Four and Twenty Blackbirds

Sing a song of sixpence, a pocket full of rye,
Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie.
When the pie was opened, the birds began to sing,
Oh wasn’t that a dainty dish to set before the king?

The king was in his counting house counting out his money,
The queen was in the parlour eating bread and honey.
The maid was in the garden hanging out the clothes,

When down came a blackbird and pecked off her nose!

My friend Scott and I are on the prowl for pie. I can’t remember how it started. I think I was in a grumpy mood about something, and I decided that what I really needed, to make me feel better, was a slice of “diner pie.” You know the stuff. As tall as your head, mostly meringue or whipped cream, and a crust worth leaving behind. But it’s all about the gooey (chocolate or banana or coconut) cream filling, and the whipped stuff on top. Mandy and I had a fabulous slice of coconut cream diner pie at a truly vintage coffee shop up in Hutchinson, MN (the Hutch Cafe on the main street; a web site is too newfangled for them). And plenty of slices in my home state of New Jersey. New Jersey knows how to “do” diners. But here in Colorado? I’m sure there are still some holdouts from the old days, but they’re few and far between. The Walnut Cafe up in Boulder makes excellent pie, but it’s actually a little too good. I’m looking for something sleazier than what Dana and her crew lovingly bake up. But not as sleazy as the mass-produced and over-processed crap that Village Inn or Perkins offers. And Scott, after hearing me talk about it, is now trying to find a suitable slice of Key lime pie. So tart that it takes an hour to eat a slice. In a graham cracker crumb crust.

The Denver Diner is too far to trek for a mere slice of pie. Instead, we tried Gunther Toody’s. It’s a local chain of modern diners, with plenty of ’50s-influenced retro-stylee crap nailed up on the walls. But they make a good malted, and they leave you with the metal mixer cup with which to refill your glass. We figure their pie will be pretty good. But it turns out, they don’t have pie. Say what? And really, what kind of diner closes at 9pm? Meh. We got malteds.

Up in Boulder buying concert tix, we asked the guy at the box office if he could direct us to some good pie. He was stumped. Even did a Google search for us. C’mon, nobody has pie? But now he has the pie bug, too. He asked us to get back to him and let him know if we find any. There’s an empty storefront up on The Hill, and Scott thinks we should open our own damn pie shop. We toss around names: Peace of Pie. In Your Face. Slice of Life. 4 & 20 (tho’ a reference to the nursery rhyme, it could appeal to the Boulder crowd for other reasons). In lieu of a complete career shift, however, we decide to buy ourselves single-serving pies from Whole Foods. They are surprisingly unsatisfactory.

It just so happens that I have a bag of organic Key limes at home, so I decide to make my own pie. I’ve never made a Key lime pie before. I’m not sure if I’ve ever made meringue topping before. But Mark Bittman, in How To Cook Everything, makes it seem pretty simple. And so it is. Although I did buy a pre-made crumb crust to save time/effort, I juiced the limes, I separated the eggs, I stirred and whipped and glossy peaks formed and everything. And I baked. And it came out of the oven looking goooood:

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But… it would be irresponsible to dig into a freshly baked pie without first eating some “real” food. I’d recently read that a variety of mushroom known as Lion’s Mane has a similar flavor to lobster, when sautéed with butter and garlic. And there’s no exoskeleton to muck things up, which is a bonus. Well, it just so happened that the Whole Foods with the little pies also had Lion’s Mane mushrooms, so I bought one (they’re huge) and cooked it up:
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I took the photo before the snap peas had reached their ultimate, plump, glossy green-ness. The bits that look like chicken are slices of that one mushroom, browned in butter before adding the peas and a minced clove of garlic. I assure you, it was all tasty. Lobster, though? I don’t know about that. Definitely not as earthy as many mushrooms I’ve had, and the texture is kind of lobstery, I guess. I’ll certainly buy them again, but I won’t drive all the way to Whole Foods just for those.

Finally, I can slice into the pie!

It is, at best, adequate. The Key lime filling isn’t as firm as I would like, and not nearly as tart as Scott desires. Since there’s no added sugar in the filling, I’m not sure how to achieve that tartness. I could add more lime juice, of course, but the filling is already too squishy. The meringue is textured perfectly, but it tastes like a very fluffy egg-white omelet. This half of the equation needs more sugar.

And so, it’s back to the drawing board for this. A bit more research. Another excuse to pull out the Kitchen Aid mixer. Further justification for buying a citrus reamer. Is anyone out there an expert in limes?

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8 Comments

Filed under food

8 responses to “Four and Twenty Blackbirds

  1. Mr. Grey

    Hey, you’re mean! I’m not set up to bake yet!

    Key lime and meringue will be polluting my thoughts for weeks now.

  2. Mr. Grey

    Oh yeah, looks good too (damn you!) :-)

  3. Carrie

    Did you use key limes for your pie? I don’t know if it makes any difference but they are cheaper and come by the bag fulls.

  4. e

    gorgeous food pics…. darn, I just drooled on my keyboard. Good luck getting the pie right…Key Lime is beyond my reach. I’m not a baker type…

  5. Carrie – Yes, they were indeed gen-yoo-wine Key limes. I’ll try plain ol’ Persian limes next time. Perhaps they’re more tart?

  6. zaskoda

    So tart you cry… that’s what I’m say’n…

  7. echo

    Adding some extra lime zest should add more of the tart lime flavor.

  8. Pingback: momentary lapse of blogging « tiddleywink

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