by Stacia Friedman
My friend Harry is a master pie maker. He regularly turns out apple, peach and blueberry pies that cause dinner guests to swoon. The secret is in his homemade crust, a tender flaky pastry that dissolves in the mouth like a song.
Harry and the abundance of fruit in season inspired me to give it a try. I had no intention of competing with him anymore than I’d swing a racket against Venus Williams. Being one of those women who never had a meaningful relationship with a rolling pin, I also knew not to attempt a single or double crust pie.
Frozen pie crust? To me, that’s the spray tan of dessert making. I’d just as soon buy a pie at any of Chestnut Hill’s fabulous bakeries. I settled on a mixed-fruit crumble, just like the kind that Paul Roller features at his restaurant. A classic summer dessert that substitutes a light crumb topping for pie crust. What could go wrong?
Following an online recipe, I marched into Weavers Way and filled a basket with the required ingredients. Four large peaches, a half-dozen apricots and a half-dozen plums .
“That’ll be $18,” said the cashier.
Huh? I could buy a delicious peach tort at Bredenbeck’s for less than that! But I stood firm. My recipe promised to fill a nine-by-13-inch pan. It will be worth it, I reasoned. Before I had a chance to bake my crumble, a friend invited me to her family barbeque.
“I’ll bring a fruit crumble,” I volunteered, thinking this would more than justify my expenditure, which did not include the cost of raspberries, sugar, flour, cinnamon, oats and butter.
According to the recipe, the peaches had to be peeled. Apparently, this could be easily achieved by plopping them into boiling water for 60 seconds, then plunging them into ice water. “The skin will come right off,” it said. Hah! It was like peeling a scab. Bits of peach skin came off in tiny pieces, but not in the way described. By the time I had picked and scraped the skin off the first peach, it looked like it had gone through a thresher.
The hell with it, I thought, and sliced up the remaining peaches with the skin on. That’s when things got really weird. The peaches were all mealy, overripe, while the apricots and plums were too hard, resistant to my knife. Oh well, I figured that baking in the oven would compensate for not using fruit at its optimum stage of ripeness.
Here’s where I really went off the rails. My Google research gave me permission to substitute fat free yogurt for the stick of butter required for the crumb topping. This is where the sirens should’ve gone off. (There is no substitute for butter, as any pastry chef worthy of his/her crust will testify.) When I opened the oven door, it was apparent. Google lied! The golden brown crumb crust looked like lumpy library paste. I’ll just brown it under the broiler, I thought. Within seconds, the beige paste had congealed into black concrete.
Ever the optimist, I thought that if I put ice cream on it, no one will know. I scooped out a small amount of the still warm crumble and topped it with Breyer’s Vanilla. The fruit mixture had congealed into a thick pink stew that looked (and tasted) like Gerber’s Strained Apricots. The topping was a disaster that no amount of ice cream could salvage. It was like chewing rope.
I stared at my Frankenstein dessert in defeat and humiliation. Then I dumped it — and my $18 — into the garbage disposal. It’s OK, I told myself. Many people live productive lives without ever turning on an oven. Has Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump ever baked a cake or pie? Does anyone even care?
And so it was without shame that I marched into a supermarket and purchased a lemon bundt cake and a container of fresh strawberries for my friend’s gathering. When she asked what happened to my fruit crumble, I simply said, “It never made it out of the starting gate.”
When she is not throwing away disastrous desserts, Mt. Airy’s Stacia Friedman is writing articles, including satire, for a variety of publications, or even novels.