An Orchard's Sweet Aroma
The first sign of spring at Machado Orchards in Auburn, Calif., is the big blimp-shaped balloon with "Cherries" printed on its side.
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"My pies are very basic," says Bobbi. "I don't like them all gussied up, and Gary learned from me, so his pies are basic, too."
Bobbi is one of those cooks who rarely use a recipe, instead relying on smell, taste and feel, adding a little more flour if the fruit is too juicy or a little lemon if the fruit is too sweet.
"For me, a pie has to have a really good crust," says Bobbi. "I started out using the pie-crust recipe on the back of the Crisco can, and it was pretty good. Over the years, I stopped following the recipe and just started adding a little of this and a little of that."
The key to good crust, she says, is not to overwork the dough.
"You have to know when to stop mixing it, and that comes with practice. I put the flour and a little salt into the bowl and cut in some fat, usually shortening, with a pastry cutter," she says. "You keep cutting the fat and flour until it is like very small peas. Then add cold water and mix it up until the dough just sticks together. That's enough mixing. If you mix it too long, the crust will be tough. You want little pockets of fat in the dough so that when it bakes, the fat melts and leaves little air pockets. That's what makes it flaky.
"Next, you have to have really good fruit. Nice and fresh, firm and not too liquid. If it's juicy, I add flour. I can't tell you how much, just till it looks right. Some people like cornstarch or tapioca, but I don't like the texture. Sometimes I add a little sugar, depending on the fruit, and sometimes I add a little spice or lemon juice. After the fruit and flour is mixed up, I pour the filling into the pie shell and add a few dots of butter. And if it's apple or peach, I'll sprinkle in some cinnamon and nutmeg.
"When I bake the pies, I place the pan directly on the oven rack. Some people put them on a cookie sheet to catch the drips, but I think you get a better bottom crust when they have heat circulating around the bottom of the pan.
"That's about it," she says. "It's just a basic pie, but I think that's what people like about them."
Bobbi's favorite pies are plum and strawberry-rhubarb. "Plum is really my favorite," she says. "I make them with Empress or President plums, which are prune plums, and they are really sweet. I don't peel them, just take out the stones and cut them up. Add a little flour and lemon and a little sugar. They're wonderful."
As cherry season winds down, the balloon over Machado Orchards comes down. But the peach flag will be flying, and there are lots of berries in season.
According to Garretson, the smells coming from the pie shop will bring traffic to a stop all summer.
"Even though I moved from across the street a few years ago, just the thought of those pies keeps bringing me back," he says.
Gwen Schoen writes for the Sacramento Bee.