month was my turn and I decided to make everyone read Lonesome Dove since none of them had ever read a western before. And because I am who I am, I had to have a themed dinner.
The main course was easy to pick: beef! (The book is about a cattle drive, fyi.) I’ve made this Glazed Corned Beef recipe several times and it’s delicious so I decided to go for it again. I like to throw baby carrots in there to cook too for the vegetable portion of the meal. To go with this, I also wanted to make sourdough biscuits in my cast iron skillet. I got the recipe from my Forty Years Behind the Lid: Chuckwagon Grub by Richard Bolt cookbook. (Sourdough recipe is actually available online here). I made the sourdough starter only a night ahead of time since it has commercial yeast and raw potato to feed it. I halved the recipe and made it in a quart jar. It started bubbling pretty quickly and overflowed the jar constantly for about two hours before I finally scooped some off the top and put it in the fridge. Note for next time: quarter the recipe or use a larger container.
Next was to figure out dessert and I was stuck between choosing vinegar pie or dried apple pie. The vinegar pie is also from the Richard Bolt cookbook (uses apple cider vinegar) so I know it’s good for cattle drives; this recipe has no eggs. The dried apple pie is from MaryJane Butters’ Ideabook, Cookbook, Lifebook but it also has a custard layer and a meringue layer, and a cattle drive probably wouldn’t have chickens and a dairy cow. It’s more of a pioneer pie but I was eager to use some of the free bushel of apples I had gotten this winter from the farmers’ market and dried.
I was slightly afraid of how either of them would taste though. Here is a review of vinegar pie in which the taster has to be forced to eat it:
“It’s … interesting,” he said, after his first mouthful.
Interesting good or bad?
“You can taste the vinegar,” he decided, “but it’s not a bad taste necessarily. It is strong, though.”
I thought it had a faintly apple juice-y flavor, due no doubt to that apple cider vinegar. Truth be told, it wasn’t the most pleasing flavor. I thought it a little peculiar.
“Mmmm,” said Josh gamely, rubbing his belly in an attempt at appreciation.
But if you were holed up in a dugout in Minnesota, ready to face the long winter, wouldn’t you appreciate the sweet end to a meal? Or if you were a sharecropper in Tennessee, looking to stretch your budget as far as at would go?
“Sure,” nodded Josh carefully. “But I don’t know how much more of this pie I’m going to eat right NOW, if that’s okay.”
It wasn’t okay. I slammed my hand down on the table and demanded he continue eating another SLICE OF HISTORY. He did. But I knew in my heart of hearts he was eating it because he was scared of me, not because he really liked it.
I also felt the name of the pie might be slightly off-putting. And in my The Lost Art of Pie Making Made Easy by Barbara Swell cookbook, in the place of a recipe for dried apple pie, there is this poem from The Ladies Home Journal, September 1886:
“I hate, abhor, detest, despise,
Abominate dried apple pies!
Tread on my toes and tell me lies,
But don’t give me dried apple pies!”
I personally love old fashioned pies and would enjoy either of them, I was sure, but I wasn’t so sure about my dinner guests. I decided to make both and hope each person liked at least one of them. (I also decided to call the vinegar pie “custard pie” until they had tried it and hope the vinegar smell wouldn’t linger in my kitchen to give me away.)
So how did it go?
The corned beef was good, as expected since I had made it before. The sourdough biscuits were probably my favorite item of the night, simply because I was unsure how well my starter would work; it ended up working beautifully. After I took it out of the fridge, I added more flour and water since it had shrunk a bit but it took a while for it to start bubbling this time. I had to use pretty much the entire quart jar of starter for the pan of biscuits so I really do need a bigger container if I want to be able to make enough to keep some starter for later, which is the whole point of having starter. However, I would be more likely to be making a small amount of biscuits or bread than a whole pan and therefore would need less starter on a daily basis. I actually will be trying a different recipe for starter next time that only calls for one cup each of flour and water so that would definitely fit in my quart jar.
I would not make the vinegar pie again, at least not with that recipe. This recipe was cooked on the stove and I could not find any other vinegar pie recipe to compare it to; every other one I found was baked, some with meringues. My first issue was that I was supposed to boil the liquids, then add the dry ingredients, including some flour. What happens when you add flour to boiling water? It clumps. I could not work out all of the clumps and I stirred this thing constantly for 20+ minutes. It also never thickened like I thought it should either. I eventually just poured it into the baked crust any way and stuck it in the fridge for a few hours. It wasn’t that bad after chilling for so long but I still wouldn’t make it again since it wasn’t especially delicious either. No one knew there was vinegar in it until I told them though. It just tasted like a sugar pie but slightly tart and appley.
The dried apple pie was delicious. I love doing meringues and I loved the custard filling too. It’s a good thing I have lots of dried apples because I will definitely do this again. No one could tell the apples were anything but fresh.
I did something new for my pie crusts. I’ve always just done a shortening-based crust but both the Barbara Swell pie book and my Rustic Fruit Desserts cookbook recommend a butter-based crust. The recipes are pretty much the same in both books. The butter crust was good but it was more trouble than my regular crust so I don’t know how often I’ll use it. If I wanted to be really authentic for tonight, I would have done a lard-based crust. Alas, there is no lard in my kitchen. I do plan on doing a lard-based crust at some point because I hear it’s very tasty. I think only my family would be interested in trying that though.