Grandma's Secret is Science

Who here wishes they cooked as well as their Grandma? 

If this were real life, I imagine there would be a lot of raised hands right now. And that's because, for the most part, grandmothers have the benefit of many years of cooking experience. Experience that brings with it not only the chance to improve knife skills or work with unfamiliar ingredients, but also experience with the scientific method, even if your Grandma or mine wouldn't call herself a scientist. 

Don't believe me? Check out this chart illustrating the scientific method: 

Now, imagine the peach pie I made last week. Beautifully ripe, spiced peaches were folded with a maple-bourbon caramel, packed into a buttery crust and topped with a ginger-laced streusel. What could go wrong?

As it turns out, plenty. Although everyone liked the pie, I found the crust a bit soggy, the filling overly sweet, and the streusel not quite as spicy as I was hoping for. These are my observations.

If I were to make this pie again, I would stop first to ask myself what I could do to get a crisper crust, a more balanced filling and a spicier streusel. Specifically, I might hypothesize:

  1. Baking the pie at the higher starting temperature (in this recipe, 425) for 20 minutes, rather than 15, may help the crust to cook more quickly. Alternately, cooking the pie for closer to 40, rather than 30 minutes, at the 350 degree second stage could also help. 
  2. To balance the filling, I think two things could help. If I have very ripe peaches again, I would cut the caramel and instead toss the peaches with not only the spices and flour, but also some maple sugar and bourbon. I would expect that to preserve the flavors without over-sweetening the filling. Alternately, if I have less than ripe peaches, I think the increased tartness from those would balance the sweetness of the caramel. 
  3. To improve the streusel, I might cut back a bit on the granulated sugar and up the amount of candied ginger. Or, I might add some powdered ginger, and keep the amount of candied ginger the same. 

Next, comes the second-best part. Gathering data--or in this case, making pie! It will take a few pies to test each of these hypotheses, but there's no rush. It takes a long time to get to be a grandma.

The best part, of course, comes when you evaluate (TASTE) the data (PIE!) and draw conclusions. Is the crust crispier? The filling more peach-forward? The streusel pleasantly gingery? If so, great! If not, it's time to develop a new hypothesis and start over again!

You don't need a fancy journal to do this, but it does help to keep track of the original recipe and what changes you made. My grandma's recipe box is full of marked up recipe cards because even though she may not know it, she is a great scientist. After all...