Thursday, September 13, 2012


The other day I made a peach pie. Having never before attempted a pie crust from scratch (well, it wasn't truly from scratch if we are to believe Carl Sagan), I was worried that it would fail. While there were a few things I will try differently next time -- using a bit less water (I hear too much makes the crust hard) and brushing the crust with an egg wash (to give it a deeper color) -- not only was the crust easy to make, it turned out better than I expected.

Behold the finished product. Please excuse my phone's inferior camera. Not even an Instagram filter can hide that blur. Is there an iPhone 5 in my future? We'll find out in May (so far away) when I'm eligible for an upgrade.

If you read the preface to the recipe I used, you'll notice the author makes a case for reducing the sweetener (here, a mix of brown and white sugars) and spices (cinnamon and nutmeg) in order to give the peaches a bit more credit. While I understand and respect where she's coming from, I like my pies more on the side of sweet and flavorful so next time I'll be increasing the sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg a bit. (That said, this pie is still wonderful as it is.)

After baking this pie and enjoying a slice, I scrolled down the page to read some of the comments about the recipe. One in particular that stood out and got me thinking:

I agree with your premise. The classics are classic for a reason – and peach pie is absolutely among those. But then you get foolish and add cinnamon and nutmeg to it. You’re confusing your juicy, luscious, summery peaches for apples. It’s a common mistake. But when you consider the climate and environment peaches grow in, it’s easy to recognize. The truly classic peach pie needs no additional spices at all. Just peaches, a smidge of sugar, some sort of starch to thicken it, a pinch of salt, butter, and pie crust. If, for some unknown reason, you feel it needs more bite than that, a tiny grating of fresh ginger is more appropriate than the cinnamon and nutmeg additions you profess as correct. (Which is not to say they’re bad, just that historically speaking, they’re inauthentic.)

Apparently adding anything but "a tiny grating of fresh ginger" to a peach pie is "foolish" and a "mistake." If it is a mistake, it is a common one as the commenter says. A quick scouring online revealed that almost all peach pie recipes called for cinnamon and/or nutmeg, and not a single one mentioned a "tiny grating of fresh ginger." Curious.

During the two years I spent traipsing around eastern Canada I came across two -- yes, only two -- Mexican restaurants. Both were in Montreal. (OK, I can think of another in Ottawa but I never had a chance to eat there.) The first was called something like Au Coin du Méxique or similar (who cares about the name -- clearly I'm just showing off my French here). As I sat down to eat with a large group of fellow gringos, our server warned that what we were about to eat was authentic Mexican food, not the Tex-Mex we were likely used to. I made some statement about being from Arizona and that I know real Mexican food. To be honest, even as an Arizonan I hadn't had Mexican food that was as authentic as served at this small restaurant in Montreal.

The next place was also in Montreal, in a far less urban arrondissement (again, just showing off my French) called Lachine. I don't remember the name of this restaurant. I just know that it was delicious and that I ate there often. One of my favorite dishes was their chile relleno. The chile relleno that I'm used to, the kind that I understand to be authentic, is a poblano chile stuffed with cheese or sometimes meat, dipped in batter and then fried. It's one of my favorite Mexican dishes. But this restaurant did their chile relleno differently. Rather than using a poblano chile, they halved a bell pepper, filled it with diced carne asada, and topped it with melted cheese. Authentic? Unless this is how they do chile rellenos in a certain region of Mexico, I don't think so. Delicious? Yes, very.

Don't get me wrong, I love eating authentic food. I love experiencing food as the people from a certain place or time have experience it. But more than that, I love eating good food. In my experience authentic doesn't guarantee good.

Of course, I'm willing to substitute "a tiny grating of fresh ginger" in my next peach pie but I have my doubts that it will top the hominess of cinnamon and nutmeg.

Update [9.17.2012]: While checking this post for errors I began to wonder in what culture or time period a ginger-spiced pie would be authentic. If ginger has its roots (pun intended) in South Asia and sweet pies are primarily a European/American dish -- does anyone else feel peach pie is almost as American as apple pie? -- when and where did ginger and peach pie combine forces? Somewhere out on the American frontier? I doubt it. Perhaps the commenter above meant to say "complementary" instead of "authentic."

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