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What’s better than pie and ice cream on a hot summer night? Maybe a second helping.

With farmers markets, produce stands and supermarkets brimming with seasonal berries, the time is right for pie.

Don’t throw up your hands in defeat if you’ve not mastered the art of pastry. “Pie is not about perfection,” maintains Beth M. Howard, author of the new cookbook, “Ms. American Pie” (Race Point Publishing, $28). “Pie is an expression of your individuality. Pie is about improvising.

“Pie is not complicated. The pilgrims made pie. The pioneers made pie. Did the pilgrims and pioneers fuss the way chefs are suggesting we should? Did they fret and agonize and berate themselves about their pies not being perfect? Did they refrigerate their bowls and utensils. No! They didn’t have refrigerators, let alone electricity. They were living out of covered wagons and cabins with no power. They were baking pies over open fires.”

The former Malibu Kitchen pie maker points out in her book that “our grandmothers and great-grandmothers made pie. Did they come up with elaborate concoctions using umpteen exotic ingredients, instructions for adding extra steps to the baking process, and the need to dirty five pans? No! When my Grandma Ida made her peach pies, she didn’t add ginger, amaretto, caramel sauce, grated orange peel and God-knows-what-else. She just used peaches. Fresh, ripe ones. Period.

“... Pie has been around for at least 4,000 years. It has a proven track record, staying power. Why do we need to reinvent it? Worse, complicate it? Life is already complicated enough. When it comes to pie, my motto is “the simpler, the better.” Less is more. Don’t let today’s fussy recipes intimidate you. Stick to the basics. Skip steps if you want. Make your own rules. It’s your pie. Make it however you like. And if you like it complicated, well, that’s your choice.”

Howard knows pies, but she’s not your typical pie maker. Since taking up the rolling pin she’s made pies at California’s Malibu Kitchen for celebrities like Barbra Streisand (lemon meringue), Dick Van Dyke (strawberry rhubarb) and Steven Spielberg (coconut cream). She loaded 240 pies into an RV and drove them from her home in Iowa to Newtown, Conn., in December 2012, knowing full well the healing power of pie. She currently calls the famous American Gothic house in Eldon, Iowa, home and runs the popular Pitchfork Pie Stand out of its parlor every summer.

The veteran journalist’s latest effort is far from your typical cookbook. With full color photos throughout, “Ms. American Pie” features 80 of Howard’s coveted pie recipes along with some of her own true tales of taking her pies from coast to gleaming coast and the lessons she learned along the way. Readers will find recipes in chapters with titles such as “Pies to Question Authority,” “Pies to Heal,” “Pies to Seduce,” “Pies to Keep an Open Mind” and “Pies to Compete in the Iowa State Fair.”

She even busts pie myths — turns out you don’t need to refrigerate your crust before rolling it, and using your hands to mix the dough will not make it tough.

As if one new book on pie isn’t enough, there’s another new effort, “Pies and Tarts” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $29.99) from Kristina Peterson Migoya and the Culinary Insitute of America. The publisher points out the new book “takes the fear out of from-scratch pie baking by offering clear, thorough advice and best-of-the-best recipes from the world’s premier culinary college.”

More than just a collection of recipes, “Pies and Tarts” offers a full set of baking best practices. In-depth chapters on techniques, tools and ingredients provide a foundation for beginning bakers as well as resource for more advanced bakers looking to build their skills.

Migoya, a baking and pastry instructor at the Culinary Institute of American and owner of Hudson Chocolates in upstate New York, also explains what makes crusts flaky or crumbly, how to choose the best ingredients for any recipe, and how the right kitchen tools make baking easier.

More than 120 recipes in “Pies and Tarts” run the gamut from traditional to adventurous, including:

  • Seasonal pies that take full advantage of fresh produce, from a strawberry rhubarb tart to a market fruit galette packed with summer’s gorgeouis stone fruits.
  • Blissfully no-bake summer desserts such as a strawberry creme fraiche tart and a craveable candy bar pie.
  • Regional specialties that celebrate this country’s diverse culinary traditions, including shoo-fly pie, chess pie and sweet potato pie.
  • Savory potpies, empanadas and quiches for all seasons, from a tomato, mozzarella and basil galette that showcases summer’s heirloom tomatoes to a hearty vegetarian potpie that’s perfect for fall.

Ice cream month

July is National Ice Cream Month.

In her aforementioned new book, Howard declares: “There is no pie that cannot be remedied by a scoop of ice cream.”

Just in time to celebrate, ice cream aficionado Lindsay Clendaniel has just published “Scoop Adventures: The Best Ice Cream of the 50 States” (Page Street Publishing, $19.99). She’s an ice cream maker who blogs about her adventures at

“In 2009, when I started writing my blog I was enjoying the discovery of the creation of ice cream so much that I wanted to share my recipes with the world,” she write in the book. “I wanted to find other people with a passion for ice cream as strong, and perhaps as crazy, as mine. Scoop Adventures became a place for me to catalog recipes while sharing my love for food and flavor. Eventually, the ice cream lovers out there found me.”

As the weather warms up, nothing says summer like a scoop of fresh ice cream. Some of the best can be found in ice cream parlors in cities and towns all across the nation, often using fresh local flavors and seasonal ingredients, Clendaniel advises.

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In her new book, Clendaniel shares the amazing recipes she picked up during her cross-country travels sampling ice cream from specialty shops and restaurants for her blog.

The 80 adapted recipes she discovered were home-tested and designed to be easily made with a home ice cream maker. Some of those recipes include:

Steen’s Molasses Oatmeal Cookie from Creole Creamery in New Orleans;

Abuela Maria Ice Cream from Azucar Ice Cream in Miami;

Dark Chocolate Zin Ice Cream from Izzy’s Ice Cream in Minneapolis;

Lavender Caramel Swirl Ice Cream from Loblolly Creamery in Little Rock;

Banana Pudding Ice Cream from Sam and Greg’s in Huntsville, Ala.;

Sweet Basil Ice Cream from The Bent Spoon in Princeton, N.J.;

Goat Cheese Ice Cream with Roasted Cherries from Mystic Drawbridge Ice Cream in Mystic, Conn.;

Blueberry Kale Ice Cream from the Hop Ice Cream Cafe in Ashville, N.C.

Have fun baking and churning all month long — or longer.