Wholefood Cherry Pie
About me – For years I spent a lot of the little baking time I had making stuff that had no real connection to where I came from. It was a mirror of what I was doing in the rest of my life. I wanted to be someone different and that someone different, in baking terms, was an éclair-making, crème anglaise, madeleines from scratch sort of a girl. Not that my natural inclination wouldn’t be to make everything from scratch. It was just that my fantasy of my baking self was that everything had to be fancy, and fancy in my Baking-Goddess-Wanna-Be brain meant French. For a while I blamed Julia Child for this, with flashes of resentment towards Elizabeth David, who I discovered later and misread. Which proves yet again that geniuses are often misinterpreted by their most avid fans.
I baked like this, like a stranger in my kitchen, for thirty years. It was delicious – let’s face it, the French know a thing or two about baking. But I wasn’t inventing or expressing anything and I needed to. I over celebrated the traditional and the complicated and under-valued great ingredients put together in ways that delight and surprise people.
I had a big rupture in my life. In a period of six months, my twenty-five-year- plus career as a film executive suddenly revealed itself as a career I had grown to hate. Around the same time my heavy drinking caught up with me, big style. For a long time I didn’t look like a mess but I was one; now, suddenly I started looking like one. People noticed and the game was up. I’ll talk more about this in future posts. But for now, believe me: the huge gap left by the absence of chilled St Veran in the fridge and the Big Job had to be filled by something connected to my soul or I would not have survived. The something turned out to be cake
I come from a baking family and their provenance is Tennessee and Alabama. I was born in Decatur Alabama in 1963. The Bundt cake had become a household name fairly recently and deep dish pies were in every bakery, diner display and most kitchens. Alabama is pecan and peach territory and these two ingredients still make me giddy. Buttermilk was queen and sweet breads (loaf cakes) were acceptable for breakfast.
When I was small my mother re-married and we left the American South and moved to Upstate New York. I finished my degree in Paris and lived there for several years. Then I came to London, where I have lived since 1986.
When I decided to set up my home kitchen at the age of 48 I had a colossal need to make it work and to express myself through my recipes. I developed a menu that started with classics from the South but soon turned out to be a range of products that are as much about the other places I have lived as they are about the Southern roots I will always refer back to. I opened for business, first in Brick Lane market in the East End of London, which is a busy, happening market of the sort that is always described as ‘vibrant’. Things took off and very quickly I was delivering my cakes wholesale to cafes and to shops including the Waterstones chain.
When I was in Brick Lane, I was bombarded with requests for Gluten free, Vegan and Wholefood. Mystified at first, I soon caught on and so a journey into Free From baking came from the Outside not the Inside. It has been an entirely unexpected gift. I am not sure how else I would have dissected and rethought my methods if I hadn’t had to look at alternative flours, milks, oils, nuts and seeds. The result has been an education and a new freedom in the kitchen. The world got Bigger. If you had told me ten years ago that I would be striving to replace refined sugar in a smart way or trying to eliminate dairy where possible without sacrificing flavour, I would have laughed. Now, it’s what occupies my restless mind.
Taking a classic American Pie and giving it a make-over is something I have had a lot of fun with recently. My favourite is this Wholefood Cherry Pie: an American Diner staple (can’t help but think of Twin Peaks) reworked to be healthier and a little unexpected. I love raw sugar for its texture and intense flavour. The crust is spelt and almond, so doubly nutty and a wonderful colour.
See my Wholefood Cherry Pie recipe here