Some days, I curse social media and other days, I'm thankful because I get to interact with the most wonderful people across the globe. I met Emily Hilliard of "Nothing in the House" pie blog on Instagram a few months ago. At first perusal through her images, I realized I might have met my pie soul mate. As we've gotten to know each other from across the country, we've realized that we have a lot more common than pie. We both genuinely adore folk music and are from Indiana originally. You get to hear about Emily's love of pie and secret tips and tricks of pie making on the blog today. She's also sharing her delicious Fig Pistachio Tarte Tartin recipe with us. We are a bunch of lucky ducks! Also, check out her extensive recipe index on her blog. WOW!
When you are finished reading Emily’s interview and baking her delicious tartin, pop on over to Nothing in The House and check out my answers to the same questions and The Long I Pie’s “Too Piglet to Quit” recipe.
Tell us about yourself!
I’m originally from Elkhart, IN (Hoosier pie-baking gals unite!) and since then have lived in Michigan, Vermont, and North Carolina. I currently live in Washington, D.C. I’m an avid pie baker, but I work as a folklorist and freelance writer. I play old-time fiddle and guitar so I spend many a weekend at festivals or square dances or just playing tunes with pals. I’m also a voracious reader and modest record collector and like to host house shows and go on outdoor adventures.
What led you up to the point of starting a pie blog and why did you decide to do it?
Nothing-in-the-House started the summer after I graduated college. My friend Margaret and I spent the summer frequenting the Ann Arbor Farmers’ Market, foraging berries from neighborhood bushes and trees, and baking pies together. When I moved to Vermont that fall, Margaret suggested we start a blog to stay in touch via the pies we made.
Pie connects us to time and place. The best pies are made with the freshest fruit, and that’s different depending on where you are and what time of year it is. Pie plants us firmly in our location on the earth and our particular moment in time.
And in that vein, pie is also one of the few foods that still has regional varieties in the US. You can tell a lot about a person and where s/he is from by what they put in their pie and how they eat it. In that sense pie bucks the deracinating and monotonous forces of monoculture.
Pie is also of interest to me because it’s such a symbol of Americana. It can be so iconic and stereotypical, but I think it’s interesting to think about the reasons why that is so, and examine the places where pie appears in historical movements and popular culture as feminist and anti-feminist symbol, an image of home, of hobos, as motherly love or romantic love, of pie-in-the-face comedy. There’s just so much there.
And then there’s the ritual. I just really love the entire process of making a pie.
Tell me your pie aesthetic!
Butter, fresh fruit, a little creativity, and cold hands (warm heart).
I have to ask--what's your favorite pie?
I can never answer this question. My favorite is usually made with whatever’s in season, and has a tartness to it (I don’t like overly sweet desserts)—so I’m very into rhubarb and cranberries.
Where'd the Nothing-in-the-House name come from?
The name comes from a genre of pie, also called “desperation pies,” that was popular during the Great Depression. These were made from few, inexpensive ingredients – pies such as vinegar (chess) pie, cracker pie and green tomato pie. The blog name speaks to my home-baker practical sensibilities and an appreciation for the history of pie and all those women and men who have used their knowledge and ingenuity to make something delicious and beautiful with what they have.
What's your crust philosophy?
Much like yours—use butter (and maybe sometimes lard), keep everything very cold and don’t overwork the dough too much. I also like a touch of apple cider vinegar for tang and flake.
Any special pie-making tips for home bakers?
As I say above—don’t overwork the dough too much! Those chunks of butter are what will make your crust flaky. And practice— much like we think about yoga or meditation or playing an instrument, or other creative endeavors, pie making is a life-long practice.
What do you like to listen to while baking?
As a folklorist and community/college radio DJ I have a diverse taste in music, but at this time of year I really dig into British psych folk-rock from the 60s and 70s. Fairport Convention, Pentangle, Steeleye Span, Incredible String Band, and all their off-shoots and variations. So good for dancing around the kitchen while the leaves blow around outside.
What pies will you be making for your own Thanksgiving feast?
I don’t know yet! I usually like to do something with cranberries and perhaps another one or two with nuts and/or chocolate.
Tell us about the recipe you're sharing. How did it come about and what should we pair it with (other food or drink)?
I’m sharing the recipe for my Fig-Pistachio Tarte Tatin, adapted from Pieminister, a popular British pie shop. I love a tarte tatin because it’s very simple to make, shows off the beauty of the fruit (and in this case nuts) paired with a rich caramel, and you get to use your cast iron skillet! This is a rich, dark dessert that would be lovely with goat’s milk ice cream or a tangy frozen yogurt.
Adapted from The Pieminister Cookbook
Nothing-in-the-House pie crust, halved
16-20 small figs or 10-14 large figs
3/4 c. sugar
3/4 c. water
3 Tblsp. unsalted butter
4 oz. pistachios nuts, shelled
1-2 Tblsp. honey
1. Prepare half of the Nothing-in-the-House pie crust as per the directions. Once chilled, roll out into an 11-inch circle, stab it with a fork in several places, and place on a cookie sheet or cutting board between two sheets of parchment paper. Store in the fridge while you prepare the filling.
2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Trim the stalks of the figs and halve them lengthwise. Set aside.
3. In a large oven-safe frying pan or cast iron skillet, place water and sugar and heat on low until sugar dissolves. Once sugar has dissolved, raise the heat to medium-high and bring sugar water to a boil and cook without stirring until the syrup is thick and has become golden-caramel in color.
4. Reduce the heat and add the figs--making space so they all fit. Be careful not to burn yourself on the hot caramel. Cook until the figs are tender and release juices but still hold their shape. Remove them with a slotted spoon and set aside in a small bowl.
5. Boil the caramelized juices until they are thick and syrupy, 3-5 minutes more. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the butter until it melts. Scatter the pistachios over the pan and return the figs to it, cut side down, in concentric circles.
6. Put the frying pan back on the heat until the juices bubble. Put the circle of pie crust on top of the filling and tuck it firmly into the edges of the frying pan to form a crust. Transfer the pan to the oven and bake for about 25-30 minutes until the pastry is golden brown. Once the tart has settled for a minute, put on your oven mits and flip the tart onto a plate (pretend courage!). Drizzle the tart with honey and a few extra pistachios, if you desire and serve with goat's milk ice cream or Greek yogurt.