In Paonia, apricot trees grow wild along the roadsides of the craggy mountains surrounding the lush valley of orchards and vineyards below. The wild trees are unpruned, untended, and impressively hardy, yielding plentiful but small fruit. In the more cultivated orchards, though, the fruit is larger since the trees have been properly cared for.
We were the only ones strolling through one of the you-pick orchards, and filled a little basket with apricots we carefully selected. I set up my camera on a ladder and used the self-timer to capture what turned out to be such a dreamy photo of my husband and I under the sun-dappled apricot trees. A photo of the three of us, actually, since our baby will soon be joining our little family in just two more months.
Back at home this past week, I made batches of jam - a tart apricot jam with hints of vanilla and cloves, and a sweet Palisade peach jam with cinnamon. For breakfast Saturday, we sampled both jams on piping hot homemade biscuits topped with cream cheese and ham. We have enough jam to enjoy through the winter, I hope.
It's strange, but wonderful, that just five hours from Denver, this world of vineyards and orchards thrives, where the air is heavy with the scent of wine, balsamic vinegar, fields of lavender buzzing with bees, and sun-ripened fruit. One evening for dinner in Paonia, we ate at a local restaurant that has their own garden of fruit trees, vegetables and herbs. It's the most lovely garden you've ever stepped into, and we ate under the twisted boughs of an old apple tree, laden with fruit. There were also plum and apricot trees, a vast array of edible flowers and herbs, tomatoes, an arbor laden with grape vines, and almond trees flanking the entrance.
I have visions of our own back yard being just as dreamy, and my husband and I planted our own peach tree this spring to see if we could grow our own peaches. If it does well, I may try planting other fruit trees, too.
Until our own peaches ripen, I have to settle for peaches from our local grocery store, fresh when they're in season, and frozen when they're not. I bought some peaches a month or so ago that weren't quite ripe enough, for the first peach pie of summer. And as it turned out, I found that I preferred the slightly under-ripe peaches for pie making, as they didn't get too soft or overly juicy while baking.
I've also been working on perfecting my pie crust. There's nothing wrong with my original all-butter pie crust recipe that I've been making for years; it's wonderful, in fact. The simple combination of flour, a touch of sugar, salt and cold butter, with just enough ice water to barely hold it together, yields a classic, flaky pie crust that's perfect for any pie or tart.
But with just a few tweaks, I developed a recipe I love even more, and have begun using in place of the original. The formula of flour, sugar, salt and cold butter is the same. But instead of ice water, I whisk together an egg yolk with cold whole milk and a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar (or, you can use buttermilk instead of the whole milk and vinegar, but I never have buttermilk on hand). And the result is simply beautiful. I don't know if it's the added fat from the egg yolk and milk, or the acid from the small splash of vinegar, but whatever it is, I love it.
After brushing the dough with an egg wash (which gives it that beautiful golden color while baking), I used to sprinkle it with coarse turbinado sugar, but have found that I far prefer just plain granulated sugar with its finer texture. The dusting of sugar adds a little crunch to the already flaky crust, and is the perfect contrast to the soft fruit filling inside.
All-Butter Even-More-Perfect Pie Crust
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup cold, unsalted butter
- 4 tablespoons cold whole milk
- 1 egg yolk (reserve the white for the egg wash)
- 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
Divide the dough into two equal parts, flatten into round disks, wrap each portion with plastic wrap, and then refrigerate for 10-15 minutes before rolling out.
Yields enough dough for a double-crust pie.
Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen
- 8 peaches, pitted, peeled and chopped
- 1 cup dark brown sugar
- 1/4 cup corn starch
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 tablespoon flour
Preheat the oven to 425.
In a large bowl, toss the peaches with the brown sugar, corn starch, cinnamon and nutmeg. Reserve the 1 tablespoon flour to sprinkle over the bottom of the crust.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out one portion of dough to 1/4 inch thick. Fit into a deep-dish pie pan. Sprinkle with the 1 tablespoon flour (to keep the crust from getting soggy), then pour the peaches into the crust.
Roll out the second portion of dough for the top crust, and press the edges together. Cut a few slits in the top to vent the steam. If you like, use any leftover scraps of dough to make decorative cutouts.
Whisk the leftover egg white with a tablespoon of water, then lightly brush the top crust with the egg wash. Sprinkle with granulated sugar.
Bake the pie, uncovered, for 20 minutes at 425. The crust should be nicely browned already, so cover with a piece of foil to prevent over-browning. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 and bake for another 30-40 minutes, until the juices bubble up.
Cool the pie completely, preferably overnight, before serving.
Yields 8 servings
Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen