Sunday, July 6, 2008

Fourth of July Pie

Alright, so technically this is not my very first pie. That would be the so-so apple pie that Carrie and I made for Thanksgiving last year – so-so not because of the filling (my Mom’s recipe that has been a Thanksgiving staple for me since time immemorial) but because of the pre-made Pillsbury crust that was okay the first day but almost inedible on day two. And everyone knows the whole point of apple pie for Thanksgiving is breakfast for Black Friday.

Thus, when I was inspired to make a strawberry-rhubarb pie for the Fourth of July, I knew that the crust would have to be from scratch. I found
this recipe for the pie from Southern Living’s very useful My Recipes site, and this simple food processor crust recipe from MSL.

The hardest part of making a strawberry-rhubarb pie, it turns out, is acquiring rhubarb. Whole Foods? Star Market? Broadway Marketplace? Formaggio Kitchen? No, no, no, and no. I had almost resigned myself to making a plain-old strawberry pie, but at the second Star Market – or is it called Shaw’s now? – it occurred to Mike to actually ask someone in the produce department, who returned from the back minutes later with several stalks of rhubarb.

The crust recipe couldn’t be simpler – I mixed the dough, divided it into two flattened disks (for ease in rolling out later; thanks for the tip, Martha!) and put them in the fridge to chill while I made the filling.

Because of the holiday, I selected a grand old American legend for my baking music. So while Sinatra crooned away about unrequited love, I began slicing up my fruit and veg. The recipe calls for 2 ½ cups each of sliced strawberries and sliced rhubarb. But who ever knows what that translates to in pints/pounds? I had bought two pounds of strawberries, which turned out to be about twice what I needed, and two bunches of rhubarb – again, about double what I needed. In the bowl with the sugar/cornstarch/lemon mixture, it looked like way too much filling for one pie crust, but the recipe writers know their stuff. It was the perfect amount.
The MSL recipe says to use a floured surface and rolling pin to roll out the crust, but after a couple minutes of this I switched to the old reliable method of sandwiching the dough between two sheets of plastic wrap – this is much easier and keeps the dough (and kitchen) from getting too flour-y. (Oddly, that’s also a Martha method; she recommends it for roll-out cookies, but it seemed to work nearly as well for pie crust.)

Here’s my bottom crust, with imperfectly-crimped edges. The recipe suggests using a fork for crimping, but I prefer the irregularity of thumb-crimping.

My lattice came out about like you’d expect a first-ever pie crust lattice to turn out, partly I think because the dough was getting too warm from its proximity to the preheating oven. In any case, I had to piece together several shorter strips in some places. Oh, and I also nearly forgot to put in my little dots of butter under the top crust – they had to be sort of wedged in under the lattice after the fact. Still, I was relatively pleased with the nearly-final product as I slid it into the oven – a moment that amusingly coincided with the climatic finale of My Way. (Although this did raise concerns as to whether any eating-up-and-spitting-out would be associated with my beautiful pie.)

Here it is, before and after baking. You can see all the little butter dots that wouldn't fit under the lattice. While the Pops and fireworks blared from the TV, we sat down to a lovely, summery July 4th dinner of lobster, corn on the cob, deviled eggs, and potato salad, then dished up two healthy pieces of pie with ice cream for Mike and frozen yogurt for me. (Don’t worry – the lobsters were pretty small; we’re not total pigs.) The result? A lovely sweet-and-sour flavor in a not-too-bad, flavorful, flaky crust. The tanginess of the rhubarb really does pair nicely with the sweet strawberry flavor. Wish I could say I’d come up with the idea of putting the two together (could it possibly have been a "Hey, you got your rhubarb in my strawberries!" "Yeah? Well you got your strawberries in my rhubarb!" kind of moment?), but if I can't claim credit for its invention, at least I may now confidently stand with those who can make a strawberry-rhubarb pie, which is something.
And on day #2? I preferred it hot from the oven, but it was still pretty good cold. The crust was a bit soggier, but everything was still quite tasty. The only problem now is that I have sufficient strawberry and rhubarb left over to make a second pie. I guess this will give me a chance to improve my lattice-work.

Lessons Learned:

#1 Always confirm you can acquire rhubarb before committing to a pie.

#2 Always ask if you don’t see anything in the produce department – you never know what they have tucked away in the back.

#3 Homemade pie crust is definitely worth the extra time and effort.

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