My aunt Kay (my grandpa McRae’s sister, so she‘s my great aunt) was the biggest influence – actually my only influence for great cooking – not to diss my mom, but aunt Kay was a foodie before it became fashionable. She was our relative who moved from Montana to California and my grandparents and parents followed. Not only was she a great cook, she was feisty and fashionable. She would vocalize her opinion no matter what the issue and wore designer jeans and pumps in her 70s and was super hot (argh, even though it’s true, it sounds weird). She traveled extensively and always prepared seasonal items — rhubarb pie in the spring, homemade chocolate and dried fruits for the holidays, Finn bread in the fall. We always had our special meals at her house. She introduced me to so many cooking techniques and the first one I excelled at was her lemon bars, my favorite treat.
During hard times at UC Davis, I found solace in baking – it was sort of cathartic – I would take it to my professors, neighbors and dance students. Aunt Kay passed away in my last year of college; she was so dear to me and I miss her so much. Following is her recipe that is actually quite easy to make and very yummy!
2 cups flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 cup butter (chilled and sliced into 1 tbsp bricks)
My addition: Zest from one lemon
Aunt Kay used two forks to mix it up, but I found that making it in the food processor actually works better – pulse it until it becomes a “butter ball” (approximately 20 pulses, don’t over process). I also added lemon zest from one lemon to the crust – Aunt Kay would be proud :-). Press crust into 9×13 pan, poke a fork throughout, bake at 300 degrees for 20 minutes.
1/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
4 eggs beaten
2 cups sugar
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
Mix and pour over crust. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle with powdered sugar.
For more favorite family recipes, click here.
You’ve heard them all: As American as apple pie. Pie in the sky. Easy as pie. Sweet as pie. Ask most anyone about their favorite pie, and I guarantee they have an opinion—and a memory that goes along with it. Just ask Melinda M. (not her real name), and she’ll tell you that apple pie means Mom’s apple pie. Or Kris C. (okay, these ARE their real names) who equates strawberry-rhubarb pie with summers in Wisconsin.
No doubt about it—there’s something about pie. Is it because they take such time and effort to make? Or is it because pie sets the mood? Apple pie reminds me of fall, Apple Hill, and Thanksgiving. Pot pies, those savory little packages, bring winter to mind. Fresh strawberry pie lets me know spring is here. And cherry, apricot, peach – and now even nectarine and plum – pies make me think summer: picnics, barbecues, Fourth of July. Don’t even get me started on crème pies—coconut, banana, chocolate!
Now Sacramentans have a unique and delicious way to indulge that sweet or savory tooth. It’s called The Real Pie Company, located at 12th and F streets in downtown Sacramento. Owner (and former FHer) Kira O’Donnell took some time from her busy day to sit down with me and talk all things pies.
MC: Tell me how you learned to make these delicious pies.
KO: It started when I was young. My grandparents owned a farm, and my grandfather and I would go and pick blackberries, and then my grandmother and I made pies. It’s a wonderful memory.
MC: What about your background as a pastry chef. Did that influence you at all?
KO: My education is in winemaking, but I had a friend who was a chef at Auberge du Soleil, and I begged him to let me help out with the pastries. I wiggled my way in there and learned a lot. Then I worked at Piatti in Sonoma as a pastry chef, and, after writing and calling Chez Panisse for two years, I was hired there as a pastry cook.
MC: What prompted you to want to open your own shop, specializing in only pies as opposed to other desserts, too?
KO: I love how I feel when I’m making pies. I love the feel of the dough and working with the fruit. It’s artistic. I also really like making things and having a concrete product. I like looking around at the end of the day and seeing what we’ve made. I love pie! I think it’s very comforting to people.
MC: What sets your pies apart from other pies?
KO: Our pie crusts are made with all butter—they’re all hand-rolled—and I use really fresh, locally produced fruit.
MC: Do you have any funny stories about what it takes to open your own business?
KO: We had a day of disasters last week—we called it burning day because every thing we made, we burned! Our location, too, lends itself to some interesting stories. There’s a story that the other bakers and I call the “bus bench” story, which is too saucy to mention here.
MC: So how is business?
KO: It’s good! We have a lot of repeat customers, and I’m thankful for that. Our customers seem to be up for new things. A few weeks ago, I made basil/Meyer lemon short bread. I didn’t think anyone would try such a unique combination, but it sold out!
MC: So let me ask you about a few of your favorite things. This one’s obvious: What’s your favorite pie?
MC: What’s your favorite restaurant in Sacramento?
KO: The Waterboy
MC: Favorite breakfast joint?
KO: Roxy on Fair Oaks Blvd.
Our interview was interrupted by two women looking for pie. Though the shop was closed (it was a Tuesday, and The Real Pie Company is open Wednesday through Saturday), the front door was unlocked, and they walked in.
Kira greeted them like old friends. She had a few “unfinished” pies in the case, which the ladies were only too happy to purchase. A friendly argument ensued over payment for them. Kira did not have her cash register, but the ladies insisted on paying.
“But they’re naked!” Kira exclaimed, referring, of course, to the unfinished pies.
Then, one of the bakers at The Real Pie Company, began slicing bananas atop the butterscotch-banana crème pie, an attempt to render it less naked, I suppose.
Eventually, the two ladies left, broad smiles on their faces, pies held aloft as if they were trophies. I looked up and saw that they had won, as evidenced by the cash on the counter. At The Real Pie Company, customers take their pies—naked or not!
For more information about The Real Pie Company, check out www.realpiecompany.com.
3/4 pound bacon, diced
1 pound linguica (traditional Portuguese sausage), casings removed and diced
1 large onion, chopped
3/4 cup sliced celery
1 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon fresh sage, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, finely chopped
1 loaf French bread, cubed and left out overnight
2 cups reduced sodium chicken broth
Salt and pepper to taste
In a large sauté pan, cook bacon until crisp then add linguica. Remove meat and set aside. Skim off half of the oil. Add onion, celery and herbs and sauté for 5 minutes. Add cooked meat and sauté an additional 5 minutes. Stir in bread cubes and chicken broth. Add additional broth until desired consistency. Cook for additional 5 minutes closely to make sure the stuffing doesn’t dry out (if it does, add more broth). Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with turkey gravy.
3 cups flour
1/3 cup sugar
2½ teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup butter
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup golden raisins
Mix together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Cut butter into dry mixture until pieces of butter are very small. Add raisins and coat with flour mixture. Add buttermilk and mix only until moistened. Press together into a ball and knead twelve times. Roll dough into a ½ inch thick circleand cut into triangles. Place one inch apart on ungreased baking sheet. Bake in preheated 425 degree oven for 10-12 minutes or until golden.
1 can of Frito Lay bean dip
8 ounces sour cream
8 ounces cream cheese
½ package taco seasoning
½ bunch green onions, sliced
Cheddar, Monterey Jack or Mexican blend cheese, grated
Sliced black olives, if desired
Mix bean dip, sour cream, cream cheese, seasoning, and green onions in a food processor. Pour into a baking dish and sprinkle with grated cheese, and sliced black olives, if desired. Heat until bubbly. Serve with tortilla chips.