This weekend was a bit of a whirlwind. I took a trip down to Durham to see my family, take some photos, and show my friend Rachel the highlights of the south. Partly because she wanted to and partly because I’m converting the north one Bojangles chicken biscuit at a time.
Left: American Tobacco Campus in Durham, Right: Downtown Durham
The trip came about because, as employees of a Jewish institution, Rachel and I had Thursday and Friday off for a holiday. And as I had been asked to come down sometime in the fall to do some Pressed Magnolia photoshoots it seemed like the perfect opportunity to get away and enjoy the motherland. We realized a few days before we set out that on Sunday, as we were driving back up north through Virginia, there would be a pie festival going on in Charlottesville. It seemed too serendipitous so we decided not just to visit the festival, but to enter.
Left: Entrance to ATC, Right: My brother Reid
After deciding, on a whim, to compete in the pie festival the next step was to settle on what pie we would serve. Starting with caramel apple pie (not exciting enough) we moved onto caramel fried green tomatoes, a smash hit dessert from last year. The idea of fried tomatoes inside the pie didn’t sit well, so combined all of the ideas- a caramel green tomato pie with caramel fried green tomatoes on top. And a graham cracker crust.
The process of making this pie was an… experience. We got to Durham on Thursday and had pretty steady number of photoshoots from Thursday afternoon until Saturday night. We were able to duck into the Durham Farmer’s Market Saturday morning (in between a shoot and a visit to the mall to have my glasses repaired- they fell apart, naturally) to pick up green tomatoes, but we weren’t able to make the pie until after dinner (a late, long dinner) that evening. We finally got started on the pie around 11. By 11.30 it had dawned on us that we were missing heavy cream, I had dropped a pie dish (with the graham cracker crust in it), and I was totally broken down by allergies, exhaustion, and maybe a few glasses of wine. It was a comedy of errors, everything from the crust to the caramel went wrong.
Left: Building in Charlottesville, Right: Charlottesville Chalkboard Wall
We baked the pies Sunday morning and hit the road, making it to Charlottesville around 12. We dropped our pie off and then loitered around the city until 3, when the festival started. Right after we walked in I heard someone (not a judge) point at my pie, say “that one wasn’t good” and then walk away. This launched me into a shame spiral, I was convinced we’d made a terrible mistake and that the pie was the worst thing ever made. They announced the finalists (we didn’t make the cut) and we left, eager to both get back to Baltimore and escape the shame.
Left: A pie related book for a pie related weekend, Right: Downtown Charlottesville
Here is where I’m willing to admit I got a little hasty. Fueled by someone else’s criticism I decided the pie was awful and spent the trip home trying to figure out ways to make it better. About halfway home I received a tweet from one of the judges saying how much she had loved the pie. Not ten minutes later a friend (also on twitter) directed me to the results page and, weirdly, congratulated me. Turns out that my pie was both not the worst pie ever and also the judge’s select. As in, while it didn’t place, I got a nod from the judges. Which was good enough for me. Lesson here: shame spirals are lame and you really shouldn’t bash somebody’s pie in a room that only has twenty people in it. GEEZ.
(Ed note: This is the recipe as it was presented for the Cville Pie Fest judges. If I were to make any changes, I would toss the tomatoes (sliced) in the juice of one lemon, to give it a bite.)
2 cups sugar
4 tbsp water
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup heavy cream
Graham Cracker Crust:
10 graham crackers
1 stick of butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
4 green tomatoes
To make the crust:
Begin by making the crust. In a food processor blend the graham crackers until they’re crumbs. Melt butter and mix together crackers, butter, sugar, and spices. Use your hands to press the crust into the pie dish. The crust should be 1/4″ thick. Heat a 350 degree oven and bake the pies for 5 minutes. Set aside.
To make the caramel:
In your heaviest pan combine sugar and water over medium heat. Stir constantly as the sugar becomes liquid, then as the water evaporates out and it becomes solid, and finally as the sugar melts. When the sugar is liquid and golden in color pour in the heavy cream. Continue to stir constantly, though the caramel will bubble and steam. Stir until smooth and then let cool.
Slice your tomatoes and toss them in lemon juice. Put the first layer of tomatoes in the pie dishes, topping with caramel. Continue to layer until the dish is full, finishing with caramel. Sprinkle the top with some of the leftover graham cracker mixture. Cover with tin foil and bake at 400 for 30 minutes. Remove the tin foil and bake an additional 15 minutes.
Top with caramel fried green tomatoes.