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As a kid, I grew up with a lot of trees in our yard and an apple orchard on the back of our little five-acre farm; I suppose there were around a dozen apple trees. We also had two cherry trees and a crabapple tree, along with the walnut, maple, oak, cottonwood, and other trees in the yard. I grew up climbing trees and playing with my siblings. The trees offered endless summer entertainment hours, especially the big maple tree where we built our tree fort by the barn. But the trees were for more than just playing.
Mom would send the kids to work when the apples and cherries were ready to harvest. Some picked apples, some picked cherries, and others gathered walnuts. I preferred to pick apples or cherries because the walnuts made your hands smell for the next couple of days. Then, of course, there were also the vegetables from the garden.
Once we brought the crop in, Mom and some of the older kids went to work canning. In addition to canning, Mom also made pies and cobblers to keep in the deep freezer for colder days ahead. I got to help make the pies, and I always enjoyed that.
It was at Horace Mann Elementary School when my friend Barry informed me there were many kinds of pie other than apple and cherry. For example, hostess snack cakes offered chocolate, lemon, blueberry, and peach pie. Sometimes, Barry would share a piece of his Hostess pie with me at lunch - peach was his favorite, but I didn't think much of it. I liked the Hostess apple and cherry pies – they had a lot of sugary glazing, which was essential to an elementary school-age kid.
Through my adolescent years, I had far more important things to focus my attention on than pies – like motorcycles, cars, and girls. As I grew, I took more interest in baking, especially apple pies. Like most men, love can cause them to do things they usually would not do.
When I met my wife, Melissa, she liked peach pie. So, we might pick up an occasional Hostess peach pie to share while dating. It amazed me how much better it tasted when she offered it than Barry, but I still preferred apple or cherry.
One night, Melissa invited me to her place for dinner. She made meatloaf with sides, which was very good. Then, after dinner, she surprised me with a homemade apple pie. Two things happened: I fell in love, and I felt like I had to show her what I could do in the kitchen, especially with pie, to win her love as well. It was more than just the pie; we fell in love.
About a year after Melissa and I were dating, she presented me with a copy of her Grandma Lucille's peach pie recipe, "Can you make this?" So, of course, I looked the recipe over. I had never made a peach pie in my life, but I was in love and willing to try anything.
"The recipe uses canned peaches," I questioned. I had never made a peach pie, but I assumed they were made with fresh peaches. Melissa quickly put me in my place.
"My Grandma Lucille's peach pie was the best ever, and she used canned peaches." I was treading on sacred ground. But, of course, the pie can be made with canned peaches; how else would they make them when peaches are not in season?
"I've never made a peach pie, so I don't know what they're made with. Well, I mean, of course, they're made from peaches, but I didn't know, well, you know…." I said, talking myself into a corner. Finally, I sighed, smiled at the love of my life, and said, "Of course, I will try it for you."
I made the peach pie exactly as Grandma Lucille had written the recipe. I was amazed at how much better it was than a Hostess peach pie. The recipe soon became a staple in my kitchen, as was my Granny Smith apple pie. I changed some things in the pie recipe over time to make it my own, but I still credit the recipe to Melissa's Grandma Lucille. I've been making it for about fifteen years now.
Recently, Melissa and I planned a trip to Lake City, Colorado, where we had met our friends, Jon, and Lynne, through her uncle Kenny (Funcle) and auntie Gail. Kenny and Gail would be meeting us in Lake City. Whenever we get together with Kenny, there is always peach pie; Grandmas Lucille was his mother.
"Lynne said the Palisade Colorado peaches will be in season when we get there," Melissa said. "She wants you to make a pie with fresh peaches."
I instantly dropped the box I was holding, "WHAT? You need to call Lynne and inform her Grandma Lucille's peach pie is made with canned peaches. What is she trying to start here anyway?"
My wife looked at me as if I was being ridiculous, "It's not going to kill you to make a pie with fresh peaches, and besides, Funcle will understand – it's peach season in Colorado."
I was stunned as Melissa walked away. I asked myself, "Who is this woman? And, what is the world coming to when one tampers with a sacred recipe?" The very thought of it made me nervous. I had never blanched a peach, let alone baked a pie with fresh peaches. On top of these changes, I would be experimenting at high altitudes – Lake City, Colorado, is nestled in the San Juan Mountains, 8,700 feet above sea level. That elevation changes the rules of baking!
As with so many things in life, my concerns were unnecessary, unrealistic, and unwarranted.
We went to a local produce stand and bought fresh, ripe Palisade Peaches and other locally grown fruits and vegetables. Blanching the peaches was easy. I liked slicing the fresh peaches thinner (canned peaches are always thick sliced), and the fresh peaches were in natural juices vs. sugar water from the cans. The peach pie turned out fantastic!
Grandma Lucille was raised in Coatsville, Missouri. Missouri produces amazing peaches of its own. Somehow, I have a hunch that Melissa's grandmother baked pie with fresh peaches when they were in season. When peaches were not in season, she probably used peaches she canned herself from their family farm. Therefore, I felt that Grandma Lucille would be okay with me using the fresh Palisade Peaches.
While in Lake City, I baked a peach pie, buttermilk biscuits for breakfast, and dinner rolls. The peach pie was so good that Lynne came up with an idea. "I'll bet that peach pie would be delicious if we drizzled a little bourbon into the mixture." And so, we went back to the local produce stand. Then, I baked another pie with fresh peaches and drizzled bourbon over the pie before baking. Yum!
Everyone kicked in on the cooking with their own dishes. Special kudos to Funcle (baby back ribs) and John on the grill. John prepared Olathe Colorado, sweet corn in the husks on the grill. I swear it was the best I've ever tasted, and that's saying a lot coming from a guy who grew up in southern Iowa. (John told me his technique, but I'm not at liberty to share)
I learned some new things this time around in Lake City: 1) You can teach an established (old) pie maker new tricks. 2) Lynne is a rebel.
Not only did she encourage an impressionable youth, such as myself, to make my first pie ever with fresh peaches, but I also made another peach pie adding a little bourbon from her suggestion. Oh, and let us not forget Lynne asking me, "Have you ever made a coconut cream pie?" Nobody asks me if I can make a coconut cream pie and gets away with it.
Indeed, I can and did make a coconut cream pie from scratch, with real whipping cream on top – none of that frozen stuff for me. Although I will admit, we may have created a monster with auntie Gail and the coconut cream pie – but that's another story.