Saturday, May 23, 2009

Americana - o - rama

I have not stopped blogging, despite the erratic nature of my posting. I am, however, engaged in the End Of Year Soccer Mom Steeplechase, and putting two thoughts even partly together has been a struggle to achieve when the steeplechase events of the day are over. I've dealt with it by mostly punting on trying to string sentences and thoughts together.
I did not have a trialsome youth, the sort that makes for rich, complicated, tragic stories. It wasn't all surface fluff- the love showered on my sibs and myself was real, and we got plenty of it, in an absurdly wholesome way. In the same vein, most of my childhood food memories are quite lovely. My mom did not cook deeply complicated food when I was young (four active kids, dogs, cats, a sideline as a championship marathoner aiming for the Olympic trials, a push-to-start VW van that had to be entered from the passenger side since the driver’s door no longer opened, and work as a local elected official- would you want to spend your Sunday afternoons chained to the stove with something complicated?), but she cooked very, very well. Actually, my dad is a good cook, too. But my mom did the bulk of the day-in, day-out cooking. My childhood food memories are largely happy associations, of home-baked bread, chicken in rice, apple pies (with northern spy apples, a particularly delicious pie apple), apple pancakes, huevos rancheros, and cherry cream cheese pie. It was all very Norman Rockwell: leafy suburbs, happy kids with scrapes on their legs (and quite often, poison ivy), and uncomplicated but delicious made-from-scratch food. Americana-o-rama, really. Which is appropriate for Memorial Day (less appropriate? The commercial for Trojans I saw watching the Blackhawks last night, featuring a bald eagle in front of a waving American flag. Apparently, if you don’t get it on while using Trojan condoms- and possibly closing your eyes and thinking of America- you’re un-American).

Of course, being ungrateful twits, we begged my mom for Wonderbread, Oreos and American cheese. Can you imagine? The house is filled with the delicious, ephemeral aroma of freshly-baked bread, and your second-grader, upon smelling it, cries plaintively “Why can’t you buy Wonderbread like the other moms?” I begged for American cheese instead of good farm cheddar. It’s a wonder she didn’t just leave for the nearest bar after telling us to make our own damn dinners. Somehow, though, she persisted at cooking things from scratch.

Recently, I found myself thinking about mom’s cherry cream cheese pie. It was, in many ways, as close to 50s style from-a-box-goo as she made, and… I loved it. I still love it. It features a toasty graham cracker crust, a cream cheese filling and a straight-from-the-can cherry topping. I made it recently (slightly fancied-up with marscapone, and the graham cracker crust baked into a tart tin instead of a pie dish), and it is still super-fifties. It is also, I must say, deeply delicious. I’m sure, if you wanted to fancy things up further, or do it a bit more from scratch and local and all that, you could poach cherries in syrup yourself and then thicken the syrup up with a bit of cornstarch. But sometimes you need to just enjoy the tasty, plasticky wonder of schtuff from cans and boxes. And what better weekend to do it than this one? As it happens, we’re going nowhere near this pie this weekend, since we’re going camping (and will hopefully see orcas from the campsite) in the San Juan Islands. It’s fire-roasted hot dogs and s’mores for us, which, well, is Americana-o-rama, too. Still.

Try the pie. It doesn’t pretend to be gourmet, and as such, it is somehow a very friendly, shaggy, American sort of pie.

Mom’s cherry cream cheese pie, a rough approximation

I did not get the exact recipe from mom, and should because I have to be honest: hers is better than this. But this? Pretty tasty.

Graham cracker crust (so, look, I can’t help you much here other than to say mush up a couple packs of graham crackers and mix them with melted butter until the crumbs start to clump slightly, and then bake in an oven at 350 until slightly darkened, which is not very long)

1 container marscapone (about 8 oz)
6 oz cream cheese
¼ cup sour cream or crème fraiche
Light ¼ cup sugar (the cherry topping is plenty sweet, so taking a tablespoon or two out is not a bad thing)
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract

Mix all ingredients together. I find that this usually makes more filling than I quite need, and I haven’t really sorted out what to do with the remaining filling.

1 can or jar of cherries in that revoltingly treacly jammy syrup. Disgusting on their own, delicious over ice cream or this pie.

Bake the crust. Let it cool. Add the filling. Carefully put the topping over. Refrigerate about an hour or so, until ready to use. In a pinch, it’s just fine served immediately after making.

No comments: