Emily Hilliard is the folklorist, writer, and baker behind the beautiful and inspiring pie blog Nothing in the House. Raised in Indiana, she's lived in the Midwest, New England, and the South, and currently resides in Washington, D.C. She holds an M.A. in folklore from the University of North Carolina, and draws upon her folkloric background in her approach to pie. She believes that pie's status as an iconic American symbol makes it an interesting lens into so many other realms, among them, history, traditional culture, music, regionalism and seasonality, and feminism. Emily's other interests as a folklorist and writer dwell in women's domestic creativity, and the intersection of the traditional and experimental art and music. She also plays old-time fiddle and guitar.
My love for pie was born in the summer time, discovered while wandering the hot pavement and shadier enclaves of my college town, searching for wild berries. There is a comfort in that ritual, something in its motions that put me back into a physical realm, my body moving through space, whether it’s a new town, or one I grew up in.
Since the first soupy pies of that summer, I’ve moved around a lot. I’ve found that I don’t really feel at home in a new place until I’ve run its streets, maybe, found a great hangout—a coffee shop or dive bar or record store, or until I’ve discovered in what out of the way places its berry bushes lie.
Similarly, I tend to not comfortable in a new house until I’ve baked something there, whirled around its kitchen, found in which drawer the measuring spoons are kept, and figured out the heating eccentricities of the old oven. Then a few hours later, pulling something warm and aromatic from that finicky oven, I realized a transformation has happened not only from a dough to crust, a pile of ingredients to something whole and cohesive, but in my mind as well. And I’m there—at home.
I’ve been writing about pie for a while now—almost 9 years—and one of the things that keeps it engaging for me is in how pie is very much of its place. It is a dish with millions of possibilities that depend entirely on what fresh fruits and ingredients you can get where you are at that time of year, how the pastry behaves under varying temperatures and humidity, what recipes are popular in the region or state or town where you happen to be.
I’ve been in Kentucky for the past month, doing a research fellowship in the Appalachian Sound Archives at Berea College. It was, when I arrived, a place that was, aside from passing through on a family trip when I was a pre-teen, altogether unfamiliar. So in my first week here, one of the things I did to really put myself in this place, was bake a pie.
The house where I’m staying sits on a large field that’s lined with blackberry bushes. One evening I put on long sleeves and pants, braved the heat and bugs and brambles, and went out picking until I’d filled a quart. I acquired some locally milled flour and peaches at the Amish market, and got to work, discovering new tools and improvising in the unfamiliar kitchen. For a little Kentucky flair, I added a splash of bourbon, then rounded it out with some Angostura bitters, for what I’m calling an “Old Fashioned Peach Blackberry Pie.” You could give this cocktail-inspired treatment to whatever filling you’re using or try something entirely different and unique to wherever you happen to be calling home.
Nothing in the House pie crust
1 lb. (about 3 cups) peaches
3 cups blackberries
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
Pinch lemon zest (you could also use orange zest, if you take your old fashioned that way)
2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon salt
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 teaspoon bourbon
3 Tablespoons cornstarch or arrowroot
Egg wash (1 large egg whisked with 1 teaspoon heavy cream or milk)
Turbinado sugar, for finishing
1. Prepare Nothing in the House pie crust as per the directions. After chilling the dough for at least 1 hour, roll and fit half the crust into a greased and floured pie pan. Return pan and top crust (rolled or unrolled) to the refrigerator while you prepare the filling. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
2. Bring a large pot of water to a simmer, having ready a large bowl of ice water. Score an X into the bottom of each peach and lower it into the simmering water for about 1 minute. Remove the peach and immediately place into the ice water. Once it has cooled slightly, peel the skin from the flesh of the peach (you may need to use a knife to start it in some places). Slice the peaches into 1/2-inch slices.
3. In a large bowl, combine peeled and sliced peaches, blackberries, sugar, lemon zest and juice, cloves, salt, bitters, bourbon, and cornstarch. Toss well to combine. Pour the filling into the refrigerated pie shell.
4. Roll out the top crust, if you haven’t already, and cut and arrange into a lattice or crust design of your choice. Seal and crimp edges. Brush pie with the egg wash and sprinkle with Turbinado sugar.
5. Place pie on a baking sheet (this is to catch any drips) and bake for 20-25 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 375 degrees F and bake until the pastry is a deep golden brown and the juices are bubbling throughout, approximately 30-35 minutes. Once baked, let pie cool on a wire rack for about 2 hours. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.