when life gets in the way, and a recipe: apple and pear pie

My week was wrapping up so nicely. My two-week stretch of being on call was coming to a rapid end. I was planning a celebratory dinner at my home for my team of hardworking students, residents, and fellows. I was the subject of a lovely interview on the kitchen generation, a beautiful blog written by a group of five ΓΌber-talented young bloggers. It was announced that my recipes, along with those of several bloggers whose work I admire, were to be included on Gojee, a recipe sourcing site for the photographically-inclined. And finally, I held in my hands the print copy of my homage to Southern food, published in the Florida Times-Union newspaper.

It was turning out to be a pretty great week.

And then I got a text from my mom on Thursday morning, shortly after starting my hospital rounds.

“I’m calling 911 now,” read her text.

My dad had fallen backwards in his recliner the day before and bumped his head on the hard tile floor in my parents’ living room. The bump on the head might have been no big deal, but he was on Coumadin, a blood thinner. Shortly after the fall, he developed a severe headache, one that wouldn’t go away despite the multiple Tylenol tablets he took for it. The nausea and vomiting started soon after. He became confused. Then he wound up in an ambulance, and next, the emergency room at my hospital. A CT scan of his brain and blood work followed. The diagnosis was a subdural hematoma, bleeding on the brain. And this diagnosis bought him a stay in the neurosurgical intensive care unit.

Things are looking up, though. He was transferred to a regular floor room on Sunday. The word from the physical therapist is that he’ll go to a rehabilitation center after his discharge from the hospital, something that my mom and I think he desperately needs. My children visited him yesterday, and though they hesitated slightly when they saw the various tubes and electrical leads adorning his weakened body, they gave him big bear hugs around the neck.

apple and pear pie | the merry gourmet

And I made a pie.

I’ve been waking up with pie on my mind, and I really, really needed to bake something. I made an all-butter pie crust dough last weekend, maybe because I knew I’d have Sunday morning to put it to good use. As I rolled the buttery dough into a flat circle, I thought about my dad and how his life – and my mom’s life – might be different after this past week. I was getting angry and frustrated, and I think the pie dough felt it. It fought my efforts, tearing around the edges, not behaving as I wanted it to. I gathered the torn pieces, balled them up, and decided to roll the pastry dough out again rather than start over.

As someone special told me yesterday on Facebook, “Relax. That’s why it’s not working. Pie crust senses your fear.”

I cleared my mind, relaxed, and rolled it out again, slowly and methodically. It worked beautifully.

apple and pear pie | the merry gourmet

Sand pears? Pineapple pears? I just call them backyard pears.

The filling was a combination of some Gala apples we had in the refrigerator and some of the green and brown speckled pears you see above. A friend of my husband gave us a huge bag of these pears. I thought a pie would be a wonderful way to honor that lovely fruit.

We’re starting our week with this apple and pear pie. I’m starting the week with a more clear mind. I think I’m ready for what these next days have in store.

I can do this.

apple and pear pie | the merry gourmet

Yield: 8 servings.

Cook Time: 1 hour

Apple and Pear Pie

I used pears common to the north Florida region. I think of them as backyard pears, since I grew up with this type of pear tree in our backyard. You can use Bartlett or Bosc or any other type available in your local market.


1 pound apples (such as Gala, Pink Lady, or Granny Smith), peeled, cored, and chopped into 1/4-inch pieces
1 pound pears, peeled, cored, and chopped into 1/4-inch pieces
3/4 cup light brown sugar
2 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
Double 9-inch pie crust, ready-made or made from scratch


    1. Adjust an oven rack to lowest position and place a rimmed baking sheet on the rack. Preheat oven to 500 degrees.

    2. In a large bowl, gently toss the apples and pears with the sugar, tapioca, lemon juice and zest, spices, and salt. Set aside for 15-30 minutes.

    3. Roll out the bottom crust of the pie dough into a 12-inch circle and carefully fit into the bottom of a 9-inch pie plate. Spread the apples and pears in the bottom of the unbaked pie crust in the pie plate. Roll the top crust into a 12-inch circle and place carefully over the pie plate, centered over the filling. Seal and crimp the edges of the pie crust and cut four vents into the top of the crust.

    4. Place the pie on the heated baking sheet and lower the oven temperature to 425 degrees. Bake for 25 minutes, then decrease oven temperature to 375 degrees. Continue to bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until crust is golden brown and juices of the fruit are bubbling. Transfer to a wire rack and cool to room temperature.

The baking method - starting the pie at 500 degrees, and reducing the temperature through the baking process - comes from the Classic Apple Pie recipe in The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook.

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16 Responses to “chasing ice cubes, and a recipe for swiss steak”

  1. Olga — October 2, 2012 @ 8:34 pm

    Mj that sounds so comforting. Maggie is so funny. Forrest just loves when we’re in the kitchen hoping for something tasty. Not sure what my ice is … I have so many. But one of them is my grandmother’s plov, an Uzbek rice and lamb dish.

  2. jenn s — October 2, 2012 @ 9:05 pm

    I’m so excited about trying this recipe!! Takes me back to dinners and suppers around my Mimi and Aunt Jewel’s table on Sunday afternoons when we visited them for church.

  3. Gail — October 2, 2012 @ 9:51 pm

    When you tweeted that you were writing a post on Swiss Steak, my heart skipped a little beat. But, I stopped myself from being too excited, just in case, it wasn’t Swiss Steak as I know it.

    My hands-down favorite meal growing up was Swiss Steak (we had it without green pepper and DEFINITELY no wine). I can picture the recipe, torn from the box of either Minute Rice or Uncle Ben’s, taped to a page in my mother’s recipe notebook. I could eat mountains of it, and so could my dad. He and I would be so excited when that familiar aroma of onions simmering in tomato sauce filled our small house. My brother, not so much, but I didn’t care. I was Daddy’s girl and our mutual love for this dinner brought us even closer together.

    But then I grew up, left home and was experimenting in my own kitchen. Swiss Steak was abandoned.

    It wasn’t until my father was sick, very sick, that I ate Swiss Steak with him again. I didn’t have the recipe book any more. It didn’t matter because I knew the recipe inside and out, having watched my mother make it for many years.
    My father, as weak as he was, still managed to eat a good plateful of Swiss Steak served over a mound of rice. I was happy to cook for him and desperate to nourish him. I watched his face as he closed his eyes while he slowly chewed each mouthful. I knew he was remembering all the nights we ate that meal made by my mother all those years ago.

    Swiss Steak was the last home cooked meal that he ate, and I’m so grateful that I was there to share it with him.

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — October 3rd, 2012 @ 6:51 am

      Oh, Gail. What a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing those memories with me, with us. xo

  4. Belinda Markham Wood — October 2, 2012 @ 10:45 pm

    This is THE recipe that most reminds me of Grandma! Gotta have the green peppers though! :-).

  5. Kathryn — October 3, 2012 @ 4:14 am

    I have to admit to never having heard of Swiss Steak but I love the way that you describe it and your urge to make it for your husband. A lovely post, as ever.

  6. DessertForTwo — October 3, 2012 @ 7:57 am

    This looks so comfy and delicious. Hot buttered rice is the key to my happy place πŸ™‚

  7. Jennifer Hess — October 3, 2012 @ 10:02 am

    Ice cube! I love it πŸ™‚

    I never had swiss steak until my former mother-in-law served it. Her sauce had sauteed mushrooms in it as well, and she served it over mashed potatoes instead of rice, but I’m loving your version, and will have to make it soon. Thanks so much for sharing with us.

  8. Chris — October 3, 2012 @ 11:53 am

    Our cat loves chasing balls of aluminum foil around the wood floor.

    Haven’t had swiss steak in over 12 years, it was my older kids’ favorite. Yours sounds about the same as ours, except I always put in more green pepper just because that’s my ice cube:)

  9. Kiran @ KiranTarun.com — October 3, 2012 @ 1:53 pm

    The story about your cat and ice is soooo cute πŸ˜‰

  10. Isabelle @ Crumb — October 3, 2012 @ 8:37 pm

    Funny how all cats develop at least one weird obsession, isn’t it? One of ours comes running whenever she hears the can opener… not because of cat food, but because she has an unnatural love of canned chickpeas and canned corn.
    My ice cube is fresh bread, right out of the oven, with a pat of melting butter. I know all is well with the world when there’s fresh, warm, crusty bread in my life.

  11. Paula — October 4, 2012 @ 6:24 pm

    Girl, when you write a post you write a post! What a charming story about your cat and your husband’s memories of this dish that you so lovingly created for him.

  12. Laura — October 5, 2012 @ 1:24 pm

    I am fairly certain my only experience with Swiss Steak has come from a TV dinner…. or perhaps that was Salisbury Steak. I’m excited to try your recipe πŸ™‚

    And my parents’ dog has the same ice obsession… Only she chews it, leaving little shards of ice to melt into puddles. Inevitably someone, wearing socks, gets quite the surprise (and wet socks) when then walk into one of the puddles πŸ™‚

  13. Di — October 5, 2012 @ 1:36 pm

    Once again The Merry Gourmet” stirs” all of our senses. Your words create picture- perfect images accompanied by movement, sounds and smells that make it so easy to imagine your story for ourselves.

  14. Kelly Senyei (Just a Taste) — October 15, 2012 @ 4:39 pm

    This reminds me of the Hungarian beef goulash my mom always made when we were growing up. It looks so rich and satisfying – perfect for the cold weather ahead!

  15. Macaroni Mama — February 20, 2013 @ 6:21 pm


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