“. . . the ever-present landscape flows in and through a Santa Fe kitchen. It comes in as a stream of brilliant sunlight; as the smell of piñon nuts whose mother trees can be seen across every acre of land; as the inescapable layer of dust which no one tries overly hard to keep out, and, of course, as the food itself.”
Huntley Dent The Feast of Santa Fe
Last week I made two peach pies: a morning filled with peeling, slicing, rolling, dusting, and, finally, crimping. Outside my kitchen window squawking scrub jays searched the piñon trees for the soft, sweet nuts tucked inside pine cones. The smell of peach and cinnamon filled the air.
Yellow and fuzzy with a deep blush, Tony’s peaches from Valley Honey and Apple Farm have a short trip from Albuquerque to Santa Fe. Purchased today, they can be eaten tomorrow. They are local, but not native.
Peaches, like the hollyhocks I wrote about in August, are native to China and traveled to the Southwest in much the same way–from Asia to the Middle East to Spain and, finally, to New Mexico along with apricots, apples and a host of other fruits and vegetables. Dent writes in The Feast of Santa Fe that by 1850 vendors were selling peaches and other seasonal produce on Santa Fe’s plaza.
So I wondered, did the cooks who bought those peaches make pies? Checking Fabiola Cabeza de Baca Gilbert’s historical New Mexico cookbook, The Good Life, I found only one mention of pie. In a description of the elaborate food preparations for a wedding feast, she writes about two helpers who baked ” . . . dried fruit pies in the mud ovens. The fruit was cooked, sweetened and seasoned. Long strips of flaky pastry were place in bread pans, spread with fruit and covered with more pastry. After these were baked they were cut into squares large enough for generous helpings.” My guess is that these pies were filled with with dried apples or apricots, traditional favorites in New Mexican cuisine.
Dent includes a recipe for little pies, or empanaditas as they are called in Spanish, filled with peach butter and piñons. The small turnovers are made with flour and lard, stuffed with filling, and cooked in a small amount of hot oil. Done right, according to Dent, they are a light and flaky treat, a Christmas delight.
We ate one of my peach pies the day I baked it, warm from the oven topped with ice cream. The other one is in the freezer, saved for a cold winter night, maybe Christmas Eve.