Nothing in the House
Today we are talking about pies. Emily’s Nothing in the House is a pie blog and a finalist in The Kitchn’s 2014 Best Baking and Sweets Blog Homies Awards. Emily’s writing and media work has been featured on NPR, PBS Food, and American Food Roots, just to mention a few. And her interests in food folklore, history, and music is a recipe that makes her blog awesome.
I am so excited to have Emily Hilliard of Nothing in the House here on the show today.
On the Idea Behind Her Blog:
This was actually about ten years ago now; I’m sort of aging myself. But it was the summer after I graduated college and my friends and I, a lot of women friends, were finding these berry trees and bushes all over Ann Harbor where we went to school. We started getting into pie making and I never really made a pie before. My mother was always sort of the pie maker in the family.
It sort of became this social pursuit. We would get together and bake pies and have friends over and eat on the porch. And then that summer, I got a job in Vermont. When I moved my friend Margaret, who was sort of a partner in crime, she suggested that we start this blog so we could stay in touch through the pies that we were making. So I really just started not necessarily for the public, and just as a thing between friends, and as I made more friends in Vermont, they started contributing.
It’s sort of evolved from there and at this point I’ve been the sole writer for a few years now but I still like to pull in other contributors and friends and bakers. But that’s really how it got going. I never really set out to have a blog necessarily, a food blog. But it’s kind of grown with me as I’ve developed different interests.
On Naming Her Blog “Nothing in the House”:
When we started the blog, I was developing an interest in folklore, which I later went on to study in grad school. But I was reading a book. I think it was called The Study of American Folklore. And in it, it was talking about Depression Era pies. So pies that were made with little ingredients or whatever was around. And those are things like mock apple pies, which are made with crackers. Or green tomato pies or chess pies, which often use vinegar, which was kind of a replacement for lemon. And another name for that other than desperation pies is “nothing in the house” pies. So Margaret and I thought that was a cool name. So it became Nothing in the House.
On Her Inspirations:
Well, there’s a lot. I guess in the food world and folklore world, I would definitely say my professor and thesis advisor, Marcie Cohen Ferris. She’s written a great book recently called The Edible South, about the history of southern food. Ronni Lundy, who’s another food writer. She has a book coming out, Sorghum’s Savor. Molly O’Neill, a great food writer who used to write for the Times.
Then in writing, I don’t know. I can list so many names right now, but I think I really look to women creatives who have been working in the fields that I’m interested in for a long time and really put the time in. I really feel like I am looking to my elders. Not that they’re old but these women who have put in a lot of work and done some really profound things.
I’ve brought pies to classes with Marcie and I was working for Molly a few summers ago and made some pies up there. Sometimes it’s a little intimidating. But it’s also sort of… I see baking as a type of gift or sharing.
I remember making a North Carolina peanut pie for Marcie. This was for a graduate seminar class and I think I also made some sort of nothing in the house pie, I think it was a vinegar pie, for a big lecture I was in of hers. At Molly’s, I think I made a peach pie because it was summertime in upstate New York.
Tips on Making a Pie Crust from Scratch:
For the crust, one of the key things is to keep everything cold. I don’t really keep my dry ingredients, like flour and salt, cold but definitely you want to keep your butter or whatever fat you’re using; maybe you’re being adventurous and using lard. But you definitely want to keep that cold because those butter chunks won’t disintegrate and will add to the flakiness.
Also, another thing I would say is it’s really hard to roll out a pie crust when it’s hot out. So maybe make sure if you’re trying a pie crust for the first time, don’t do it in the heat of summer if you don’t have air conditioning because it can stick to the surface.
Another thing I would say is sometimes you will think that you need to knead the crust but really you want to work it as little as possible because it’s that thing with the butter. You don’t want to melt the butter because then it will be tough and you won’t have the flakiness that you really want in a good crust.
On How to Make Cooking More Fun:
Lately I’ve been getting a CSA or a farm share and that’s really nice because I’m not necessarily someone who can just go to the store and have an idea. But when I have a set framework of like, “Alright, I have onions and broccoli and potatoes and I have to do something with that.” So I think that adds sort of a limiting factor so you don’t have to start from scratch.
Another thing I like is I really like cooking with other people, and that’s always been present in my life with family. I’ve taught at this program where communal cooking is a big part of it and just having friends over and cooking together. And I also like having music or the radio on while I cook.
On Her Book “PIE. A Hand Drawn Almanac”:
Elizabeth is a local illustrator in DC and I’ve admired her work. And I noticed that she had some food drawings and one of them was a tart illustration. And so I contacted her a few years ago and asked her if I could post about it on my blog. We started emailing and had the idea of collaborating.
So we got together a few times and had a few ideas and the book kind of stuck. I basically had all these seasonal recipes all ready so I drew from the blog; I gave her the text and she went to town and just pulled out images and things from the text.
We self-published it and printed it and it was great. We got some great press for it and we’re thinking about either reprinting or doing maybe a savory version. We worked together a lot and we have some other ideas we might follow up on. Maybe pie related or maybe not. This holiday season we made some pie tea towels together.
The Pressure Cooker:
Which food shows or cooking shows do you watch?
I have been interested in A Chef’s Life and I’ve heard some great things.
What are some food blogs or websites that we have to know about?
Well, definitely American Food Roots. That was started by a group of four women who are all established journalists and it’s great. It explores food traditions all over the country.
Another one would be the Southern Foodways Alliance. They explore traditional food ways all across the south.
Biscuits and Such is a great southern food blog.
There’s so many to name. Witchin’ in the Kitchen, Jess Schreibstein’s blog. That’s food and sort of delves into herbalism and such, too. I could go on and on.
Who do you follow on Pinterest, Instagram or Twitter that make you happy?
And also Tara Jensen. I think her handle on Instagram is Bakerhands. She’s a bread baker and pie baker, wood fired. She lives in Marshall, North Carolina. She’s also a great photographer and artist. She brings a lot of art into her baked goods with her stencils and decorated crusts.
What is something all home cooks should have in their pantry?
Well, I think one thing I use a lot is my Tupperware rolling mat. Not that it has to be Tupperware but it’s one of those old, vintage Tupperware mats that is just so helpful for biscuits, pie crust, anything you’re rolling out to keep things from sticking to the counter.
You don’t have to wash down the counter all the time. And I’ll even travel with mine.
Name one ingredient you cannot live without?
Salt is maybe too easy. Maybe I’ll say butter.
What are a few cookbooks that make your life better?
Well, one that just came out by a great pie maker on the west coast is Kate Lebo’s Pie School. She’s a really brilliant writer and pie baker and so it really comes together in the book.
I would also say Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz. It’s not really in the pie realm but all fermented foods, pickles and vinegars and everything. That’s been a big inspiration.
The River Cottage Preserves book is really great for jams and pickles. It has some traditional recipes like beech leaf tincture. Sort of these older recipes.
What song or album just makes you want to cook?
Wow. There’s so many to choose from. Well, I’m just going to go with the thing I can see on my record shelf right now. The Silly Sisters album with June Tabor and Maddie Prior. It’s a bunch of old English songs, but it’s just a favorite and I often have it on while making food.
Keep Posted on Emily:
Definitely follow the blog, nothinginthehouse.com. And yeah, I’m pretty much on Facebook. Instagram as TheHousePie and Twitter, Housepie. So whatever is your fancy for social media I suppose you can find me there.