While I know that it is usually a mistake to make broad generalizations, I'm going to go ahead and throw this one out there: There are two types of people in the world, those who can cook and those who can bake. I fall into the cook category; I am a pretty good home cook and I've even spent some time cooking in restaurants. I can braise with the best of them and sear like a pro. Sauces and stocks from scratch are a given, and I can roll out pasta like an Italian grandmother.
However, when it comes to dessert I get more than a little nervous. I am not a baker. I just don't have it in me. Truth be told I've probably thrown out more desserts than I have served. Brownies too salty to eat? That's me. Pies that look beautiful in the pan but are the texture of a smoothie when served? Guilty. Cakes that look more like a wood-fired pizza than dessert? Oh, the shame.
I have a few friends who are wonderful bakers, and I am constantly drilling them for secrets and techniques. More often than not, my questions are met with a blank stare. For them baking is an innate talent, something they were fortunate enough to be born with—these types wouldn't be able to replicate my dessert disasters if they tried.
Mildred Rowe or "the Pie Lady" as she was known, was a true baker. Mrs. Rowe's Restaurant and Bakery has been operating in Staunton, Virginia, since 1947. Mrs. Rowe's is a full-service restaurant where you can order everything from Southern pan-fried chicken and hot turkey sandwiches to fried Virginia country ham steak, all paired with a tart glass of buttermilk to wash it down. The food is great, but dessert has always been the star of the show at Mrs. Rowe's. Customers have been known to order their dessert before their meal for fear that their favorite pie will be sold out by the time they have finished their entrées. How good are these pies? Mrs. Rowe's goes through about 35,000 of them a year.
If you can't make it down to the Shenandoah Valley to eat these pies, Mollie Cox Bryan has put together Mrs. Rowe's Little Book of Southern Pies, a collection of pie recipes for you to make at home. The book includes 60 pie recipes as well as recipes for crusts and various toppings and sauces. All of the usual suspects are here: apple (five incarnations), cherry, peach, and every berry you can imagine; custard and cream pies, nut pies and icebox pies. There are also some pretty crazy concoctions: green tomato mincemeat pie and frozen strawberry daiquiri pie.
Every day this week we are going to be sharing a pie recipe with you. As an added bonus, I will be attempting to conquer my fear of baking and making a whole lot of pies. I'll share my experiences and observations, and hopefully some of you will be able to help me out with some pointers. Well, I'm off to buy a rolling pin! —Caroline Russock
Win 'Mrs. Rowe's Little Book of Southern Pies'
Thanks to the generous folks over at Ten Speed Press, we are giving away five (5) copies of Mrs. Rowe's Little Book of Southern Pies this week. All you have to do is tell us about your most triumphant baking success or your most disastrous baking catastrophe in the comments section below.
Five (5) people will be chosen at random among the eligible comments below. We're sorry, but entry is only open to residents of the U.S. and Canada. Comments will close Monday, July 20 at noon ET. The standard Serious Eats contest rules apply.