Mom & Me … Strawberries & Rhubarb

I love pie. Almost every kind. My two favorites, however, are rhubarb and strawberry. Not the popular combination of the two. Plain rhubarb in a regular old pie crust – which is tart and refreshing and just sweet enough. And plain strawberry with a graham cracker crust – the almost savory notes of the crust combining perfectly with the sweetness of the berry filling. Two separate pies. Because, really, can you have too much pie?

These are my favorites because they are the ones mom used to make. She made the strawberry version for Easter dinner. As you can see from this picture – featuring the two of us in the dresses she sewed by hand – Easter was a time of celebration in our family. And, much more than the enormous ham and various side dishes, I remember the pie. And the rhubarb was always dad’s favorite. And quickly became one I requested during the spring – when rhubarb was plentiful in the garden.

As you may have gathered over the many posts that reference my mother – she had an enormous impact in my culinary abilities and inclinations and my general love of food. I am thinking of her today more than ever. My mom passed away two years ago to the day today. April 11, 2008. A year ago, on the first anniversary of this difficult day, I was in a different place. I was angry and miserable and sad and felt very, very alone. I am happy to report that, though I miss mom more than words can say, today I have found a bit of peace. Today I wanted to celebrate my mom. So I baked pies.

I thought up this concept weeks ago as I searched for the best way to honor her. I asked dad to email the recipes. I conjured up how I was going to photograph the gorgeous crimson fruits. Oh, how I planned. And then, life threw me a curve ball.

I was diagnosed with breast cancer last week. Mom was diagnosed with almost the exact same kind of breast cancer at age 56 and recovered – surviving for nearly 14 years before succumbing to pancreatic cancer. The news was, obviously, a blow. The past week involved a last-minute trip to California to spend time with my brother and father (who is going through radiation treatments for prostate cancer and is unable to fly up here to be with me). It has also included 7 doctor’s visits, a more thorough understanding of the Swedish Cancer Institute than I ever anticipated (or desired) and a few changes in my plans for the summer.

I don’t want to focus too much on my cancer in this blog. This is a place for talking about cooking and nurturing and musings about glorious dishes and recipes. Naturally, some of my future writing will be informed by my situation. My interest in fresh produce and healthy eating has been amplified since my diagnosis.

But today I just want to focus on remembering mom. And eat pie for breakfast. And share it with dear friends. And with you.

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Strawberry Pie

Ingredients

  • 1 8-inch graham cracker crust (see below for recipe)
  • 2 pints (4 cups) strawberries – divided
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Instructions

In a medium saucepan, crush 1 pint (2 cups) of slices strawberries with a fork, potato masher or pastry blender. You don’t want a puree, but you’ll want most of the berries to be unrecognizable at this point. Mix in the cornstarch, sugar and lemon juice. Cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly. You can continue to mash the berried throughout the cooking process as they warm and become more pliable. Cook approximately 7-10 minutes until clear and thickened. It will turn syrupy and glossy and a beautiful, deep red. Remove from heat and cool.

Halve or quarter remaining pint of strawberries – depending on their size. You’ll want them bite-sized but not too big that they’ll need to be cut when in the pie. Once the strawberry mixture is cooled, mix these sliced strawberries in until combined.

Pour the mixture into the crust and refrigerate until chilled – at least one hour.

Graham Cracker Pie Crust

Ingredients

  • 6 1/2 ounces graham crackers (12 crackers), finely ground (1 1/2 cups)
  • 2 1/2 ounces (5 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pulse graham cracker crumbs, butter, sugar, and salt in a food processor until combined.

Firmly press crumb mixture into bottom and up sides of an 8-inch pie dish. Bake until crust is fragrant and edges are golden, 12 to 14 minutes. Let cool completely on a wire rack.

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Rhubarb Pie

I have to admit, this was the first time I attempted a double-crust pie. For what it’s worth – the final product I placed in the oven was not pretty. The top crust was patched together, resembling a quilt more than a nice, pristine sheet of dough. However I am trying, hard, to be less of a perfectionist. To “not sweat the small stuff.” And it’ll taste just as good, right? Another note – rhubarb is, by its nature, a watery vegetable (yes, it’s a vegetable – not a fruit). So the consistency of the pie might be runny. I seem to recall mom used instant tapioca instead of the cornstarch from time to time. Something to consider for the next pie I bake.

Ingredients

  • Crust for two-crust pie (recipe below)
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • 4 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 5 cups (~2 ½ pounds) rhubarb (cut up into 1” slices)
  • 1 ½ tablespoons butter (chilled and cut into small pieces)

Instructions

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Mix sugar and cornstarch together. Add to cut up rhubarb and mix thoroughly.

Line the pie pan with one of the crusts. Pour rhubarb mixture into pie pan.  Ensure the sugar is equally spread across the pie.  Dot with pieces of butter. Cover with second pie crust and cut slits in the top to allow steam to release.

Place pie on top of baking sheet (in case any of the juices spill out – not easy to clean up) and bake for approximately 40-50 minutes.

Pie Crust

Ingredients

  • 3 cups flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup Crisco (chilled)
  • 6 tablespoons ice water

Instructions

Mix salt & flour together. Cut in the chilled Crisco until small crumbly flakes form.

Put the 6 tablespoons of ice cold water in a small bowl. Mix a handful of the crumble mixture into the water. Pour this mixture back into the bowl full of flour and salt mixture and use your hands to blend until completely combined. Handle gently and do not over knead.

Shape dough into two balls, one slightly larger than the other. Flatten into 4-inch-wide disks. Dust lightly with flour, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 30 minutes before rolling.

Rather than attempt to explain the process of rolling out a proper pie crust, I will defer to Martha Stewart’s instructions. You will note that I did not use her actual recipe – the one featured above is from my friend Kathleen – one of the best bakers I know. If you follow the steps listed on Martha’s site – you can’t go wrong.

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5 Responses to “Mom & Me … Strawberries & Rhubarb”

  1. Caitlin says:

    Pie for beakfast!!! Yay!!!!

  2. Carlin & Brian says:

    Can you send me a piece of each pie, please? Or do I have to make them myself. YUM!
    Thinking of you.
    Hugs. C

  3. krista says:

    oh chica… what a wonderful post. so nice to ‘meet’ you today. you’ve inspired me to go out + buy all the fabulous ingredients to bake a pie with my daughter as well as take the time to ‘enjoy’ my kitchen instead of seeing it as a chore.

  4. Corrie says:

    Kathryn, the strawberry pie was DELICIOUS– we ate it last night and thought of you and and your mom. You are fantastic.

  5. Cherylynne says:

    I need an alternative to Crisco for pie crust. Can’t work with all that trans-fat. Butter?

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