Monday, November 17, 2008

To See the Universe in a Slice of Pie

To slightly misquote author and scientist Carl Sagan, "if you want to make a sweet potato pie from scratch, you must first create the universe."

Before this past week, I might have thought that this was simply a metaphor, a reminder of the length and complexity of the subtle chain of cause and effect that makes up every action in every day. I am now convinced that he was actually talking about pastry. I'd be willing to bet that he was coming down from an extended pie-making jag too--eyes bloodshot, oven overheated; flour coating his clothes and egg in his hair. I'm channeling Carl Sagan in a big way.

Nothing about a farm is small, so it seems. An epic harvest begets epic efforts to put everything to good use. As you may recall, we had a massive sweet potato haul immediately before the first frost (even as I type, frost's frigid fingers are grasping at the covers on our fields once again). Most of our hundreds of pounds are destined for CSA, market, or restaurants, but even so we are still left with several hundred pounds of aesthetically challenged seconds: sweet potatoes with cracks, or nibble marks where a mouse sampled one end. We can't sell them, but nor can I stomach the idea of letting so much good food go to waste. Enter the pie pan. Inspired by the example of Pie Ranch in California--a farm with a food justice and education mission that they underwrite by selling homemade pies in San Francisco--I decided to take our sweetie tater seconds and make them into pies. The proceeds from the sale will form the nest egg for several subsidized CSA shares next season in partnership with the Palmetto Food Bank.

"Food Justice" is a passion of mine that I am yet to fully explore, either on this blog or in my farming experience. While hunger and malnutrition are conditions more commonly associated with Ethiopia or Sudan (and the accompanying parental guilt trip to clean your plate), they are unpleasantly present in our more affluent society as well. Though the United States produces almost 3,900 calories per person per day, it does not distribute this food wealth in a healthy or equitable fashion. Think about all of the food that gets trashed on a daily basis, as well as the surplus wheat, dairy, and soy that we dump on developing nations under the guise of aid (but I digress...this is the subject of another entire post). For many Americans, the cheapest food is not the simplest--fruits and veggies, grains, and rice--the cheapest calories come heavily processed, heavily packaged, heavy with the weight of our conventional industral agricultural system. Drive around a less affluent part of town and look for a grocery; you'll see why they are often called "food deserts" for the dearth of healthy, affordable options. An organic product is usually outside of the price range of a food insecure family in the US, and to me this is the height of injustice.

So I'm baking pies. Lots of pies. My goal is to raise $650, enough to make two CSA shares half price. In classic MK fashion, I did not fully grasp the monumental size of this undertaking until I had 16 pie orders and more likely to roll in. Thus far I have learned several things:

1. Pie tins have slanted sides for a reason: so that the dough doesn't slide down the sides. I see reconstructive crust surgery in my future...
2. No-stick silicon mats are a prime example of false advertising.
3. I would trade my first-born child for an industrial convection oven.
4. Sweet potato pies have the most complicated baking sequence known to man: roast and mash the potatoes; mix the pie crust; prebake the crust for 12 minutes at 425, covered, then 10 minutes at 350 uncovered; mix the filling, pour into the crust and bake it at 400 for 10 minutes, then 350 for 25, then at 375 for the final 10 (with optional praline topping). Repeat ad infinitum.

I'm a little sleep deprived, yes, but taste test reviews have been positive and I'm improving with every batch of pies. I just hope that this doesn't put me off sweet potato pie!

1 comment:

Alexandra said...

This post made me love you just that much more. My mouth is also watering at the thought of sweet potato pie!