By Francine Mathews
I rarely eat dessert. In fact, at this menopausal point in my life, I rarely eat at all, which is a tragedy for a woman who loves food and her kitchen as much as I do. I forego breakfast and lunch because I prefer dinner. I skip dessert because I’d rather take out the calories in wine. But there’s an exception to this daily penance of denial: Summer holiday weekends. When there’s so much fresh fruit in the market, who can resist pie?
One of my go-to recipes is so simple I have had it memorized for the past several decades. It’s not my own–although I’ve tweaked it a bit–but the late author Laurie Colwin‘s. When she published it in one of her final (posthumous) columns for Gourmet magazine, she called it Nantucket Cranberry Pie, which was enough to endear the recipe to me. (I have a thing for that part of the world.)
I make this pie with cranberries during the winter, but in summer months I play havoc with Ms. Colwin’s template. Instead of cranberries, I substitute nectarines and blueberries. Or apricots and Ranier cherries. Or black plums and tart cherries fresh from their leaky containers set out on the farm stand. The point is to balance sweet and tart in the fruit filling and make your effort as simple as biting into a ripe peach. Here’s what you do:
1. Melt one and one-half sticks of unsalted butter (12 tablespoons) and cool.
2. Slice about 4 large nectarines or peaches, or 6 black plums, or 8 apricots, into a pie dish and toss about a cup of sliced cherries on top. If you’re making this in the winter with cranberries, chop 2 cups in a food processor and throw them into the pie plate.
3. Add 1/2 cup sliced almonds and 2 tablespoons sugar to the fruit and combine gently. Laurie Colwin suggests walnuts, but I personally dislike them, and I’ve always found thinly sliced almonds (the kind with the skin still clinging to them, not blanched slivered almonds, which are icky and feel like plastic in the mouth) in this pie. If using cranberries, up the sugar to 1/4 cup.
4. In a bowl, stir together 1 cup flour, 1 cup sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Add 2 slightly beaten eggs, 1/4 teaspoon almond extract, and the cooled butter. Stir vigorously until all lumps are gone.
5. The batter will be thick, sticky, and gorgeously shiny, like satin. Smooth it over the fruit in the pie plate.
6. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30-40 minutes, depending on your altitude an oven, until the filling is bubbling and the top is golden and set.
You can gild the lily and dollop your piece of pie with whipped cream or even ice cream, which is divine when it’s warm from the oven, but totally unnecessary.
It’s also excellent the next morning cold, for breakfast.
But there won’t be any left.