Monday, January 4, 2010

And now the recipe--Flourless, Eggless, Dairy-free, Sugar-Free Fruit Pie of Deliciousness

This pie is very special to the Huberman family.  The genesis of the recipe comes from my Grandma Ruth, a vegan for over half a century who with my late Grandma Max, opened Youngstown, Ohio's first health food store in the 1950s.

My grandparents subscribed to the tenets of Natural Hygiene, which (and I'm totally paraphrasing here) maintained that fruits and vegetables had enough natural flavor without the addition of salt, butter, and oil.  In the place of these flavorings, Grandma came up with creative solutions like cooking rice in fresh celery or carrot juice and thickening her eggplant patties with ground up almonds.

About six years ago, Grandma began making fruit pies.   It's hard to remember a time before the pies began--throughout high school I only remember an unending stream of them that would appear and disappear from our refrigerator.  We ate them for breakfast, lunch, dessert, and midnight snacks.  While each pie contained the same basic elements (mainly, apples) , they were never the same twice.  One week would contain cherries, one week mangoes, one week coconut, one week pistachios.  When pressed for a recipe, Grandma would always shrug and say she didn't have one.

One year on break, I managed to assist on the process and found that the crust contained a combination of nuts, medjool dates and  manna (or essene) bread, which is a moist, sprouted bread and bound together with apple juice.  The filling, however was the real secret:  she would steam the fruit in apple juice before pouring it into the crust.  And while I had long assumed this was a raw pie, I discovered Grandma did in fact bake both the crust as soon as it's made and then the entire pie once assembled.  But though I now had access to this holy grail of culinary knowledge, I was not yet confident in myself as a cook to take the leap and make one myself, still dependent on exact measurements to guide me through.

This year, I went down to Florida to visit my Mom for her birthday, which falls on New Year's.  My Mom has always joked that she's always been ahead of the curve when it comes to food sensitivities.    In the 1970s, she was a vegan when health food stores were few and far between and Tiger's Milk was the only alternative to Hershey's.  By the time the options started to expand and Silk soy milk began running national ads in the late 1990s, Mom discovered she was allergic to gluten, further limiting.  Now this year, as even restaurants like Outback Steakhouse are happy to provide gluten-free menus, Mom has eliminated oil, salt, and anything resembling sugar as well.

This latest development posed a challenge to me as I prepared to make her a treat for her birthday, as the lack of oil and sugar basically eliminated the gluten-free baking mixes I had relied on in the past.  Taking a deep breath, I decided it was time to attempt a fruit pie of my own.

The one big modification I had to make for Mom was in the crust.  As manna bread contains gluten, I had to eliminate it and use extra dates and nuts, also adding dried apricots that my Grandma Maddy happened to have on hand.  As a guide, I looked up a recipe for a no-bake date-nut pie crust that I  doubled in order to make sure I had enough.  For the filling, I used a combo of apples, pineapple, frozen berries, and raisins.  While the original plan had been to steam it all in fresh apple juice as per Grandma Ruth's custom, a shortage of apples forced me to blend the apple juice with some fresh-squeezed pineapple, which gave the whole pie a refreshing lightness.  My only stumbling block was greasing the pan, as I was terrified that the crust would stick once baked.  I was able to convince Mom to consent to a tiny bit of coconut oil, but I would be happy to hear any other suggestions.

The result was an unqualified success, kicking off 2010 with licked lips and happy tummies.

And now for the recipe.

Flourless, Eggless, Dairy-Free, Sugar-free Fruit Pie of Deliciousness


3 cups of unsalted nuts (I used almonds and pecans, but cashews, walnuts, pistachios, or just about anything else will do just fine)
6-12 pitted dates.  You can mix it up by adding other dried fruit like pineapple or apricots
1/4-1/2 tsp of cinnamon
1-3 tbsp of water or fruit juice, for binding crust together.


4-5 granny smith apples, peeled cored and sliced.  Granny smith apples are recommended, but really any apples you have on hand will do just fine.
2-3 cups of some other fruit, something like mango, peach, pineapple, berries, cherries, etc.. Really, the possibilities are endless.
1/2 cup raisins
1-2 tsp cinnamon
Water or juice for steaming

Optional:  Berries or other fruit for decoration.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Begin by grinding nuts in a food-processor or blender until fine.  Next add dates and blend until mixture is sticky.  Add cinnamon and just enough liquid to hold mixture together.  Press crust into greased (if desired) pie plate, leaving about 1/3 cup aside for the crumb topping. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until the crust just begins to harden (but not too much--it still has to go into the oven again later).

While the crust is baking, make the filling.  In a large bowl, combine apples, additional fruit, raisins, and cinnamon.  Fill a large steamer pot with about an inch of juice or water until barely touching the bottom of the steam basket.  Pour fruit into pot and steam for 20-30 minutes or until apples are tender.

Take the crust out of the oven and pour in the pie filling.  Don't worry if you've made too much for filling--any excess can be perfectly delightful atop ice cream, oatmeal, cupcakes or any other combination you can think of.  (Another fun variation that Grandma Ruth often does is mashing a soft persimmon over the filling, but as we didn't have persimmons this wasn't an option.)

Once filled, take the extra crust mixture and sprinkle atop the pie, covering it completely.  If you find you don't have any extra crust (as I did when I found someone who shall remain nameless gobbled it up), simply grind up some more nuts and dates. To decorate, arrange sliced fruit (berries and cherries work best) in an aesthetically pleasing pattern of your choosing.

Bake in the oven for 20-30 minutes, or until the tops of the crumb topping begins to brown.

 Cut into slices and, if desired, top with your favorite vegan ice cream (in this case, Luna and Larry's Coconut Bliss).  Y'all know the next step:  eat and enjoy!