Suzi and I are on the road. We are in Bozeman, Montana for a couple of days, then driving down to be with our daughter and boyfriend in Yellowstone National Park. Kelly is already in Yellowstone and baiting Suzi by claiming she has seen a moose. Suzi and I have been in pursuit of moose for years. We have traveled all across Maine and never seen one. Suzi is hopeful that Kelly has not scared all the moose [meese?] away.
Since I’m about to traipse through marshland in search of large mammals, I’m going to offer you some cookbook reviews that offer the best in summer cooking. Take a look at these books and get your grill — and your salad bowl — ready.
This is a beautiful and important book. There have been several grand pie books out this summer. I would start first with this one, First Prize Pies. First has recipes for the entire year, month by month. Starting with spring and rounding into winter.
Never really been a pie fanatic? You can become one. Quickly.
Allison Kave began as an amateur and has gone professional, right down to brick and mortar. With a bar-savvy friend, she has opened up Butter & Scotch the first cocktail and dessert bar on very trendy Smith Street in Cobble Hill in Brooklyn. What more needs to be said: alcohol and pie crust.
Allison started First Prize Pies appearing at outdoor food markets. Allison’s mother is the inspiration: mom made candy at home for two decades then opened up a candy stand at the famed Essex Street Market. And Allison’s brother is a serious chef. So migrating into food, full time, was inevitable for Allison. She always baked. Then she entered the Brooklyn Pie Bake Off with her brother in 2009. He won Best Sweet Pie. She won best overall with her Bourbon Ginger Pecan Pie.
Her career was launched with that First Prize ribbon. The Bourbon Ginger Pecan Pie is on page 170. And if you go to Smorgasburg on weekends, you can eat pie standing on your feet. Or go to Butter & Scotch to sit down.
Or buy this book and work your way through the year. Suzen and I are.
The first pie recipe in the book does not appear until page 67. What comes first? Advice, recipes and big helpful pictures. Have you have been placing a pie crust in a pad, had it poised on your rolling pin, and had it crash down like the Hindenburg? Have you every cried over your crust?
The start of this important book is a long and serious primer on pie crusts. The physical techniques and recipes ranging from basic crust to rolled oat crumble. This is more than step-by-step. This is mini-step-by-mini-step. The instructions are lovingly and expertly detailed. The photos are an artfully crafted trail from flour to finished crust. Even I can do it. And I have.
And then there are the pies. Truly interesting and appealing pies. Organized by season and by month so you’ll make that apple pie — actually an Apple Cider Cream Pie — in January, when the fall apples have rested and the apple cider has peaked. There are six or seven recipes for each month, many with accompanying full page photographs. If you have enough will power to read a recipe title —like Salty Caramel Pie — and move on, then the picture right next to it will bring your finger to a halt. You will think that you have to make this pie. And that is the sign of a great cookbook. You’ve been invited to a treat. You cannot resist. You will bake.
There are treasures here for the entire year. Here’s a month by month selection of ideas that just popped out at me. Remember, there’s plenty more in the book:
- March’s Samoa Pie with Coconut and Chocolate
- Avocado Cream in April
- The Kentucky Derby is in May and so is Mint Julep Pie
- June brings Strawberry Shortcake Pie and Strawberry Basil
- July offers Raspberry Vinegar but also Green Tomato
- August is Watermelon Cream and Root Beer Float
- September is Perfect Manhattan with bourbon and vermouth but also Concord Grape
- Mocha Black Bottom comes in October along with Peanut Apple Caramel
- November’s entry is the Bourbon Ginger Pecan Pie that began this empire
- Eggnog Cream is the December treat, just in time for Santa
- Oatmeal Molasses is an old-fashioned, hardy treat for the cold days of January
- Margarita Pie in February will make you forget the continuing cold, or you can indulge in a Carrot-Ginger Cream Pie
There’s much to be said and praised about in First Prize Pies. These are absolutely interesting pies here, some classics, some extensions that Allison has crafted and then elevated to pie perfection. There is the book itself. I have lots of pie books, including an old copy of The Farm Journal. Pie books first appeared as just text, no pictures, and little explanation. Your imagination was rarely tickled.
First Prize Pies is, instead, a beautiful book. A little quirky with a page layout that has some Art Deco elements, a thoughtful throwback to the idea that pies are perhaps just a little old-fashioned. And yet, they are not. These are jet-age, space-age recipes dotted here month by month. Some recipes bring old flavors to new levels: there’s a Creamsicle pie that can only make you nostalgic. And today’s new flavors, Salted Caramel and Banofee appear in full glory.
You have a full year of pie before you in First Class Pies. You’ll eat first class. You’ll have perfect crust, and your only tears will be joyful ones. You won’t have the same pie twice — unless you want to. And next year, at this time, you can do it all over again. I expect you will.