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Cooking for One: A swarm of Scorpios feast on their special night

Thursday, November 21, 2002

By Marlene Parrish

Hen party tonight. We'll be some 25 to 30 gregarious women. It's a given that the room will be filled with laughter and the din of superimposed multiple conversations. We are members of diverse segments of our community who may or may not see or talk to one another other except for this one special night of the year.

Baked Apple Dumpling Pie should please both pie and dumpling fans. (Annie O'Neill, Post-Gazette)

Guests include an art historian, a fund-raiser, a psychologist, an investment adviser, a college president, many mega-volunteers, neighbors, housewives, writers, entrepreneurs, teachers.

What do we have in common? We are all Scorpios, women born between Oct. 24 and Nov. 22. This is our 14th anniversary birthday party.

Here's how it began. One summer evening, three of us were jabbering away at Ann W.'s Mt. Lebanon patio party when we discovered that we all had November birthdays. "We should celebrate together," we agreed. "And let's bring our friends who are Scorpios, too."

The first Scorpio birthday party with nine women was at my home in November 1988. After that, it was a moveable feast to other neighborhoods around the city as we picked up more women along the way. Now the celebration is centralized at Anne B.'s home in Squirrel Hill. The census varies as our lives change, but most of us try to attend, and newcomers are welcomed.

When I meet a woman whose conversation I particularly enjoy, I always ask what her natal sign is. I get some odd looks, but often I offer an invitation to the party. One year just for fun we were going to invite Hillary Clinton (born Oct. 26), but then there was that funny business with Bill, so it didn't pan out.

Wine is BYOB and dinner is potluck. All we know is that there will be Anne's poached salmon on the long table (plus an extra leaf or two) and a sweet potato pie on the dessert buffet. Everybody brings something good, and we sit down to a bountiful feast.

Traditions are few, but after dessert we gang-sing "Happy Birthday" to ourselves. It's followed by the recitation of an essay written by an astrologer, to remind us of our karmic roots. Here's the essence of what the horoscope books say about us.

"Scorpios are ruled by Mars. Their personality is extremely complex and contradictory. They are strong-willed, bold, self-confident, exciting, vigorous and outspoken. For good measure, they are also authoritative, jealous (am not!), possessive and passionate. Magnetic Scorpio has many acquaintances but tends to be exclusive in her choice of friends to whom she is intensely loyal. Thankfully, they are used to her sharp tongue and sarcastic wit. Unfortunately, Scorpio is frequently bothered by nose ailments such as allergy, sinusitis and keeping it out of other people's business.

"Scorpios are seldom afraid of something and are determined to reach their goals. They are very passionate and exciting people, but in a love relationship are rather contradictory and complicated. Generally, Scorpios prefer hiding their own emotions and hate mawkishness." Tip: If you are smart, you won't cross a Scorpio. (Just ask my husband.)

For tonight's birthday party, I will bring Baked Apple Dumpling Pie. It's an ideal potluck dish because it's knock-out pretty, easy to make and an all-American winner. A good traveler with not too much pastry and just enough apples, it would also make a fine addition to any Thanksgiving dessert table. Solo cooks will be glad to add this one to their repertoire.

If I miss you tonight, Happy Birthday, Scorpio sisters.

Baked Apple Dumpling Pie

This pie is a cross between baked apples and apple dumplings. It is baked with a top crust only, which molds itself around the apples handsomely. Golden delicious apples are recommended because they hold their shape well. To serve, just scoop out the mounds with a large serving spoon and top with cream or a vanilla sauce. Ice cream is good, too.

Pastry for a double-crust pie

  • 1/3 cup raisins
  • 1/3 cup walnut pieces, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted but- ter
  • 1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons raspberry preserves
  • 4 Golden Delicious apples
  • 1 egg yolk mixed with 1 teaspoon water
  • Sugar for sprinkling
  • Light or heavy cream, for pouring

If you haven't already, prepare the pastry and refrigerate it until firm enough to roll, about 1 hour. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Combine the raisins, walnuts, 1/4 cup brown sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl and set aside.

Select an ovenproof skillet or saute pan that measures 9 inches across the bottom and 11 to 12 inches across the top. (A cast-iron skillet works well and makes a nice presentation.) Melt butter in the skillet over medium heat, then stir in 1/4 cup brown sugar and preserves. When the mixture is bubbling evenly over the surface of the pan -- 30 seconds or so --remove pan from the heat.

Do not peel the apples; the peels will help them hold together. Halve them top to bottom, however, and core each half. (A melon baller does a good job.) Spoon some of the raisin-walnut mixture into each apple half, compacting it with a finger.

Quickly invert the stuffed apple halves and place them cut side down in the skillet. You should be able to get 6 or 7 around the outside and 1 in the center. Finely dice the remaining apple half, if left over, and scatter the pieces between the apples. Sprinkle the leftover raisin-nut mixture between the apples.

Roll out all of the pastry between two sheets of waxed paper into a 12-inch circle. After removing the top sheet of paper, invert the pastry over apples, center it and peel off other sheet of paper.

Lifting the edge of pastry, either tuck the edge straight down along the inside of pan or pinch it to crimp the edge. Poke several large vent holes in the pastry with a paring knife, twisting the knife to enlarge the holes slightly.

Lightly brush the pastry with the eggwash and sprinkle surface with sugar. Place the pie directly on the center oven rack and bake for 20 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees and bake until the top crust is golden brown, another 25 minutes.

Transfer the pie to a cooling rack and let cool for at least 30 minutes or to room temperature before serving. Makes 7 servings.

"Apple Pie Perfect: 100 Delici-ous and Decidedly Different Re-cipes for America's Favorite Pie"

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