Father John Russin is well aware that man does not live on bread alone.
|Priest John Russin is seen with his peanut butter pie. (Photo: Enoch Wu/Sentinel-Tribune)
If it's not too irreverent a deliberate misquotation, we might assume he agrees that pie must be included in the mix.
The pastry in question is a delectably creamy peanut butter pie that is the product of much enthusiastic experimentation on the part of the Bowling Green clergyman turned home health care provider.
"My wife complains that as soon as I perfect something, I never make it again," Russin said, admitting that it's the culinary challenge he really enjoys.
Russin lives right across the street from Dr. Nathan Crook, the cultural anthropologist and assistant professor at Bowling Green State University who just authored the book "A Culinary History of the Great Black Swamp: Buckeye Candy, Bratwurst and Apple Butter."
The book includes a treasure trove of recipes from this region, including two of Crook's own favorites, pierogies and sauerkraut balls, which were featured in the Cook's Corner on Nov. 5.
Russin's peanut butter pie recipe also made it into the pages of "A Culinary History..." and today is his turn in the spotlight.
The book makes a great Christmas present for those wanting to celebrate northwest Ohio's unique food heritage. It can be purchased at several local outlets, including Calico, Sage and Thyme; Grounds for Thought; and the Wood County Historical Museum, all in Bowling Green; both Books-A-Million and Fort Meigs in Perrysburg; Beeker's General Store in Pemberville; and the Barnes and Noble store at Fallen Timbers in Maumee, where it is also available as an e-book as well as via Amazon and Apple's ibookstore.
Russin, a Pennsylvania native and devoted Steelers fan, was one of the first people in the country to earn a bachelor's degree as a physician assistant. "I was part of the fourth class ever. PA's weren't well known. Some physicians didn't trust them, some had never heard of them."
Eventually, Russin realized he had a calling in a different direction and he entered a Russian Orthodox seminary-monastery in the Poconos, where he became the choir director while still a seminarian.
"I was a choir director in various parishes before I decided to be ordained a priest." His most recent parish was in a coal-mining district first settled by Russian immigrant coal-miners "but now the population has decreased, the mines are closing" and the parish closed as well.
He and his wife moved to Bowling Green where she took a job in the medical office of her sister, Dr. Elizabeth Horrigan. Meanwhile Russin negotiated the career switch into home health care, "then nursing homes, and now a rehab facility."
He finds it a creative way of fulfilling the gospel.
A side benefit of the job is that "I'm also able to cook. It's not the primary task; we all cook at the facility and we all do patient care (but) I enjoy cooking for them. It's all home-cooked meals."
Russin says his own mother was a wonderful cook "but she never really left any recipes. It took me 20 years to figure out how she made her chocolate pie."
The quest for a perfect peanut butter pie also took decades.
"A number of years ago I worked as waiter at a restaurant in Syracuse, New York. They were famous for their peanut butter pie. As I remember, it was very simple. A packaged graham cracker crust, peanut butter, whipped cream.
"Years later I got a hankering for it, so I researched.
"The original recipe - wherever I got it from - called for butter and cream cheese, way too much of both. When I made it all you could taste was the butter, and I didn't want to taste the butter; it's a peanut butter pie" after all.
"So I ended up halving everything. Now you can't taste the butter or the cream cheese." The ingredients blend in perfection.
Russin's secret to achieving the creamy filling? "I used an electric mixer, a stand mixer. I mixed it for eight minutes, so it got nice and fluffy."
When Russin sent a peanut butter pie to the medical office with his wife, "it came back with rave reviews."
"One of the doctors mentioned how much he liked the crust. It is a thicker crust" than usual. "It seems to balance the filling."
Besides his baking, Russin loves to make "Russian ethnic foods - borscht, cabbage and noodles, pierogies. My grandmother is Ukrainian and Canadian."
But he's forced to echo his wife. "I perfect the recipe, then I never make it again. There's always something new to try."
Of course, perfection can be a fluid concept. While making the peanut butter pie for this column, Russin found himself "tweaking" even further.
Instead of three-quarters of a cup of peanut butter, "I upped it to one cup, and I like that."
The original recipe called for "too much Cool Whip. I dropped it from a 12-ounce container to an 8-ounce. I didn't want (the filling) mounded," he explained.
In all of his desserts, Russin said he's been using dark brown sugar, instead of granulated white, and "I've been cutting down on sugar" to start with. "All these commercially produced desserts are so sickeningly sweet."
If you plan to make the peanut butter pie for a holiday family gathering or office party, feel free to be creative about the finishing touches.
"I'm sure you could put crushed Reese's Pieces on top, or crushed nuts."
PEANUT BUTTER PIE
6 tablespoons butter, softened
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
¾ cup peanut butter
½ cup firmly packed brown sugar (preferably dark brown)
1 (8-ounce) container frozen whipped topping, thawed
1 (9-inch) graham cracker crust (below), 1 (9-inch) chocolate-nut crust (below) or 1 (9-inch) prepackaged “Ready Crust”
Beat butter, cream cheese, peanut butter and sugar until well blended and smooth. Gently fold in whipped topping until mixture is smooth and creamy. Turn out into the prepared crust. Refrigerate until firm, about 4 hours. Garnish with cocoa powder or shaved or curled chocolate. Top with peanuts or drizzle melted chocolate over pie, if desired.
Serves 6 to 8.
Graham Cracker Crust
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (about 11 whole graham crackers)
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup (2/3 stick) butter, melted
Place graham crackers in a resealable plastic bag and crush with a rolling pin.
Empty into a medium-sized bowl and add sugar; mix well. Melt butter in a small saucepan or microwave. Add melted butter to graham cracker mixture and blend until the texture resembles coarse meal.
Press onto bottom and up the sides of a 9-inch pie pan. Chill the crust for an hour before baking (will help prevent crumbling when serving). For a hard crust, bake for 8 to 10 minutes at 375 for a glass dish, 350 for a silver pan or 300 for a dark pan. Remove from oven and let cool before adding filling.
6 squares semisweet baking chocolate, such as Baker’s Semi-Sweet Chocolate, or 2 (3.5-ounce) Cadbury Dark Chocolate Bars
1 tablespoon butter or margarine
1 1/2 cups finely chopped nuts, toasted
Line a 9-inch pie plate with foil; set aside. Microwave chocolate and margarine in large microwavable bowl on high for 2 minutes or until butter is melted. Stir until chocolate is completely melted. Stir in nuts.
Press mixture onto bottom and up sides of prepared pie plate. Refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour. Remove crust from pie plate; peel off foil. Return crust to pie plate or place on serving plate. Refrigerate until used.