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Four months?  Four months since I posted here? Apparently so. No idea what happened in that void, other than psychic pain and misery inflicted by the Giant Dorito in the White House, but let us not speak of that. Let us speak of the day when the sun shines again, which we hope will be very very soon.

Fast forward to happier thoughts.

We had guests come to dinner last night, including someone my husband hadn’t seen in more than 40 years. He barbecued 1/2 pound hamburgers. I made the guacamole, the oven fries, and this Aloha Pie.

Years ago I had a slice of Aloha Pie in a restaurant and it was just fabulous, but that restaurant is long gone. I tried a couple of recipes but they weren’t the same… until now.

This started as a recipe for Pineapple Cheese Pie from Sunset Cook Book of Favorite Recipes Volume 1, which you should own because it’s full of retro-to-nearly-retro recipes that anyone can make and which are deliciously unconcerned with fat, salt, and sugar. My copy is stained, dog-eared, and falling apart. I will never let go of it. Anyway, I looked at that recipe and thought it could be improved upon with little effort.

And after all that, the guests didn’t stick around for dessert. Their loss. It was divine.


This makes a deep-dish 10″ pie.

Note: Do not be tempted to use fresh pineapple. It contains an enzyme that prevents gelatin (in the cream cheese) from setting up.



  • 1 1/2 cups graham crackers, crushed (or substitute another cookie like Nilla Wafers)
  • 1/4 cup melted butter

Crush the graham crackers by putting them in a plastic bag and whacking them with a rolling pin or similar implement of destruction, or putting them in a blender or food processor. Or you can do what I do and just put them in the pie plate and crumple them with your hands, not worrying if some pieces are bigger than crumb-size. Pour the melted butter in and mix it around. Pat the ensuing butter-crumb melange onto the bottom and sides of the pie plate. Bake in a 350 oven for 10 minutes and set aside.


  • 2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened (I used low-fat)
  • 2 eggs
  • scant 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract

Using an electric mixer, blend all the filling ingredients together until smooth. Then add:

  • 1 can (about 1 pound, more or less) pineapple chunks in juice, thoroughly drained (use a good name-brand like Del Monte, not an off-brand. Also, use the juice for something else like a cocktail)
  • 1 firm-ripe thinly sliced banana

Fold those in carefully, then scrape all the filling into the baked crust and smooth the top.  Bake at 375 for 20 minutes.

While that is baking, in the same bowl combine

  • 1 cup sour cream (I used low fat; nonfat or regular would work too)
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract

Separately, put about

  • 1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes

in a dry frying pan and toast over medium heat, shaking and stirring frequently, until it has a nice tan. Remove from the pan (if you leave it in the pan it will burn from residual heat) and set aside.

When the pie has baked its allotted 20 minutes, remove from oven. Spread the sour cream mixture evenly over the top, then sprinkle with the toasted coconut. Return to the oven and bake another 5 minutes, then remove pie to a cooling rack. Let cool for an hour, then cover and store in refrigerator.

This was even better than I hoped for.

Vary this pie by leaving out the banana and coconut, in which case it would revert to Pineapple Cheese Pie status. Add some macadamia nuts or toasted almonds along with the coconut or in place of. Use vanilla extract, coconut extract, and/or a spoonful of rum in place of the almond extract.  If there are egg whites hiding in the refrigerator, skip the sour cream and top with a meringue instead.

I can’t think of anything you would want to garnish this with. This is perfect on its own.




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It’s one of those unfair life situations: just when the best, sweetest, juiciest fruit is ripe, it’s too damn hot to turn the oven on to bake a pie. I mean, it was over 122 F/50C in parts of Southern California, Nevada, and Arizona yesterday and they’re not expecting that to change soon. You just go into survival mode when it’s that hot. Pie doesn’t even cross your mind. You are just trying to not cook to death.

I almost never turn the oven on from June through mid-September. But summer pies are legendary. Jesse Colin Young sang about them in “Ridgetop.”

I’ve got hundred foot pine trees
That just love to dance in the wind

And a yard full of bushes
That turn into pie in July

So what’s a piemaker to do when the summer fruit is plentiful but you don’t dare heat the house up any more than it already is? Turn to the barbecue. Instead of making a two-crust fruit pie, make one giant crust and use it like a hobo pack to envelope all the filling.

This is called a gallette in French – a flat, round(ish) pastry filled with fruit.



  • 1 1/4 cups unbleached white flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons very cold butter
  • ice water

Directions for making pie crust are here.

When you’ve made the crust, wrap it in waxed paper and store in the fridge for at least 20 minutes – an hour or two is better –  until very cold.


  • 2-4 cups fresh summer fruit (slice fruit like peaches or apricots thinly as well as oversized berries; leave small berries whole)
  • sugar to taste (I use two or three tablespoons, depending on how sweet the fruit is)
  • tapioca

Combine fruit, sugar, and tapioca, and let sit until ready to make the pie. If you use the larger BB-sized tapioca like I do here, let the mixture sit an hour or two to allow the tapioca to soften and start absorbing moisture.

(If you really feel you can’t bear to make a crust, buy one of those refrigerated pie crusts in a box and roll it out really thin on a floured board.)

Roll out the crust on a floured board. Do not worry if the crust isn’t perfectly round. It’s fine if it looks like a map of France.  Roll it thinly to get a very large crust.


Patch any holes with dough from the edges and a dab of water.


Using a dough scraper or spatula if necessary, fold the crust in half and then in quarters, and transfer it to an aluminum pie plate. Unfold and let the edges flop over the sides.


Spoon the filling into the center. Here I used plums and peaches.


Then flop the edges over the filling.


If not baking right away, refrigerate the pie. Do not set the pie near the barbecue because you want the crust to stay cold and not allow the butter bits in it to soften.

When ready to bake, preheat gas grill to 350 (charcoal BBQ, use this guide to determine temperature.)

Invert an empty aluminum pie plate or other aluminum pan on the grill.


Set the pie on top on that, and close the lid.


Monitor the temperature to keep it between 350 to 375.

A smaller pie with about 2 cups filling will take about 25 minutes. This larger pie with four cups filling took about 40 minutes. It’s done when the filling is bubbling and the crust feels crisp instead of soft.

At this point you can remove the pie, or you can set it directly on the grill for about five minutes to let the bottom crust brown. Watch it carefully (lift a section of the pie up gently with a spatula) because it can go from golden brown to burned fast.


Cut into fat wedges to serve. Makes about four servings.








So some friends did something really, really, REALLY nice for us. Since we cannot ever repay them for their gesture, we invited them over for a homemade Mexican dinner. Homemade chips and homemade salsa, chicken-avocado enchiladas, chile rellanos, pinto beans.  I needed a dessert that was both special and would go well with Mexican.

I thought perhaps a sweet potato pie would be good, but then thought about a pineapple cheesecake I once had after a very hot Mexican meal – the perfect antidote. That lead to thoughts of a sweet potato cheesecake. Eventually I found this recipe. I adapted this a bit.

I didn’t want to buy a box of gingersnaps for the crust, and minced nuts get stuck in my husband’s braces, so I went with a regular pie crust. I don’t like the title “Marbled” – it doesn’t sound right when applied to a dessert. Swirl sounded better.

What I used was technically a yam, but there’s something awkward about “Yam Swirl Pie.” It sounds like a bar band. You don’t have to cook a sweet potato – you could use a 1-pound can (drained), or a 1-pound can of pumpkin. Or use leftover butternut squash, acorn squash, etc. And I used low-fat cream cheese.

This would make a good Thanksgiving or Christmas dessert.


  • 1 16-ounce sweet potato or yam
  • 2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup sugar, depending on how sweet you like your pie
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 9-inch pie crust, unbaked

Preheat oven to 350 Fahrenheit.

Cook the sweet potato (or suggestions as above). I washed the potato, stabbed it all over with a knife, then microwaved it until cooked (about 7 minutes). When it cools enough to handle, peel and mash it thoroughly.


Combine cream cheese, eggs, sugar, and vanilla, and beat with electric mixer until completely smooth. If it seems grainy, beat until the sugar is dissolved (this can be a problem if you use organic sugar, which doesn’t seem to dissolve as easily as plain white granulated sugar).


Now remove about 1 cup of the cream cheese mixture and set it aside.

Mix the mashed sweet potato into the remaining cream cheese mixture along with the spices.


Again, beat until lump-free and smooth.

Now, pour about half of the reserved cream cheese mixture and half of the sweet potato mixture into the pie crust.


And swirl with a knife:


Repeat the layers and again swirl with a knife.


Bake at 350 until filling is still slightly jiggly but mostly set,  about 30 to 45 minutes, and remove to a rack to cool. If you won’t be serving within a couple of hours, put the cooled pie in the refrigerator.


As you can see the edges of the pie crust completely flopped over in a couple of places. If anyone criticizes you, tell them that’s how you know the pie is homemade and not mass-produced.


A few suggestions and variations:

I think it’s important here to not attempt to swirl the two components together too much. Leave definite areas for each filling type.

Sweeten with pure maple syrup instead of sugar.

Add sufficient spice to the sweet potato filling to really pump up the flavor. Or consider substituting almond extract for the vanilla, or use some of both.

You could add a good hit of rum or brandy (or other compatible booze) to one of the fillings.

And some sweetened whipped cream would not be amiss here to top it.






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We have this neighbor who has been bringing us Meyer lemons from the tree of another neighbor. Huge fat juicy lemons, more than could be used. I grated the zest from all the lemons, dried it, put some in a jar by itself, mixed the rest with black pepper to make lemon-pepper. I froze the juice in ice cube trays and put the cubes in a freezer bag.

This week Carol brought us grapefruit – the best ruby red grapefruit ever, so sweet they needed no sugar, incredibly juicy, and enormous. My husband suggested I make her a pie.

I had made this pie for her last summer with a blueberry topping, and she really liked it. This week I bought the most fabulous strawberries from a roadside vendor, so I thought that would make a good topping. Made the pie, sliced the strawberries, took it to her. She was very grateful and she said she would take at least half of the pie to the woman whose lemons and grapefruit she had picked and given to us.

A couple of hours later Carol knocked on the door. She had taken 3/4 of the pie to the 92 year old woman who owned the fruit trees. The woman started to cry. In all the years she had given away the fruit from her trees, no one had ever given her a gift in return.

Recipe by David Zafferelli from The Open Hand Cookbook. I have slightly adapted it. This is similar to my other Lemon-Buttermilk Pie recipe, but I think I prefer this one.

This pie is for Angie.


  • 3 eggs
    3/4 cup sugar
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1 tablespoon flour
    zest of 2 lemons
    4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
    1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
    1 cup buttermilk
    4 tablespoons melted butter, cooled
    1 9-inch pie crust, pre-baked and cooled

Have all your ingredients at room temperature before you begin to keep the filling from curdling or separating.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Beat eggs by hand until light; slowly add the sugar while beating until you reach the ribbon stage (mixture falls from the spoon in a ribbon-like shape when lifted out). Do not be tempted to use an electric mixer here; it will make the filling too frothy,

Add in this order, beating after each addition: salt, flour, lemon zest, lemon juice, and vanilla. Then carefully stir in the buttermilk, then the melted and cooled butter.

Pour into the pre-baked pie crust. Bake at 400 for 10 minutes, then lower the oven temperature to 350 and bake another 15-25 minutes. The center of the filling should still be a little jiggly when you take the pie out of the oven; it will continue to cook as it cools.

When pie is cool, top with sliced strawberries. To make a pretty concentric design, start arranging berries in the center of the pie and work in a circle toward the edge. If you wish, warm 1/2 cup apricot jam and brush over the berries as a glaze.


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Today we visited friends and brought a pie. We almost always bring a pie to them.  When my husband talked to Mr. V yesterday, Mr. V hinted that he would like a pie with bright Easter colors.

When I think of Easter colors, I think of pastels – pink, baby blue, spring green, pale yellow – and speckled candy-covered eggs. I considered a Pink Squirrel pie but that would have involved going out and finding a bottle of white crème de Noyaux.  The local BevMo doesn’t have it and I didn’t feel up to making dozens of calls to see if any liquor store carried it. Grasshopper Pie would involve a bottle of green crème de menthe, which I would probably never use again.

What I settled on was an old-fashioned buttermilk pie topped with colorful fresh fruit.  Buttermilk pie definitely originated long, long ago when buttermilk was produced from the butter-making process, and also as a way to use milk that had soured due to lack of refrigeration. When I was a tyke – dear knows that was in the previous century – this was the kind of dessert that was brought to funerals, church dinners, potlucks, and suchlike farm country social functions.

It’s easy to make and looks beautiful. I found the basic recipe on Epicurious. I have tweaked it a little but it is still simple and delicious.

One note: use good-quality buttermilk. I personally don’t like to drink it, but my husband does, and he says it’s worth paying extra for a good brand. I used Clover-Stornetta, but Berkeley Farms or Producers would be good, as would an organic brand. YMMV.



  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 stick (1/4 cup/ 4 tablespoons)  butter, melted and cooled
  • 1-1/2 cups buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • grated zest of one lemon
  • juice of one lemon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • freshly grated nutmeg to taste
  • one unbaked 9″ pie shell


  • 1 pint fresh strawberries
  • 1/2 cup apricot jam

Preheat oven to 350.

Combine sugar and flour and stir to eliminate any lumps. Add the egg yolks and beat to dissolve sugar and flour. Then add melted butter, buttermilk, vanilla, zest and juice, salt, and nutmeg; whisk until smooth.

Pour filling into pie shell. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes, then reduce heat to 325 and bake another 15 to 25 minutes until filling is set. Remove pie to a rack and let cool at room temperature.

For strawberry topping, hull strawberries and slice in half lengthwise. Arrange on top of cooled filling in an attractive pattern. Warm apricot jam until spreadable, and brush or spoon over the berries.


  • Any fresh, soft fruit can be substituted for strawberries, such as raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, sliced peaches, sliced bananas, etc.
  • Add 1 cup blueberries or raspberries to filling before baking.



I have a jar of mincemeat on the shelf  – I bought it when it was marked down considerably last winter; if you’ve bought it recently you know it isn’t just expensive, it’s damn expensive. I’ll probably make cookies from it, as they seem to be more acceptable than the pie.  Not everyone likes mincemeat. We’ll get that out of the way now.  I’m not sure why it’s considered a traditional dessert at Thanksgiving when hardly anyone eats it.  It’s probably because it’s full of candied fruit (always suspect in the eyes of kids)  including those weird green bits which NOBODY likes, and is gummy and sticky and usually too sweet even for kids, who won’t eat it anyway because of those weird green bits. My mother is the only person I ever knew who actually LIKED those.

If you’re one of the mincemeat fanciers, or you just like to mess about in the kitchen, it’s easy and rather fun to make your own. It wasn’t so long ago that mincemeat actually contained meat, as this recipe does; if you don’t tell anyone, they won’t know.

Note: You can substitute a mixture of dried fruit for the candied fruit, like chopped dried persimmons, mangoes, dates, currants, dried cherries, pineapple, etc. If the dried fruit isn’t unsulphured, rinse the hell out of it with boiling water. Soaking it overnight in some booze is not a bad idea.

Another note: when I say “booze,” I mean the straight stuff – brandy, rum, bourbon, whiskey, etc. Don’t use really expensive alcohol since it will be adulterated considerably, but don’t get the crap in plastic bottles, either. I do NOT mean pre-mixed cocktails or those weird sweet drinks in a bottle like Kahlua Mudslide, Skinny Girl Margaritas, Pennsylvania Dutch Eggnog, etc. Be a grownup.


  • 2-3 pounds stewing meat – beef, pork, or venison
  • 6 Granny Smith apples, cored and chopped small
  • 1/2 pound suet
  • 2 cups golden raisins
  • 2 pounds mixed candied fruit for fruitcake (your choice; leave out the weird green bits if you hate them)
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup dark corn syrup
  • 2 cups apple juice
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 3 teaspoons mixed spice (cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, allspice)
  • Booze

You need to pot roast the meat, so cover it with water, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, until it is super tender – about 2 or 3 hours, possibly longer –  then shred it. Don’t drain off the liquid. Chop up the suet and toss that in with the meat, plus all  the other ingredients. Pour in a shitton of booze (your choice) and simmer the mincemeat all day. I’ll tell you what: mincemeat sucks up booze like nobody’s business.

You can pretty much keep simmering this on the stove for days, just making sure it doesn’t burn and add more juice or booze as needed. Add more sugar or spices if you think it needs it. When you’re sick of messing about with it and it tastes good, either make it into pies/ cookies/ whatever, or freeze it in small containers. It keeps forever. 



I like strawberry pie, but most of the ones I have tasted are not really too good. Either they are too sweet, or taste of artificial ingredients, or both. And I don’t like cooked strawberries (unless it’s strawberry jam).  This pie has several steps, but each step can be completed a day ahead of time – in fact, they have to be done ahead. You make a cooked custard, a baked single-crust pie shell, and then assemble the pie at the last.

This custard is the base for a chocolate cream pie, which I stole (and slightly tweaked) from Epicurious.


  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • the grated zest of one lemon
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Combine the cornstarch, sugar, and salt in a saucepan, and stir until they are thoroughly combined. Then add the egg yolks. Here you can see there are five yolks, not four – that’s what often happens when you use jumbo eggs, as they are often double-yolked. It won’t hurt anything.
After the yolks have been beaten into the dry ingredients, slowly add the first cup of milk, stirring as you pour. (Obviously I couldn’t pour, stir, and take the photos all at once here, so I opted for going really sloooowwwwwly, taking breaks and stirring in the milk in small increments.) Once the first cup of milk is incorporated, you can pour the rest of the milk in a  bit faster.

Cook and stir the liquid over medium heat, using a wooden spoon or a whisk. Do not stop stirring. Egg yolks can suddenly turn to scrambled eggs if they are abandoned over heat.

When the mixture turns to custard, it will happen very fast and the mixture will thicken rapidly. Keep stirring, cook for another minute, then remove the pan from the heat.

Then stir in the vanilla, zest, and lemon juice. Scrape custard into a bowl, cover with waxed paper directly on the custard, and refrigerate until needed.

Next make the pie crust. I wish I had some magic trick to reveal so that pie crust would be magically easy to make, but the only trick I know is this: practice. My mother grew up in a time and place where pie was eaten at every meal, including breakfast, and she learned early on how to make pie crust. It was so ingrained in her that she regarded anyone who couldn’t make it as intentionally screwing it up. It took me many years and lots of practice to learn how to make a decent pie crust.

[A brief explanation of why certain steps are important: the butter (or other fat) must not be allowed to get soft or be completely incorporated into the flour. When the pie crust is baked, the sudden intensity of oven heat will cause the little cold bits of butter to expand and super-heat more than the flour that encases it. This will cause little fat pockets to form in the crust. When the crust is removed from the oven and allowed to cool, those pockets remain – which we call flaky pie crust.]

Here I have 1 1/2 cups unbleached flour and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a large bowl, to which I have added 6 tablespoons cold butter, cut in small pieces. It is very important that the butter (or other shortening) be kept as cold as possible.

I used a pastry blender to rapidly chop the butter into very small pieces. Two folks would work just as well. Do not use your hands to mash the butter up into small pieces, as the heat from your hands will soften the butter.

Begin to add ice water, bit by bit, and stir the water in thoroughly. It might take 1/4 cup, it might take 1/2 cup. Add small amounts of water at a time.

Gradually the mixture will begin to cling together. When most of the flour is incorporated, you can then use your hands very rapidly to mash the remaining flour into the dough. Then turn the dough onto a large sheet of waxed paper, fold the paper over the dough so it is completely enclosed, and put it in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

When ready to make the pie crust, first preheat the oven. For baking a single-crust pie, turn the oven to 425 F.

Smear a handful of flour on a clean, dry surface. A marble slab is ideal, but a countertop or breadboard or butcher block work just as well. Remove the dough from the refrigerator, discard the waxed paper, and pat the dough into a circle. Place it on the flour and kind of push it around so one side is dusted with flour, then flip it over and begin rolling it out.

Sometimes I use a wooden rolling pin, sometimes a marble rolling pin, and sometimes I use a bottle of cheap, crummy wine. Whatever you use, dust it with flour, then start to roll out the dough.  Roll from the center of the dough toward the outer edges. Flip the dough over occasionally to make sure it doesn’t adhere to the surface.  Don’t worry if it doesn’t turn into a perfect circle and instead looks like an outline of Pennsylvania. That can be fixed later. What you want is a very thin rolled-out crust.

When the dough is as rolled-out as you like, fold it in quarters and lift the quartered crust into your pie plate, then unfold it (this is lots easier than trying to transport a big circle of thin pie crust).

This is what my pie crust looked like. Flopped way over two edges with two wedges cut out. Not a problem. Go around the edge with a sharp knife and cut the excess overhang so there’s about 1 inch all the way around. This is what you’re going to patch with.

I cut a triangle out of the extra dough, wet the edges with ice water, and patched the hole.

If it ain’t perfect, don’t sweat it.

Using your fingers, crimp the edges of the dough if you like how it looks. If you don’t, just kind of prop the dough upwards, or decorate it with scraps of dough, M&Ms, chocolate chips, whatever blows your skirt up.  (Tiny flags, sequins, or sparklers are probably not a good idea.) Then prick the raw dough all over with a fork. This will give the dough room to expand when the heat hits it.

Then stick the pie crust in the preheated oven for 10-15 minutes, or until it issomewhat puffed and browned. People sometimes lay a sheet of waxed paper, filled with dried beans or professionally manufactured “pie weights,”  on top of the raw dough to minimize shrinkage and keep the crust from flopping over while baking. I used to do that but I don’t bother any more – it seems like more trouble than it’s worth to me for the results, plus then I have to put those damn baked dried beans somewhere until the next pie. But you may disagree, in which case be my guest.

As you can see, one edge did  schlumph over (where I patched the crust), but it doesn’t bother me. Perfect pies are turned out in factories, not in home kitchens.

Let the pie crust cool completely. Then:

Fill with the custard and kind of smooth the top with a fork.  Then top with strawberries, which you have hulled, washed, and carefully dried. You can stick the whole berries on top, like I did here (start from the outer edge) or slice the berries and arrange in a perfect circular pattern (start from the center so the concentric circles can overlap). Cut any extra berries into wedges and moosh them in too.

Strawberry cream pie.

Most commercial strawberry pies have a topping of some sort of glaze, either made from a packet of fake sugary ingredients or from melted jelly. This does preserve the look of the berries and makes it shiny and pretty, but I don’t really like the extra sweetness and fake tastes, so I prefer to leave the strawberries unpainted.

Keep pie covered in refrigerator. Fresh berries have a short life, so this should ideally be consumed within 2-3 days. Obviously other fresh, raw fruit can be substituted – berries, of course, but also thin slices of peaches, apricots, figs, etc. would make delicious cream pies.

A topping of freshly whipped sweetened cream would not go amiss, but sour cream with a sprinkle of brown sugar is even better.

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