Pie Filling Without a Recipe

All through my youth, I thought a recipe was necessary to make a pies. If I came across fruit or berries on sale, I would first have to find a recipe for that particular one before I could make a pie with it. After years of practice I have hit on a method that works for me.

It is the filling I had trouble with until I developed this simple system.

Pie filling is basically prepared fruit and/or berries plus sugar and flour. You will need about 8 cups of prepared fruit that is washed, hulled, cleaned, cored, peeled and ready to put into the pie. The flour is to thicken it so you don't have runny pies and the sugar is purely for taste.

How much of each depends on your filling. You be the judge of how sweet you want it. I use 1 to 2 cups of sugar for every standard 9" pie made with fruit or berries. I put 1.5 cups of sugar in a blueberry pie but I don't like fruit pies very sweet. Some people might prefer 2 cups of sugar.

How much flour depends on how juicy the filling is. Again you have to judge the juiciness. I use between 4 and 6 tablespoons of flour for every standard 9" pie. Where the juiciness is concerned, I find it is better to use a little more than too little. No one likes a runny pie but too much flour will take away from the taste of the fruit. You cannot judge how runny it is while it is very hot, however. Let it cool to barely warm before making that judgement and adjusting the amount in the next one or the cooking time. If you have put in the 6 tablespoons of flour and it is runny, you probably haven't cooked it long enough. Also, if your pie is runny and you have thickened with flour, put it in the fridge overnight and it will be a lot more solid in the morning. If you used corn starch, this won't help.

You can bake the filling in a pie without burning the crust if you cover the entire pie with aluminum foil. If the pastry is getting dark and the filling is not done, cover the entire pie and bake longer.

If your most common problem in pie making is getting the filling completely cooked so that the fruit is soft and the juice is thickened but the pastry is not yet burned, try heating the filling up to the boiling point before your put it into the pastry. Only do this if it is going directly into the oven. The boiling filling will melt the fat in the pastry if you let it sit long like that without baking. I have cooked the filling completely before putting in the pastry and baking without any negative consequences. Then you are only baking the pastry and the filling is guaranteed to be fully cooked. However, if you want to ensure large pieces of fruit in the pie, I would not recommend this.

Today I made four blueberry pies. I found frozen whole blueberries at Costco for a good price. I made the pastry yesterday. I baked one and put the other three in the freezer.

Pies taste just as good after freezing as they do fresh if they are frozen BEFORE THEY ARE BAKED. The quality suffers a lot if you freeze fruit and berry pies after baking. The filling will be fine but the pastry will be soggy.

Another tip: Do not keep cooked fruit or berry pies in the refrigerator. This will also make the pastry soggy. I cover mine with plastic wrap and keep it on the counter.

With these easy directions you can make pie out of anything. You can mix the filling as in peach/pecan or apple/maple/walnut with caramel drizzled on top. Use your imagination. If you have some fruit, but not quite enough, add some nuts and raisins to it. Use roasted hulled sunflower seeds in place of nuts in a pie. No one will know they are not nuts. You might also try substituting a little of the flour in the pastry with finely ground pecans. You can top the filling with bits of butter before putting the pastry on top. There are many, many variations you can make with this simple system for pie filling.

Baking Winter Squash

We baked our 50+ lb Hopi black squash today. It's the largest squash I have ever grown! Hubby cut it into 16 pieces, each weighing between 1200 and 1500g each.  I knew it was a 50 pounder! 

We wrapped each piece in foil and are baking it today. We can't get it all in the oven at one time, it's so large! 

It lasted a long time and wasn't beginning to go yet. I might have lasted through Feb. We still have another, smaller one that hasn't ripened to full orange yet. I'm sure that one will be good for another month or so, maybe longer. 

I added the knife for size comparison. This squash is a dark, bright orange. Does it have more beta carotene maybe? That would be a big plus. :) 

We love it. We eat it as a cooked veggie with just a pinch of salt and butter. Delicious! It makes great pies, muffins, cookies, loaf and cake squares! 

This is the longest I have kept one. I think the difference is that this year, I kept it at room temperature instead of in the root cellar. It was dryer and warmer on our dining room floor all winter. 

We go through a lot of squash in a year! 

Growing Potatoes

I have finally gotten everything planted except the potatoes and tobacco seedlings. I have not planted the potatoes yet because I have been undecided about growing them this year. This is the potato capital of Canada and we have friends with a huge potato farm. These friends have let us pick up potatoes off the ground after the machines have harvested them in the past, also, 50 lb bags of potatoes are so cheap in the fall here. It is not really worth planting them.

The only reason I am considering it is because I want them to make dog food next year and I like the red ones. Most of what is grown around here are white commercial potatoes. Its not the same and they are not nearly as good as homegrown red ones with our own chicken manure. So, all things considered, I am thinking about planting some red ones this week. My father in law assures me that it is not too late to plant them now and I have the room and can make the time for it now that everything else is in the ground and it rained last night. This constant hand watering and sprinkler moving has been killing me! Well, its been taking all of my time, anyway.

I want to plant potatoes in trenches lined with cardboard and covered with thick mulch instead of soil. Since the potatoes grow above the seed potato, they will grow onto the cardboard in the trench. You can also just lay them in the trench on the soil and cover with mulch and still have fairly clean potatoes without any digging. The cardboard is optional.

Thus we will have fairly clean potatoes without any digging. The digging is work, yes, but it also results in a lot of large potatoes cut in half or stabbed. This is what happens when I dig them, anyway. I don't seem to be very good at it :-(

If the trench is covered with straw, we can just lift the mulch to see how the potatoes are progressing or to pick up a few little ones to eat.

I think I may be planting potatoes in this manner this week, perhaps with the cardboard, perhaps without it. Writing this blog has helped me make up my mind. I will let you know how the cardboard/mulch plan works out. I do have a small square bale of old hay I can use for that and some fall leaves I can cut up and add to it.

Another reason to plant potatoes is for the flowers. I like potato flowers in a cut arrangement. They are very pretty and people don't seem to recognize them. Everyone asks what they are and seem quite surprised when I tell them that they are potato flowers. 

I am still a bit undecided. I might look at the work I already have to do in weeding and harvesting and decide not to plant potatoes this year. I keep changing my mind. That's a woman's prerogative, isn't it?

Cannas From Seed

I have successfully grown canna lilies from seed for a few years now and am always on the lookout for more canna seed. I love cannas! They are so tropical looking and perfect for filling in holes anywhere! 

Dwarf Yellow
This past winter I started many different canna seeds that I received in a trade. The above pic is a few that I grew from those seed. Some turned out to be large flowering dwarf yellow ones, very nice! One tall peach, beautiful! Several tall with very small yellow flowers but large tropical leaves and, so far, one dwarf gold colour. I will put the ones with small flowers together in bare spots in the new large flowerbed at the front. The nicer ones will go into the courtyard, the pond and various pots. 

I have developed a technique that usually works well. Canna seeds have a coating that has to be opened to allow water to enter and germinate the seeds. This is not so easy to do. Many seeds need scarification (as this is called) but cannas are particularly difficult. The first year I tried several different methods but the only one that worked for me was using a rasp in the drill on high speed and holding the seed to it with a pair of needle nose pliers. This year I have a whet stone that I used with success. 

The seed only needs a very small and very shallow opening in the black coat to germinate. I don't want to harm the seed inside or it will not grow. After this step, I soak them overnight in warm water before planting. If done correctly, they will germinate in about 2-3 weeks in warm temps in potting soil indoors. Many that I have started in this manner in Jan-Feb have grown to bloom in the same season, even in Ontario, especially the dwarf varieties which don't need a long growing season. 

One Peach Canna
Growing cannas from seed is very rewarding! I like all the tender bulbs that go into cold storage for the winter. I can put them where I need them in the spring, filling in holes and covering dying daffodil leaves as they age. Dahlias are another favourite for the same reasons. 

This coming winter I want to grow more cannas. I would love to trade for canna seeds that are not yellow. I have only yellow cannas now. I would like some with red leaves and some with fancy striped leaves and some with large red flowers. If you have seeds from these varieties and would like to trade, please contact me.