Saturday, April 4, 2009

Polly's Pies

Today I made a fresh strawberry pie. Maybe it's the wishful thinking of a transitional season: it's spring officially, but you don't quite feel it yet, at least not in New York. Making a fruit pie can't force sunny spring weather to come any quicker, but it still tastes good, and the color of the pie, glazed with a fruit/sugar/cornstarch reduction, is a cheerful anecdote for the often rainy and gray sky in early April. I used to have my paternal grandmother's recipe, but looking for it this afternoon, I couldn't find it. I ended up substituting a recipe from another trusted Southerner, Lee Bailey, whose Southern Desserts cookbook has been on my shelf from the time I first had my own kitchen. The pie came out great—actually, it was better than my grandmother's version (or my misfired attempts at her version, should I be the one at fault). But all this thinking about, making, now writing about pie has brought up another landmark of memory: Polly's Pies in Santa Monica, California. At the time we lived in L.A., I thought that there was only one Polly's Pies, but I learned later that the restaurant belonged to a regional chain of homemade-pie bakeries and coffee shops. The Polly's Pies I frequented with my family was, as I said, in Santa Monica. I believe it might have been discovered by my mother one day—perhaps one of the days that I attended a summer camp theater program at the Santa Monica Playhouse. Regardless of who found it or when or while doing who-knows-what-else (driving somewhere I'm sure, maybe the beach), Polly's Pies quickly became a family favorite for lunch and, of course, for dessert. I don't remember what any of us ever ordered before the pie—I'm sure it was standard: grilled cheese, burgers, soups—but I do remember the pies very well. There were many to choose from. Besides the most traditional, year-round apple or cherry pies, there were seasonal fruit pies advertised with hand-drawn posters in the windows (you can see the sign for fresh peach pie in the photo I took and scanned for this post); I remember blackberry and raspberry, and of course they had strawberry, too, but the most unusual was "olallieberry pie." Never before living in L.A. had any of us heard of an olallieberry; since leaving the city, I've only come across the name one other time, and that was in a cookbook from a pastry chef working in—where else?—California. A bit of cursory research reveals that the olallieberry was first developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture at Oregon State University in 1949; it was a cross between a loganberry and a youngberry (two berries that are blackberry hybrids). Other pies from Polly's included a sweet-tart lemon meringue pie, piled extra high with foamy, toasted meringue; chocolate cream pie, which we often ordered and loved; pumpkin and pecan pies; finally something called a "Banberry" pie, which was a combination of banana cream and strawberry. I don't think I ever tasted it, though maybe one of my parents did—I just remember the funny name. I don't know if Polly's Pies is still in Santa Monica. If they are, I hope the overall quality has remained the same (high), the service friendly, and the pies . . . well, I'd like to think that a slice of fresh olallieberry pie is in my future sometime. For now, though, there's three-quarters of my own fresh strawberry pie left in the refrigerator. It'll have to do.

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