Slab City

I don't know why but lately, for no good reason, I have been waking up way earlier than I ever have before. It's very discombobulating to have my day, routine and schedule change so radically. All because of three little hours. It makes the concept of when a day starts and ends get all blurred. Naps start to feel necessary. Bed time becomes earlier. The light is all different. Cooler.

I have always been envious of 'morning people' – someone who wakes up with the sun, makes a pot of steamy hot tea served up in a precious ceramic mug, bakes some fresh scones or biscuits with DIY jam (gross), homemade butter or honey from the bees in the backyard, sits in the misty garden with the hummingbirds and butterflies and all the while poring over the New York Times, The New Yorker or The Oxford American. All before eight o'clock. But I have officially never done anything even remotely close to that in my life. Rather, I wake up closer to eight, get out of bed closer to nine, make coffee, not tea (but I do have a number of precious ceramic mugs), and after feeding the dogs, sit down at my computer, in whatever room I deem my office on that particular day, and get to one form of work or another. And I will neither cook nor eat for hours. I do try to get out to the garden at some point each morning to see if there are any new tomatoes to pluck from the vine. That makes me extremely happy.

But last weekend, when I randomly popped up at six-thirty ayem, I came closer than ever to realizing that romantic vision mentioned above. I got right out of bed, fed the dogs, made a fresh pot of strong coffee, which I poured into a precious ceramic mug, and started playing with my mom's pie crust recipe. You may recall, I made that tart. I've actually had that pastry dough recipe for years, but have always both feared and revered it. As a result, I have never attempted it without my mom's 'help' (and by 'help', I mean that I stand there, feigning interest, while she makes it herself (and by the way, my mom is totally that morning person I described above)).

Well, I think because work kept me completely strapped to my house this past weekend, and I was feeling all puffed up like a peacock after my tart triumph, I decided to keep on baking. And so, after the tart morning, for the next three mornings in a row I continued with the baking, and inching closer to my dream of being that fetching, productive morning person.

In hindsight, maybe it was a little bit of a weird thing to do over July fourth weekend. When it was so hot. In the middle of Summer. To have the oven on so very much. My dad has always told me that timing is not my strong point.

I think it was on Instagram where I recently saw an arrestingly beautiful, almost graphic image of a pie. It was called a 'slab pie'. And, not because I wanted to eat the pie, but because I wanted to make something that was that beautiful, I knew what I was going to do. So, again, I woke up bright and early, fed the dogs, made coffee and poked around the kitchen to see what I had in the way of the pie department. Pie because, of course, I had 'mastered' the dough. I had blueberries and I had white peaches. I had sugar, cornstarch, lemon, cinnamon. I had it all. So I started with blueberry. A blueberry slab pie.

I have to admit, I was pretty proud of that first pie. It was so beautiful and smelled so good. And it was out of the oven before nine ayem. But, since I don't really eat cooked fruit, as soon as it cooled, I wrapped it up and took it over to Doug and Kendra. But not before I took pictures. I did save one piece for Fred, of course.

The next morning, I fed the dogs, brewed a pot of coffee and decided on a peach slab pie. But this batch of dough came out slightly different. And so the pie came out very different. It smelled the same, and I hear it tasted just as good, but it was not as pretty. Or, I should say, not as perfect. It was like Eric Stoltz's character in Mask, Rocky Dennis: beautiful, golden and perfect on the inside, but dealt a raw deal in the looks department. The peach pie just needed a chance to show what is was made of.

Early on the third morning, after my new routine, I went back to blueberries, and worked extra hard on the aesthetics. I even made a little pastry heart to go on top. I think this one was the prettiest, but the dough was never quite as perfect as pie number one. Consensus was that all three were equally as yummy; they just had varying degrees of pretty. For this, I felt really good.

After all of this talk about slab pie, Fred made a joke about how we were in Slab Pie City. It got me thinking. I've heard about Slab City before, and seen pictures of it. It's a no man's land in southeastern California, near the Salton Sea. It has been referred to as 'The Last Free Place on Earth'. It is decommissioned and uncontrolled. There is no running water, electricity, or sewers. It has become a home for several thousand campers, or 'Slabbers', some retired, some impoverished, and almost all want to be off the grid. Similar to the initial photo I came across of the slab pie, images of Slab City are bright, colorful, stark, graphic and arresting. And also, like Slab City, slab pie has no rules: no pie tin, no set shape or size, no set fillings. It is sort of off the grid.

I imagine the residents of Slab City awaken with the sun. And though, I would guess theirs is a morning ritual that does not exactly mirror the one I painted above, I like to think it's equally ethereal and just as romantic.

As for me, I'm still waking up unusually early. But I'm no longer confused. I know just what to do with my morning and the day that unfolds beyond it.

Slab Pie
(recipe adapted from Spoon Fork Bacon)

Makes: It varies, but I cut mine into 2 9” X 5” pies

2 cups blueberries,
or peaches (chopped), or cherries (pitted), or whatever fruit you'd like
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon cornstarch

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

pinch salt

1 lemon, zested and juiced
1 egg, lightly beaten

1 teaspoon white sanding sugar

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Lightly flour a clean surface and roll dough out into 2 14”x 6” rectangles, about 1/8-1/4 inch thick.

Transfer dough onto a parchment lined baking sheet.

For filling: Place all ingredients into a large mixing bowl and toss together.

To assemble: Fill one side of dough with filling, leaving a 1/2 inch border around the edge. Lightly egg wash perimeter and fold the unfilled side over. Firmly press edges together with a fork and score the top of the pie to allow steam to escape while baking. Brush top with egg wash and sprinkle with sanding sugar.

Bake for 40-45 minutes or until golden brown. Allow pie to cool for 20-30 minutes before cutting and serving.

Printable recipe.

One year ago: Heirloom Tomato & Fresh Basil Fritatta

Two years ago: Yerp: Part 5. Barthelona! (Part 1).
Three years ago: Grilled Salmon with Market Relish over Jasmine Rice
Four years ago: Pimiento Cheese


  1. Elliot and Fred - that is a most beautiful picture - it makes me want to go into the kitchen and make a slab pie right now so your mission is accomplished. And as for getting up early - It happens but if you can be productive, then all the better! Saw this on Yum Goggle.

  2. Wow! It looks gorgeously tasty! Will try to cook it when i have time, until this I will use more simple recipes for busy people: Recipes & Ideas for On-Campus Cooking.

  3. grrrrrrr im so hungry, i will try to cook it right now ! ; *