In my mind, every holiday is basically about food on some level. The Fourth of July conjures memories of grilled burgers and hot dogs, buttery corn on the cob, potato salad, and juicy watermelon slices, all served on flimsy, flowery paper plates. I love summer food — messy, informal, and delicious — and that’s one reason I love the Fourth of July.
Growing up, my family didn’t go all out with fireworks (which was maybe for the best because it sure cuts down on the potential for injuries) but we did attend the Fourth of July Parade in the nearest town almost every year. It was everything you could want from a small-town Southern parade: homemade floats and vintage cars, boy scouts and baton twirlers, unintentionally scary clowns and Shriners in their mini cars. We would camp out on the side of the road with picnic food and lawn chairs and spend the entire morning eating, chatting, and watching the parade. Inevitably, someone on one of the floats had a super soaker and aimed it at the crowd, and as kids we pined for splash of cold water in the sweltering heat, even if the cooling effect quickly faded and left us sticker and sweatier than before.
My mom — who has always loved things that are kitschy and quirky — found a plastic snowman at a church rummage sale before the parade one year. She bought it on the spot and proudly set it up in one of our chairs for everyone to see. For the rest of the day, she joked about celebrating Christmas in July and said that we should make our own float next year with Santa on it. I was 11 that summer, just on the cusp on adolescence, and while I was homeschooled and a late bloomer, that doesn’t mean I wasn’t already developing a keen sense of embarrassment when it came to my parents. Mild mortification was my primary emotion over the plastic snowman. Still, I obligingly posed for a picture with it and now it brings back fond memories.
While burgers and corn on the cob are very important, one dish that will always make me think of summer is pie — peach pie, to be exact. In my teens I decided that I would perfect the art of making pie crust from scratch. I baked pies all summer long (my family was delighted), and I think it’s the ideal all-American dessert for your Fourth of July party. Pie crust is a little tricky, but it’s worth it. And once you get the hang of it, it’s really quite simple.
My Favorite Peach Pie
The recipe below is from my copy of the Joy of Cooking, but Deb Perelman over at Smitten Kitchen also has a great all-butter pie crust recipe and some excellent advice.
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
6 tb cold unsalted butter
1/4 cup cold vegetable shortening
6 tb ice water
Mix the flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Add in the chunks of cold butter and shortening and use a pastry blender (it’s well worth the investment, trust me) to cut the butter/shortening mix into the flour until it has a pebbly consistency. If there are some slightly larger bits of butter, don’t worry, that makes a flaky crust! Then add the ice water a little bit at a time and blend until the the dough just barely sticks together. Cut the dough in half, wrap each disk in plastic wrap, and chill it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. Don’t skip this step — if the butter in your dough gets warm it’s impossible to roll out and you won’t get those nice flaky layers in the finished crust.
While the pie dough is chilling out, make the filling. I love peach pie, but I won’t be getting any local peaches in Ohio anytime soon. If local is your thing or if you don’t like peaches, find another recipe for a different fruit filling. (But if you don’t like peaches, I’m sorry, there’s something wrong with you.)
2 1/2 lb peaches, peeled, pitted, and sliced into 1/4 in pieces
1/2 cup sugar
3 tb flour or cornstarch
3 tb lemon juice
pinch of salt
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Mix all the filling ingredients in a bowl and let stand for a few minutes. Roll out your bottom crust and lightly press it into a 9 inch pie pan (I find it helpful to gently fold the dough in half, lift it into the pan, and then unfold it). Trim off the excess crust, but be sure to leave at least an inch hanging over so you can crimp the top and bottom together. Pour the peach filling into the pan and then roll out the second crust and place it over the top. Crimp the edges and remember to cut four vents in the top crust. If you like, brush the top with a little milk and sprinkle on some extra sugar. I almost always forget this step, but my pies turn out just fine without it.
Bake the pie at 400 degrees for 20-30 minutes, until the crust is set and beginning to brown. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 and bake for another 30-35 minutes until the filling is bubbling over and the crust is a deep golden brown. You can place a cookie sheet under the pie to protect your oven from the bubbling fruit juices and if the crust gets too brown before the filling is done, just cover it with some tin foil to prevent further browning.
After it’s done baking, let the pie cool before you slice into it, otherwise it will still be very runny. Don’t get upset if your pie isn’t picture perfect. I like my pies to be homely and rustic, personally. And once you serve it up with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, it will be gone before you can blink.