Guest Attempt: Peach Pie in Translation

This guest attempt is brought to you by Corinne Manning.

Amelia and I took a Writer as Translator Workshop with the beautiful Malena Morling. On her syllabus she offered this quote by Octavio Paz: "Translation is an art of analogy, the art of finding correspondences. An art of shadows and echoes..." We spent a lot of time talking about the aim of translation and that when we approached translating a poem we had to consider whether we were creating a version or an imitation.

"When I tell bakers that I want to make a good peach pie they always say, why don't you just make a cobbler," Liz Blanchard said as we divided up our peach pie attempt. Previous to this baking experience, I hadn't thought much about the triumphs and travails of peach pie. I always thought peach pie was exceedingly delicious and occasionally soggy. I accepted it for what it was not realizing that the pie could achieve much more.

I have a sort of haphazard approach to baking. I blame some of that on my grandmother who, when teaching me to make Struffoli told me to mix the dough until "it feels like this" and the rest on my general impatience. I love the act of baking, but when things seem to be going wrong, or there's a problem that I don't know how to solve, I take the good-enough approach. I never consider from the onset whether I'm making a version or an imitation, just that I want what's in the cookbook to manifest into a cookie and for the cookie to taste good.

Liz, on the other hand, is a professional. Her business, Cake Head, is of local fame here in Spartanburg, SC. I've only been here for a few weeks but when I hear the word birthday I also hear Liz's name. Cupcakes seem to be married to her as well, as do fried pies and other amazing confections. Not only does her stuff look beautiful, the taste of it really does render people speechless. It's like waking up: "what have I been eating my whole life?"

I met Liz at a party and we got to talking about baking. She was disappointed at a peach pie attempt she had made that day. I thought it tasted delicious, but she didn't think it was quite right. She was afraid it was too runny.

I wasn't sure if peach pies could be anything but that. We both discussed recipes we had tried and I couldn't think of any other time when the result was different. Liz was determined to create her own version of the peach pie.

The original too runny pie came from The Pie and Pastry Bible.

"It doesn't make sense," Liz said. "This cookbook is supposed to be great." She looked at the recipe one last time before putting it back on the shelf.

For the sake of tradition: here is a their version, our version, though it should be noted that our version was the better version, and though I'm tempted to say Liz's recipe is the better recipe, I learned a lesson (which you'll hear later) which will keep me from saying that.

their version:
our version:
The adventure started with getting the peaches. It's peach season in SC right now and here peaches are kind of a big deal.

She took me to a produce stand called Bellews (plywood floors, boiled peanuts behind the counter, pulled pork bbq on Saturdays). It was around 3pm on a weekday but the place was bustling. It was filled with really beautiful (and affordable) local produce. There were bins of peaches, which Liz got right to work on.
Have you ever noticed that when someone starts searching through produce, looking for the best in the bins, everyone near by starts to look antsy to get their hands on the fruit too? I watched that sort of panic set in while the elderly women watched Liz go through the fruit. She moved with the kind of certainty that invokes jealousy, but her criteria was quite simple. "You want something not too soft and not too hard."

We purchased about 3 3/4 lbs. of peaches and brought them back to the house. Before we started anything we examined the Pie and Pastry Bible recipe again and then leafed through The Joy of Cooking. It's a terrible assumption to believe that any recipe is right just because it's in a book. (Similar to Amelia's conclusion with the butternut squash soup recipe.) Liz thought that part of the problem with the Pie and Pastry Bible recipe was the crust and so she decided to trust her instincts and return to her Grandmother's crust recipe.
We made both of our patties ahead of time. One for the top and one for the bottom. I thought this was a convenient trick, rather than keeping it altogether in one large ball. Keeping them separate meant not having to disturb the dough too much when it got to that tricky place of preparing the shell.

She had some other amazing tricks too, like this Vanilla Bean Sugar.
Since she uses whole vanilla bean in many of her recipes, she got into the habit of saving the husks and placing them in sugar. This stuff smelled like marshmallows.

Though we conferred with the cookbooks on amounts it was decided that we had to follow our guts with this one. As we chopped and worked, Liz expressed some concern for this pie, even though it didn't even exist yet.

How could a recipe be wrong? And would all this following our gut really be worth something, or would it come out with the same result? One thing Liz learned is that just because something gets written down as a recipe, it doesn't mean it's going to work for anyone else. Ultimately, for all the chemistry and science, there’s something subjective about baking. It’s going to depend on your hands, your equipment, and the quality of your ingredients. And probably, above all else, the care and attention that goes into it. There was a precision to the way Liz worked. There was a certainty, but also a nurturing careful attention—as if it were all happening for the first time.

When we translated poems in class we all knew that whatever was originally there would be lost, whatever magic that had first inspired the poet could not be transferred over. Our goal was to find that own spark within our writing and we tried this through a number of techniques, such as looking at different versions and even doing audible translations, where we guessed at what the words were in order to try to capture the mood or at the very least, our own experience of the poem.

Liz and I discussed how our grandmothers' baked and Liz concluded that for all the precision and science of baking, ultimately you had to do what felt right.

A list of what felt right:

Tbsp. of Makers Mark whiskey
Not 3, not 4, but 5 Tbsps of tapioca starch
Turbinado sugar spread on the bottom of the crust, to keep it crispy
Cooking it for much, much longer than expected. How much longer? Ultimately an hour and 15 minutes at 375.

The result? I'm not kidding when I say that this was the best peach pie I've ever had. Just take a look at that cross section.
Liz still had some concerns about the way it sat on the plate. "I think I'm expecting it to be like an apple pie and maybe that just isn't possible. Maybe I have to change my expectation of what a peach pie is."

So maybe that's the point. Ultimately, it's all subjective and when it comes down to it, the success of the baked good comes down to the care that's put into it. To the baker, the same recipe will come out differently depending on the weather, the ingredients, her own mood. A recipe is just like anything in translation. The poetry is the first thing that gets lost, but the best part to rediscover.

Perfect Peach Pie by Liz Blanchard of Cake Head

3 3/4 lb peaches, peeled and sliced
3/4 cup of Vanilla bean sugar
2 tbs of lemon strained
5 tbs of tapioca starch
1 tbs of makers mark
bit of cinnamon
bit of nutmeg

Toss it all together and then place in the crust.

Fool proof pie dough (four pies)
4 c flour
1 T sugar
2 T salt
1/2 c. water
1 3/4 cup shortening
1 T vinegar
1 lg egg

Combine flour, sugar and salt. Add shortening and mix until course crumbs. Add egg, vinegar and water. Tips: once dough is placed in the pie pan sprinkle some turbinado sugar in the bottom, place peach mixture on top. The turbinado will keep it crispy. Paint the top of the crust with a little bit of water, rather than egg.


Amelia Morris said...

I love this post! Love the conclusion. Love "A list of what felt right." esp. when immediately followed by Maker's Mark. & I loved that poetry class. Also love that the "their version" picture is like the jenkiest picture of all time, THUS ensuring that your version would triumph! that was your strategy, no?

Corinne said...

I know, it really isn't fair but this is life and life is hard. mwahhahaha!

Kayla said...

Your peach pie looks WAY better than their version! :)


Anonymous said...

Is that Fool-Proof or Full-Proof?
I stink at pies so I'll have to give this a try with some Georgia peaches...which we probably got from SC anyway. :) Enjoyed your writing Corinne.

Matthew said...

Wow. Great post Corinne! It would have been nice to include some pics of you and Liz raving before the conversation turned to baking. Next time?

Janie said...

Poetry and Baking! Best of friends ...

Jodi said...

I love this post...i love that pie!! mmmmmm.

alix said...

Starting with a Tbsp of Makers Mark feels right for most situations. Great post Corinne - in my head I was reading this in you and Liz's voices.

Susannah said...

That pie looks incredibly delicious. I wish peaches were in season here! Once they are, I will have to try this recipe.

Mark said...

That delicious peach pie would really go well with a nice Maker's Manhattan.

catillman said...

Anything Liz cooks is great...she is her toughest critic when it comes to her baking! I have a few recipes she has given me through the years and this is one more I will have to add to my collection! Now if I could just get her to give me the recipe for the chocolate cake she made me for my birthday!