Few could turn down a piece of pie made by Paula Haney, aka Hoosier Mama. And in her new cookbook, The Hoosier Mama Book of Pie (Agate Midway, August 2013), Haney, the founder of celebrated Hoosier Mama Pie Company, with a shop in Chicago’s Ukrainian Village, serves up plenty of tried-and-true secrets about making what she considers “the most unpretentious food in the world.”
“I was afraid this classic American food was being forgotten,” she said. “In fact, more and more people I talked to had only eaten pie from the freezer case at the grocery store. I was afraid we were forgetting what real pie was supposed to taste like.”
In reviving the tradition, Haney has injected a few modern techniques. One example is the red wine vinegar she likes to include as an ingredient in pie crust. “It helps with flavor, as well as texture,” she said. “The vinegar in the pie crust inhibits gluten formation which would make the dough tough.” She suggested apple cider vinegar or white distilled vinegar as other options.
The vinegar is a key ingredient in Haney’s recipe for All Butter Pie Dough. She estimated that about 90 percent of Hoosier Mama pies are made with this recipe. “It’s the most important recipe at the pie shop,” she said.
But another of her favorite ingredients is as traditional as apple pie. This is persimmon season, and Haney is working the bright orange-colored fruits — which resemble small tomatoes — into plenty of pies.
In her book, she describes their flavor as “like a cross between pumpkins and apricots, with some orange zest and allspice thrown in.”
Persimmons are especially big in Indiana, Haney’s home state.
“In many Southern Indiana homes, including the one my husband grew up in, persimmon pudding — not pumpkin pie — is the holiday dessert de rigueur,” Haney said.
“It’s like a brownie without chocolate,” said Helen Roney, co-owner of Tuttle Orchards in Greenfield, Ind. Roney and her daughter make Persimmon Pudding. They also sell frozen pulp from persimmons grown by a local farmer.
Persimmons aren’t commercially-grown due to their astringent flavor while they are still hanging on a tree. But when the skin shrivels and the fruit falls off the tree, the flesh turns sweet and pudding-like. Farmers rig nets under their persimmon trees to catch the fruit before it hits the ground. They scoop out the pulp and sell it frozen to vendors like Tuttle Orchards.
Tuttle Orchards is one of many resources for pie ingredients included in a seven-page directory in the back of Haney’s book.
With her book complete, Haney’s next project is to open a second pie shop at 749 Chicago Ave. in Evanston around Nov. 1. The shop will be in conjunction with Dollop Coffee Co.
In the meantime, look for Haney at the Bookstall at Chestnut Court in Winnetka, www.thebookstall.com, at 3 p.m. Oct. 27. She and cookbook collaborator Allison Scott will chat about pie — and serve some slices, too — with enough forks to go around.
American Persimmon Pie (Makes one 9-inch pie)
1 single-crust, blind-baked All Butter Pie Dough shell (Use a favorite shell recipe or work with a store-bought shell.)
1 cup strained American persimmon pulp
Zest of 1/2 orange
3 large eggs
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla paste
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground mace
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Using a spatula or the back of a serving spoon, press pulp through a fine-mesh strainer.
Place persimmon pulp in medium bowl and sprinkle the orange zest over it.
Whisk in eggs, cream, butter and vanilla paste, stirring well after each addition.
In separate bowl, combine granulated sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, mace and salt. Whisk or mix with hands to break up brown sugar until thoroughly combined. Add dry ingredients to persimmon mixture and whisk until just combined. Pour filling into pie shell and bake for 45 minutes to one hour, or until edge of pie is slightly puffed and center is dry to the touch. The top of the pie will color slightly.
Cool to room temperature and then chill in the refrigerator for at least two hours, up to overnight, before slicing.
— Paula Haney, Hoosier Mama Pie Company