(A note from Ken: Here is a recap of our 2014 Lowcountry Pie Getaway. Details for our 2015 Lowcountry Pie Getaway in Charleston, South Carolina this coming October can be found here.)
Last week, five intrepid Pie Academy members gathered in historic Savannah, Georgia for our first Lowcountry Pie Getaway. It was a full weekend of pie-centric activities – demonstrations and hands on pie making, with plenty of time for sightseeing and shopping, all bookend-ed by a Friday welcome reception and special Sunday evening send off dinner before heading home Monday morning.
As host of this event, along with my wife Bev, I can’t begin to tell you how exhilarating and rewarding our getaway was, and how much fun we had. We came together as relative strangers with a shared passion for pies, and departed as friends who will always cherish the good times and memories of this first Pie Academy getaway.
As organizer, co-host, instructor, and cook for our getaway – cook, because I was anxious to show off some of the recipes in my just-released Comfort Food – Bev and I were determined that no detail of the getaway would be left to chance. Consequently, portions of days…weeks…and months prior to the event were spent developing and editing menus, equipment lists, class curricula, recipes, and tending to a hundred other facets of our inaugural Pie Getaway.
Saturday morning, following a trip to the local farmer’s market, we met in the main dining room of our host inn – The Marmaduke Hamilton Estate – to discuss the day’s activities. This was Create-a-Fall Fruit Pie Day and our mission was to consider our possibilities – apples, pears, cranberries – our optional add-ins like nuts and dried fruits, spices, even our tops (top crust or crumb crust). Working from a recipe template, everyone designed a custom fruit pie to their personal specs.
I’m a big fan of food processor pastry, the essentials of which I demonstrated before everyone started rolling their dough. Working with well chilled dough disks – the warm Savannah weather and humidity required a thorough chilling – everyone got to work rolling out (with our Pie Academy pins!) and transferring their pastry to the pans.
Everyone, including Nick – who claimed to have made just three pies in his entire life (hard to believe) – aced the pie shell prep.
Incidentally, the pie pans we used for the getaway were donated by Haeger, makers of a beautiful line of their NaturalStone pie plates and other bakeware. Everyone loved these pans, especially the weight, and the way they browned the bottom crusts so evenly. In fact, the feedback was so positive that we’ll soon start selling Haeger bakeware in our online store, so stay tuned. Our gratitude to Haeger – one of our two corporate sponsors for our getaway – for providing these beautiful pans.
Once the pie shells were chilled, we assembled the ingredients for our fillings. Fresh fruit was sliced, dried fruit measured, spice and cornstarch added. Everyone appreciated this personal approach to pie making: they weren’t slavishly following one recipe, but rather relying on their own creativity to create a one-of-a-kind pie. This exercise really got the creative juices flowing.
It also made for a much more interesting and delicious pie and ice cream social on Saturday night. Instead of five of the same pie, we sample a smorgasbord of pies with individual personalities and unique flavors. It wasn’t easy, but somehow we all managed to sample five slices of pie that evening. We did save some for breakfast, but the lion’s share of leftovers went to the deserving firefighters across the street from our inn.
Sunday morning we turned our attention to savory pies – quiche. Not only is quiche the perfect dish for entertaining year round, but it was a great way to show how our very same pie pastry recipe could be used for a savory application, rather than sweet. I was surprised to learn that most of the gang did not make quiche on a regular basis, but you never would have known that from the delicious recipes they devised.
In keeping with the inventive tone of the previous day, each baker worked from a template to build a customized quiche with various steamed and sauteed veggies, a selection of cheeses and sausages, herbs and spices, and a rich-as-you-please custard. My one admonition: don’t omit the Dijon mustard from the custard! Quiche can taste bland without it. Trust me when I say that the selection of quiche issuing from the oven by noontime was anything but bland. Lunch was a flaky triumph. Pie pastry confidence was soaring.
Quiche also gave us the chance to delve into the particulars of prebaking a pastry shell, a technique that’s virtually the same whether you’re working with a savory or sweet pie. Chilled shells were lined with foil; dried beans added and banked up the sides; and into the oven they went. Thirty minutes later we had gorgeous, partially prebaked shells at the ready.
Before breaking for the day on Sunday – still lots to see in Savannah! – we held a hand pie clinic and once again designed fillings with our individual touches. Once they were in the fridge – chilling the hand pies before baking them re-firms the fat and creates a flakier crust than you’d otherwise get – everyone headed out to see more of the town, ride the trolly, and shop for sweets and other local favorites down on River Street, Savannah’s riverfront district.
And I was off to the kitchen to prepare Sausage Meat Loaf, Roasted Autumn Vegetables, and mashed potatoes from my new book, Comfort Food. Happy to say, dinner was a hit.
Everyone agreed that the weekend had gone by too fast – way too fast. We wanted to rewind the weekend, get back together and make more pies.
Pie was the focus of our getaway weekend, but it turned out to be about so much more than pie. There was the cozy embrace of our historic host inn, the beauty of Savannah’s tree lined cobblestone streets, the exchange of ideas and experiences, and the early talk and buzz about next year’s getaway.
In retrospect, Bev and I agreed that there is very little that we would have done differently in orchestrating this pie weekend. Yes, there were lessons learned, adjustments to be made, and things we’ll tweak to make the next one even better. But I’m happy to say that my high hopes for the weekend were realized and I believe all in attendance would agree. A fellow can’t ask for much more than that.
Next year’s Lowcountry Pie Getaway: We have already begun making plans for next fall’s Lowcountry Pie Getaway. While we’re uncertain of the host city at this point, Charleston, South Carolina is the strongest contender. If there’s a chance you’d be interested in attending, send us an email and let us know. By gauging early interest, we will be able to make a more educated guess about the facilities we will need. Currently, we plan to release details of 2015’s pie getaway and early bird registration in January or February.
A NOTE ABOUT THE PHOTOS – It was our pleasure to have my friend Jean-Marie Cote stop by the pie getaway to photograph us preparing pies. Most of the “prep” photos here were taken by him. Jean-Marie works extensively in the Lowcountry and beyond, doing both corporate and private photography gigs, and if you have a need for a top notch photographer you should give him a call. He can be reached through his website.
All other photos here were taken either by my wife Bev or one of the attendees: Nick, Susan, Carolyn, Shelby and Megan. My gratitude to them for their respective photos and permission to use them.
ONE IMPORTANT FINAL NOTE: During our Friday night reception, each of the attendees of The Lowcountry Pie Getaway received a “swag bag” full of fun and valuable giveaways. It was a token of our appreciation for coming to the event. Among the items included were a Pie Academy rolling pin, a Pie Academy apron, the above mentioned Haeger pie plates, and a $100 gift credit toward the next pie getaway, should they decide to attend. There was also a gift from another of the event’s corporate sponsors, Kuhn Rikon: a 9″ PushPan that I’ve featured here before. My gratitude to Kuhn Rikon for their support of The Lowcountry Pie Getaway. Everyone was thrilled to receive the PushPan and I can personally vouch for what a swell pan this is for pies and tarts. Check it out.