Published On: October 5, 2012

Fruit Pies in Brazil?

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By Eva P. Bueno

Dear Reader:

The other day, while browsing the film section of the neighborhood branch of the city library, I stumbled upon Mildred Pierce. What’s in a name? Who knows! But in this case, even though I had never heard anything about this mini-series, when I saw that the always beautiful and talented Kate Winslet was playing the title character, I decided that this would be a good weekend production to watch in my own home, with my own popcorn and hot chocolate in hand.

It turns out that Mildred Pierce is a story about a woman who makes great pies and who, when the tough get going during the Great Depression, saves herself and her children from abject poverty with her wits and her cooking abilities. It is thoroughly enjoyable to watch the five hour-long episodes which contain, I must warn you, quite a bit of bedroom scenes sprinkled in the kitchen and business scenes. If you do not enjoy or approve of seeing beautiful naked bodies (of Kate Winslet and Guy Pearce together), skip this version of the story and stick with the 1945 film production of Mildred Pierce starring Joan Crawford as the protagonist. That story is somewhat similar, and there are no naked bodies in sight. Whatever your choice of versions, I am quite sure you will, like me, be in the mood to make pies, if nothing else, after you finish watching.

And so it was,after the fifth episode, I headed to the kitchen, looked inside my recipe book collection, and picked up my old cooking notebook, one I started back in 1971 when my mother allowed me to start cooking Sunday meals for the family. Until now, it has been impossible to touch that notebook and not remember the fun she and I had cooking together, and sometimes even disagreeing with each other about the best way to roast a piece of meat, or to spice fish, or to make orange marmalade, or to prepare a birthday cake. My mother lived a life of great hardships while raising the family, so she was resourceful in everything in the house, keeping all her children well-fed, well-groomed, and well-educated, even when there was little money. She taught me how to cook, how to invent food, and sometimes how to substitute one ingredient for another when we didn’t have the one the recipe called for.

I had not looked at this notebook for a while, but perhaps because Mildred Pierce is the story of a mother who cooks, I automatically reached for the notebook. The trouble is that while perusing the contents of the notebook, I realized it contained nothing remotely similar to a pie. Why would that be the case? Simple: my mother was from Minas, and Mineiras of her generation did NOT know pies. They knew how to make all kinds of other dishes from hearty soups to delicate soufflés, from alface (lettuce) to zucchini. And many kinds of desserts made with fruit, milk, and eggs. But alas, no pie. The fact is, I became so engrossed in the film,that I forgot this very crucial fact of my family’s culture. We are caipiras of the Minas Gerais extraction. We do not bake fruit pies.

But of course no one has to stay the same person one was in childhood and young adulthood. Like my siblings who left home and went to other places and learned other things, I too went ahead, learned other stuff, always taking my recipe notebook along, trying other recipes, and adding them to the notebook. I guess the fact that one can go so far from one’s original culture is the result of our postmodern world that puts us in contact with so many differences, and it is all good. My mother would certainly not mind the fact that after watching a mini-series in a language she never spoke, I decided to learn how to make a pie just because a character in the film makes pies. She would find it as fun as when we walked together in the woods near our house in Maringá and found different kinds of green beans growing wild, or when we decided to make candied orange peels one time.

Yet, fun or not, it is difficult to set oneself to make a pie without having a mother who taught us. Where was I going to get all the great memories, the great kitchen smells, the great fun she and I had together?

Well, this is the postmodern world, as we have discussed. In the absence of a family figure to teach me to make pies, I hit the Internet. YouTube, to be more exact. They must have some good pie recipes, I thought. And yes they do! Too many, as a matter of fact. There is one video in which the guy just gets the ready-made dough from the supermarket. That can qualify as cheating, almost. There are some others touting this and that. The best video recipe for the pie crust I found here:

This is an honest, simple crust that anyone can make. I made it, and it was the first time, and it worked!

But the crust is just half the pie. We’ve got to fill that crust with something good and tasty. And so it was I started making pies, pies, pies. It is safe to say that my co-workers, neighbors, friends, friends of friends, all got pies. And the reason for all these pies is that I wanted to come up with two or three good, basic recipes to teach you. This does not mean that there cannot be others out there. But these two here WORKED in my kitchen and passed the tasting test with my friends/co-workers/neighbors.

Go ahead and try to make them. Get the kids involved and start making memories with them. If they want to start a recipe notebook, why — as they say in Mildred Pierce — that is just swell.

Pineapple Pie

If you have a fresh pineapple, peel it, and cut in slices.* Remove the tough center of the slices and cut the good, soft pineapple in small pieces. Set aside in a bowl, making sure you do not waste any of the juice that comes out when you are cutting the fruit. If you want to use canned pineapple, put the fruit in a bowl, cut it in small chunks, keeping it in the liquid that comes in the can. Put the bowl with the fruit in the fridge for now.

Prepare two amounts of the pie crust as indicated in the recipe above. Roll out half of the dough in the pie plate/pan. Do NOT bake it at this time.

In a pan, mix the cut pineapple (and the juice) with 3 spoons of brown sugar, two tablespoons of lemon or lime juice, and one spoon of corn starch (Maizena in Brazil). Cook this mixture on medium heat until it thickens ; allow it to boil for about one minute, always stirring. If you are working with a fresh pineapple that did not give you a lot of juice, watch out here, and do not let your filling burn. It is okay to add a little bit of pineapple juice or even orange juice to ensure a good cooking of the filling. When it is almost done, mix in a cup of raisins. Stir some more to mix the raisins, and pour this mixture into the already prepared pie bottom.

This is the time to turn on the oven to 400 degrees F or 210 C.

Now, take the other half of the dough from the fridge, roll it out , put it on top of the already prepared pie bottom. Cut around the pie pan, leaving about 2 cm or 1 inch extra. Lift this dough to the lip of the pan, and make little “pleats.” Brush about 2 spoons of milk on top. With a knife, cut some slashes on the top crust.

Bake in the center rack for about 35 minutes. Let it cool, and then put it in the fridge. You can serve this pie with a scoop of ice-cream. Or you can simply enjoy it with a nice cup of coffee or tea.

*Cutting a fresh pineapple need not scare you. Take the fruit by the green top, put it on its side, and cut the bottom about half an inch. Now you can stand your pineapple on a cutting board. With a good, sharp knife, grab hold of the green “leaf” top of the pineapple, and go peel the thorny outside of the fruit from top to bottom. Do not cut it too deep because if you do that, you will lose most of the fruit. But if you cut it too shallow, you will have too much work cleaning it up. If when you have finished peeling your pineapple, you find that the surface has too many “eyes,” get a sharp small knife, stick it on the side of the “eye” at a 45-degree angle, and go cutting around. This way, you remove only the “eye,” and end up with more fruit to enjoy. As with everything involving knives, be extra careful!

Apple pie

Ah, this is the mother of all American pies, and it cannot be easier to make. You can bake it with or without the top crust. You can serve it with ice-cream or whipped cream, or just enjoy the pie itself.

Here is how to make it:

Prepare the crust as explained above, and do not bake the lower pie shell. I prefer to cover my apple pie with strips of crust criss-crossing the top. Why? Well, maybe because the first apple pie I ever had was served this way. You decide how to do it.

Peel, core and thickly slice 5 medium apples. Add 3 spoons of orange juice, 3 tablespoons of white sugar, 6 packed spoons of brown sugar, and a pinch of salt.

In a pan, put three spoons of unsalted butter (not margarine), half a cup of water, and warm up until the butter melts. Put the sliced apple, stir, and let cook for about three minutes. Don’t let your apples get mushy! If they are a soft kind of apple, they will soften faster, so it is important to watch them at this point.

Pour the sliced apples on the bottom of the pie crust, packing them well. Some people like to sprinkle a teaspoon of cinnamon at this point. If you like the taste of cinnamon, add it. If not, just don’t. This is your pie, after all.

Now, about the top of the apple pie, there are two camps. One says that the criss-crossed top is more traditional. The other affirms that it is the fully covered top with some small cuts that makes the pie. You decide here again. If you want to criss-cross the top dough, simply cut the second half of the dough in

1-inch strips, put the horizontal ones and then the vertical ones on top. Brush milk on the top. Cut the excess of the sides, pinch the sides, and put your pie to bake in a 400-degree oven (about 200º C, or high) for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 375 degrees F (about 175º C, or medium) and let your pie bake for 35 to 40 minutes.

Let the pie rest for at least 30 minutes before serving. Some people prefer to eat it warm, with ice-cream. Others prefer it cold. At this point, it is all up to you. Eat it anyway you want.

Helpful Hints:

1. If you are covering your pie with crust, after it has baked for some 15 minutes, check to see if the crust is not burning. If it is becoming dangerously brown, mark the time this is happening. You can remove it from the oven at this point and save the crust by covering it (especially the lip of the pie pan) with aluminum foil, and returning the pie to the oven to finish the baking process.

2. If your pie crust burns the first time, it is not the end of the world. Ovens vary, and yours probably is concentrating too much heat in the center. The next time you make a pie, simply cover the top crust with aluminum foil for part of the time it is baking. Remember: — baking is an art, and you will not get good at it overnight (unless you are a kitchen Mozart or a kitchen Picasso). Remember also that if you make a mistake today, take notes, and keep your sense of humor, so you don’t repeat the mistake later.

3. If you really, really ruined the top crust of your first pie — at no fault of your own, of course! — one thing you can do is simply cut the top crust and throw it away. Don’t feed it to the dog or to the cat. You can always cover this little imperfection by serving the pie with ice-cream, or with whipped cream. On the other hand, depending on the extent of the damage, you might just want to eat the whole thing yourself. This might explode your calorie count, but will save on the excuses!

4. Always refrigerate the leftover pie. Experience has taught me that it is necessary to keep your pie in a plastic container with a lid, to prevent fridge odors and tastes from contaminating the pie.

As for the future…

I am still testing a lemon meringue recipe. It is not ready yet. As soon as it is, you will get it. And a version of pecan pie is in the making. Pecans are not available in Brazil (as far as I can remember), so as soon as I can find good Brazil nuts here I will try to develop a pie recipe using them.

Eva Bueno is from Paraná and currently lives and teaches in San Antonio, Texas. She occasionally writes books and essays on Latin American and Brazilian literature, popular culture, women writers, politics, and the meaning of life.

{For a chance to sample some authentic American apple pie in Curitiba, see the CIE story, “A Marriage Frosted with Love.”}

Displaying 4 Comments
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  1. Anna Carol says:

    Hey! Nice pies. Will try to make some. And watch the mini series as I eat pies. Five hours!!! I should make more than one pie then.

  2. Debora Romo says:

    When I first started reading the article had no idea I was going to have so much fun reading about recipes and reading instructions of how to make pies… Good reading! If someday I decide to make pies (which I doubt) since I can get them straight from the writer, I will make sure to follow these steps.
    As far as the pecans, if you live in Brazil and want to make a pecan pie, Mercado Livre Brasil sells them online. Modern times!

  3. One thing that I always tell my husband is if I ever leave the U.S. for good, I will miss the American pies. But I do miss the chocolate mousse from Vienna in Sao Paulo, and a delicious lemon merengue pie from my childhood. See, I completely forgot about the movie. Great article! You brought me good memories and I’m dying to try to make your apple pie recipe with my kiddos.

  4. Danielle says:

    Hello! I like how you write, but I don’t know how to cook. My family members say I am an awful cook and prefer to eat pizza. But maybe this is a good way for me to start, with rice. I also would like to learn to cook pasta, because my sons love pasta, especially that one with a white sauce. Can you give that recipe? It has to be very simple, because I can mess things up easily. 🙂

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