Pat Shepherd makes Blueberry Basil Crumble Pie
Pat Shepherd has been staging raids on her backyard garden and local farmer's markets this summer, harvesting unusual ingredients to add to her multidimensional pies.
The result: a first-prize-winning blueberry basil pie served with crème fraiche enriched by artisanal, regionally made goat cheese.
Pat entered four pies, the blueberry thrown in almost as an afterthought when she realized she had some frozen berries from last year. From the Geneva Farmers Market she bought lemon basil for an unusual spin on the usual pairing of lemon with blueberries.
"I love baking; I thought the contest might be a good chance to do some different things," she says.
Daily Herald Food Editor Deborah Pankey and celebrity pastry chef Gale Gand were among the judges in the contest, sponsored by Aurora-based Association for Individual Development (AID), a nonprofit serving clients with physical or developmental disabilities in six Chicago-area counties.
"I know she (Gand) is really into local, seasonal things," says Pat, who baked with that in mind. "I knew if I could do just a little something new" one of her entries make the cut.
Aside from the fresh herbs simmered with the filling, Pat gave her pie a crumb crust and a garnish of crème fraiche made with goat cheese from an Indiana cheesemaker.
"It has the tartness of yogurt," she says.
Sounds like a professionally trained pastry chef, eh?
Pat says she picked up a lot of tips while working for two years as a cook at Heritage Prairie Farm in Elburn, a seasonal farm stand and CSA (consumer supported agriculture) that hosts periodic special dinners.
"Being around people in the industry expanded my horizons on what's out there, the resources available locally," she says. "I learned a lot of interesting combinations and contrasts."
Laid off from the farm during the recession, she returned reluctantly to her previous career in software sales and works from her home in Batavia. There she has the flexibility to prepare meals for herself and husband John, "my honest taste-tester," and to experiment with desserts on weekends.
There's nothing ordinary about her pies, which deliver layers of flavors and textures from an unusual crust or glaze, an herbal add-in or cheese accompaniment like gruyere or blue cheese.
Her apple pie starts with a cornmeal and rosemary crust; the bottom crust of her plum pie is spread with finely chopped walnuts to prevent it from getting soggy.
"That was an accident," she says of the walnuts. "I wanted to make a topping and accidentally threw them in there and it was great."
For fillings Pat prepares fresh jam with some of the fruit, stirring it into the remaining fruit "for very intense flavor."
As for presentation, "mine might be classified as more rustic, they look homemade."
These may not be quick and easy pies, but they aren't too fussy or technically difficult, and the payoff could be great.
"A day or two after I won the contest I get a call from a guy on my business line," says Pat. "He said, 'I wanted to tell you I bought your pie from the pie contest; I'm 70 years old and I've been searching all my life for a pie just like that.'"
Doesn't that sound like a pie worth trying?