In the beginning was the word.
Except first, everyone had cherry pie.
That's been the playbook at Western New York homes this month, at events centered on fine food and Scrabble. It's all to raise money for Literacy Volunteers of Buffalo and Erie County, a group that finds one-on-one tutors for people who want to learn how to read. In a city where about three in 10 people can't read, neighbors are trying to help with their own hands.
This year's fundraiser is called Scrabblefest 2009, and it works like this: You volunteer your home, and throw a party of your own design. Feed the guests, then sit them down for a Scrabble brawl. The winner at each party gets an invitation to the finals March 7.
"This is our fourth year, but it's our best ever," said Tracy Diina, executive director of Literacy Volunteers.
Liz Kolken's party, on Presidents Day, will have a patriotic theme, right down to the cherry pie for dessert.
"Everyone has to wear something patriotic -- maybe come as Betsy Ross or Michelle Obama," Kolken said.
Since Kolken owns Allen Street's Quaker Bonnet Eatery, she had a pretty good idea where she could find the right dessert. The pie will be preceded by roast turkey and stuffing, salad and mashed potatoes.
Scrabblefest fundraising parties are still being organized -- anyone can call the group at 876-8991 for more information. Several Scrabblefest veterans took pains to point out that Scrabble mastery isn't necessary to have a great time.
"A very amateur Scrabble player, I am willing to endure humiliating defeat to better players to raise money and spread the word," said Janell Andersen, a banker. "Last year, I came in last and won Junior Scrabble."
This year, for her Feb. 22 party, Andersen knows that no matter what letter tiles fate may deal her, her salami-and-cheese stromboli will be a winner.
Instead of being obsessed with winning, she would rather "focus on the cause and join in raising money so others can experience the joy of literacy," Andersen said.
Enjoy a few recipes contributed by Scrabblefest party organizers.
For Liz Kolken's Cherry Pie, the recipe makes enough dough for a two-crust pie about 9 inches across. To fill it, you could use apples or pears, Kolken notes. You could also buy three pounds of frozen blueberries, strawberries or raspberries, and let them thaw in a sieve over a bowl. Simmer the juice in a pot on the stove, adding about 1 teaspoon of cornstarch per cup of liquid. After it thickens, let cool and fold in the fruit, and fill your pie with it.
>Liz Kolken's Cherry Pie
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup lard
1/4 cup water
1 large can cherry pie filling
1 large can sour cherries, drained
Mix flour and salt in a bowl. Cut in lard with pastry blender until small, pea-size particles are obtained. Sprinkle with water a little at a time. Mix with fork until flour is moist. Let rest refrigerated until it chills down. Press into a ball and turn out onto a floured board. If making a two-crust pie, divide in half.
Roll out with rolling pin. Work quickly and do not handle the crust a lot as it toughens it. Try not to use too much extra flour because it makes the crust tough. Roll out to desired size (usually about 1 inch bigger around than the tin).
Fold pastry in half and move up to pan. Unfold and put pastry into pan. Try not to stretch the pastry because this causes shrinking in baking. Add filling and roll out top dough, folding it in half again to move it. Crimp edges.
Sprinkle the top crust with a little sugar or brush with an egg wash to evenly brown, being sure to vent the top crust with either slits or a hole in the center to release the steam.
Bake pie for 1 hour in preheated 375 degree oven on a cookie sheet.
Judi Lopez del Moral's Barbecued Pork for a Picnic in February
1 1/2 cups kosher salt
1 1/2 cups maple syrup
1 teaspoon Allspice
5 cups water
16 ounces tomato paste
16 ounces water (to dilute paste)
6 tablespoons dark brown sugar
4 tablespoons molasses
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
6 tablespoons dark amber maple syrup
1/4 cup cider vinegar
2 tablespoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon dry mustard
3 teaspoons Asian chili oil
10 ounces prepared barbecue sauce (Sweet Baby Ray's Honey Barbecue Sauce)
5 pounds shredded cooked pork shoulder
1 large Spanish onion, sliced
1 large Spanish onion chopped
3 or 4 cloves of garlic
Boil a cup of water with the kosher salt and maple syrup to dissolve. Cool and add the spices to a gallon of cold water. Insert the pork shoulder into a large container and add the brine mixture. Keep in a cold place overnight.
Remove the pork from the brine and insert 3 or 4 cloves of garlic into the folds of the meat. Slice the onion in thick pieces and place in a roasting pan with the meat. Add about a cup of water and cover. Slow cook at 325 degrees for about 4 hours, or until meat is tender enough to shred.
While the pork is roasting, combine the barbecue sauce ingredients and simmer for at least 20 minutes. Saute a large onion in canola oil until caramelized.
Shred the cooked pork using two forks to pull it apart. Combine the sauteed onion and meat. In a large pot or Dutch oven, put the pork into the barbecue sauce and heat. Serve on rolls of your choosing and enjoy.
I served cold potato salad, broccoli slaw and baked beans with this dish -- just like you'd have at a summer picnic.
>Janell Andersen's Stromboli
1 pound loaf of frozen bread dough
1/2 pound thinly sliced hard salami
8 ounce package Sargento Shredded 6 Cheese Italian Cheese (or 1/4 -pound provolone and 1/4 -pound mozzarella)
1 jar pepper salad, drained (8 to 10 ounces)
1 egg white
Defrost the bread loaf and roll out dough to 11 by 14 inches. Layer the salami, cheese and pepper salad, leaving a 1/4 to 1/2 inch of dough on the ends and sides visible. Roll up the dough like a jelly roll and seal the ends. Coat the top with egg white and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake on a greased cookie sheet at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until brown.
Note: Use peppers you prefer -- hot and spicy, sweet red or green, or a mix of both.