Tuesday, August 14, 2007

This Pie for Hire - Mildred Pierce Peach Pie

Usually it just takes one slug to kill a man, but on this darkest of nights in a deserted beach house, a certain young lady empties the entire contents of a revolver into the cad who scorns her. Of course, the cad had it coming. Infidelity and rejection are a volatile cocktail, particularly after you’ve had too many cocktails to begin with, swelling a head that was already too big to enter a doorway without going in sideways. You could say Veda Pierce was groomed for this moment from the time she was born, to blast six holes into her dissipated, lout of a lover, her old-moneyed, now out-of-money stepfather. You could say it was Mildred’s fault, Veda’s mother, for spoiling her daughter to this exalted ego. But no amount of smothering, motherly love could feed the monster like having the means to live the good life where no expense was spared and every appalling behavior rewarded. Mildred wasn’t a very good mother, but she was a very good business woman who built an empire as well as she could bake a pie.

The year was 1945, and Joan Crawford won the Oscar for Best Actress for her portrayal of James M. Cain’s long-suffering survivor mother, Mildred Pierce. Crawford knew a thing or two about making ends meet, steely ambition and a messy personal life. Crawford’s husbands dropped like flies, but Mildred only had two. Two were enough.

Bert Pierce is unemployed and spending far too much of that free time having a fling with a widowed neighbor, so Mildred flings him out. Pride is an honorable thing, but the stack of unpaid bills didn’t go out the door when Bert did. Mildred, a housewife with a gift for baking, has to high-tail it out to get a job. Without any marketable skills, she winds up waitressing at a local restaurant. It isn’t long before she parlays her baking talents to provide the restaurant with an array of popular pies by the dozens. Business at the restaurant is good, and Mildred’s bank account is even better. If only her daughter Veda liked her and didn’t despise her for baking pies and being a waitress. Driven by Veda’s disgust, Mildred maneuvers an old property into the first of a chain of successful restaurants, moving her out of the kitchen and into the boardroom. Along the way, Mildred divorces Bert, then takes up with the town near-do-well, forming a business as well as personal alliance. Monty, of the polo pony set, is down on his dollars, and not too proud to put the bite on Mildred. Mildred, who is used to being bitten by Veda, is only too happy to write checks out to her loafer of a lover.

Then things get a little complicated. By the film’s end, Veda and Monty are both on the outs with Mildred, and her empire is collapsing, but not before Mildred marries Monty and buys Veda a mansion. You would think that everyone would be happy, at least for a little while, but this is a film noir with the Hays Code to appease. After a grueling night of police interrogations and flashbacks, Veda is charged with Monty’s murder. It’s the best thing to ever happen to Mildred. Flat broke and broken, she and Bert, her ex-husband, leave the justice building, silhouetted in the bright beams of sunlight across the marble halls. You know she’s going back home to her pies again. You know she’s going to be all right.

Lottie (Butterfly McQueen) and Mildred (Joan Crawford)

Crumb-Topped Peach Pie

Pie Crust (from the Betty Groff recipe)
(makes 2 bottom crusts or 1 double-crust pie)

2 ½ cups all purpose white flour
½ stick butter
½ cup vegetable shortening
Ice water


Cut or rub between fingers the butter and shortening into flour until it resembles coarse meal. Add ice water a little at a time, tossing & folding with a rubber spatula between additions. As you continue to add, toss and fold small amounts of water, press the mixture with the spatula against the bowl until the dough can easily form a ball. Use as much ice water as you need. It is better the dough be moister than dry; dry dough will not roll out evenly. Transfer dough onto a well-floured rolling surface, gently shaping into an even ball. Cut the ball in half and reserve second half in plastic wrap for another use (you can freeze it). Roll the bottom crust large enough so that you have overhang when you fit it in pie pan. Carefully fold dough in half, then in half again to form a quartered wedge. Position wedge into pie tin, then carefully unfold to lay open the dough evenly. Gently press dough along contours of tin, then decoratively crimp top edge evenly all around.

Peach Filling (my own recipe)


8 medium fresh peaches (white or yellow)
1 ½ cups white granulated sugar
¼ cup corn starch
2 teaspoons very fresh ground ginger


In a large bowl, combine all dry ingredients until well blended. Blanch peaches in boiling water for 1 minute. Remove from water and rinse under cold water to stop cooking. Peel peaches, then slice them into even wedges about ½ inch thick, removing the stone from each. Toss peaches in dry ingredients until fully coated. Set aside while you make the crumb topping.

Crumb Topping (my own recipe)


1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup almond meal (also known as almond flour)
½ cup white or brown sugar
½ stick (4 Tablespoons) butter or margarine


In a large bowl, combine all dry ingredients. With your hands, lightly rub and toss butter through dry ingredients until a soft-crumbed mixture is formed, fully incorporating all ingredients. Handle as little as possible. It will look like very coarse meal. Set aside.


Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees F.

Blind bake (bake without the filling) the pie crust shell for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and evenly spoon in peach filling with the juices. Scatter crumb topping over peaches to fully cover.

Bake at 375 degrees F for 30-40 minutes, or until pie crust and crumb topping are browned. Remove pie from oven and allow to cool on rack in the tin. Pie will slice more easily if fully cool.

Serves 6 to 8. --

This is my entry for the Food in Film event which I am hosting. The deadline is August 22, but since I am putting the round-up together the following week, I am happy to include any latecomers before final posting.


Been There, Done That

Stone Fruit
Stuffed Baked Nectarines

Rosina (Funeral) Pie


Sandeepa said...

I was waiting for your post you know. You are as avid a food as a cine goer :)
Haven't watched the movie but now want to and with the pie in my oven

sra said...

That's such a nice narration, Susan. I still haven't decided what to do, and there seems to be so little time!

Jyothsna said...

Ah, you should be given an award for that beautiful naration - weaving a movie with a recipe!! :) The pie looks delicious!

Mevrouw Cupcake said...

Great synopsis on Mildred Pierce, made me want to go right out and rent the film! I've really started to enjoy old B&W films recently and it's nice to know which ones are worth watching.

Mishmash ! said...

I havent watched this movie but your narration was good enough.....I havent really finalised on anything in particular but hope to contribute atleast once as long as this event continue...i use the same crumb topping for my apple crumble...


sandeepa said...

Hey you got an award :)

Sarah C. said...

OMG. That pie looks amazing and it is prefect timing for your post since I was just thinking of getting peaches at this weekends farmers market! Thank you, thank you!

Meghan said...

this looks fantastic!

Sharmi said...

very lovely looking pics. The pie crumble looks so tempting. beautiful entry.

Lydia said...

Haven't watched Mildred Pierce for many years -- haven't made a peach pie ever! Your post makes me want to do both.

Nora B. said...

Terrific post and gorgeous pie! I really should get cracking for this blog event.... My creativity seems to have dried out this few weeks.

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

And peaches are perfect right now!
I can't tell you how many times I saw that movie on late night tv! Think I should get it again now! Wonderful write up on it.

Lucy said...

You know, I think Joan Crawford may just be my favourite actor. The perfect visage for black and white - love that film still. Fabulous choice of film Susan, one I'd not heard of before today.

Your own pie making skills would be more than enough to fall back on should you ever hit such times I dare say! And as for that juicy peach at the top...suffice to say that I want this pie in my oven right now too.

Cynthia said...

I am clapping and whistling here. Well, not whistling too loud as I can't whistle that well :) I so want to see that movie Susan.

The peach tart, I would love to have a slice. Great job.

Maryann said...

Your pie looks yummy!

Patricia Scarpin said...

I've read about Joan Crawford and know that she was a magnificent actress, but I have never watched a movie with her, Susan. This sounds so interesting!

Love the pie, too - you are a terrific baker.

Shaun said...

Susan, lovie - Great, concise description of the film's major plotlines. Mildred, like Leslie in The Letter, is a very complex character; one feels both supportive of and manipulated by her. This is one film where I didn't mind the Hays Code influence, for that Veda really needed to be dealt with, though I would have preferred Mildred shoot her, but then we wouldn't have a noir heroine, would we?

I love that you use so little filler in your pie, making yours substantially peachy. I, of course, love the addition of ground ginger, which I hadn't read before as an ingredient for peach pie filling. It must have been gloriously aromatic in your kitchen during the baking process!

What a great event you are hosting. I can't wait to see the round-up.

Susan said...

Hi, Sandeepa. Food and film are a natural together. Wherever would a movie theatre be without the candy and popcorn concession? : )
Thanks, Sra. I’m not so strict that the deadline must be August 22. I’ll be doing the round-up week of August 27, so if you can make it, that’ll give you a little more time before I post the round-up.
Jyothsna – You are very sweet, as sweet as the pie. Thanks so much.
Hi, Mari. There are tons of high quality, classic B/W films available on dvd now, from several different countries. Mildred Pierce is a fun flick for a hard-boiled story. Most film noir have much tougher story lines.
Shn – So now you know what happens to Mildred. : 0 Hope you can join in the event. I love crumb topping and prefer it over the traditional top crust.
I saw, Sandeepa. Thank you very much! I have been lucky to be recognized by some of my blogger peers lately, and will pull together a post and recipe as soon as I can to acknowledge everyone’s kindness and generosity, including you. : D
Thanks, Sarah. You are so right; fresh summer peaches are just starting to come into their own now. To me, the peach is the quintessential pie fruit of the season
Thanks, Meghan!
Thank you very much, Sharmi. Pie crumble is so easy; one less pie crust to roll out. You can also add some additional spices to it.
Lydia – I know you don’t bake often, but maybe your husband will take advantage of the fresh peach bounty of the season.
Thanks, Nora! Don’t pressure yourself. Sometimes if you just chill, an idea will pop up when you least expect it.
Hi, Tanna. Mildred Pierce never fails to entertain me, no matter how often I see it (film buff that I am). I’m glad you enjoyed the write-up. Thanks!
Lucy, thank you! – Crawford is classic Hollywood; she was definitely one of the silver screen’s top golden girls. I have a great book, “They Had Faces Then.” They weren’t kidding.

The top photo is of a white peach; I love its pale fragility, and generally prefer the whites for baking and eating out of hand. They have a perfume and flavor that are really supreme. And where would the Bellini be without the white peach?
Cynthia, this is a great “chick flick.” Mildred goes through the wringer, but she’s a survivor all the way. Thanks for the kudos!
Welcome, Maryann! Thanks! Good to see you.
Thanks, Patricia. Crawford could ham it up and chew the scenery sometimes, but this story really highlighted her acting skills. There are some scenes, that I couldn’t get into due to time, that are priceless.
Thanks, dear Shaun – Mildred sure was complicated and manipulative, but didn’t have the ice-blooded, steely fury of Leslie Crosbie. I never felt any sympathy for Leslie as a victim, not even when she walks out to the garden in that knock-out final scene. I felt sorry for her husband, lawyer and the wife of her dead lover. Leslie had to die and she wanted to die. Mildred couldn’t shoot Veda; she wasn’t that kind of mother, not like that dame in The Grifters.

I knew you’d love the ginger with the peaches. Cinnamon and nutmeg might have overwhelmed the fruit's delicacy.

david santos said...

Susan, excuse, but now I come always to appreciate your good ones cooked, Until always

TBC said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ayseyaman said...

Hi Susan
this is a great post!
Everything looks so delicious.
I want to see that movie. :) and than I will try this pie. After all you can see them on my Turkish cooking blog. :) I will link at you ofcourse.
Thanks for sharing.

bee said...

loved reading this.. and that is a perfect slice of pie.

Susan said...

Thanks, David. Good to see you.
Hi, Ayse! Thanks so much. I'm glad you enjoyed it.
Thanks, Bee. There are some posts that are just pure pleasure to write; this was one of them. The pie didn't hurt any, either. ; )

Suganya said...

I don't even want to see the movie anymore.. Wow! You have thang ;) going on gal!

Nanditha Prabhu said...

i could literally see the movie....you have weaved it beautifully.....your pie looks gorgeous too!

Simona said...

Very nice post, Susan: it is a pleasure to read (all your posts are).

Padma said...

Its a done deal! I am making this asap...loved your write-up on pie making thing...

rahin said...

hi susan , this is my first time here n m soo glad to have found ur blog .....its beautiful.....the peach pie , the walnut bread...cant wait to try them

Susan said...

Suganya - Thanks for the supreme compliment!
Thank you very much, Nanditha. By the way, I will be posting the Page 123 meme this week. I hope you enjoy it.
Hi, Simona. It's very gratifying that my posts give others pleasure. It makes all the work worth it. It's very dear of you to say so. Thank you.
Thanks, Padma - Glad you like it. You don't have to limit yourself to peach; any fruit will work well with this recipe if you have a different favorite.
Welcome, Rahin! Thank you for your kind words. Whatever you choose to make first will depend on your mood - sweet or savory!

Abby said...

Oh man that looks good. Peaches are my absolute favorite fruit - I think they're just perfect! I'm so behind on posts after going on vacation ... everybody has been so busy!

Susan said...

Thanks, Abby. Peaches are probably my favorite, too - 'tis the season!

bobby said...

yumm, this peach pie looks incredible! If one of these was in front of me I would eat it all :D

My Sweet & Saucy said...

I LOVE white peaches! What a great addition to a lovely looking pie!

HoneyB said...

This looks so delicious that I have to try it! In my favorites this will go!

Susan said...

Welcome, Bobby! Thank you! When you go through the trouble of home-baked crust, it is as good as the topping. Good to see you!
Me, too, Sweet and Saucy. They really are special! Thanks!
Hi, HoneyB! Welcome and thanks! Hope you do try it. I think you will be pleased. White peaches,the Saturn variety, are fairly easy to find in the supermarket.

Kevin said...

That peach pie looks so good!