Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Rediscovering Rhubarb

Rhubarb pie in the summer,
Rhubarb pie made by my mother.
Nothing better in the winter
Than rhubarb pie after dinner.

~Five Iron Frenzy, "Rhubarb Pie"

I think that rhubarb is one of those fascinating roots that the common man has forgotten, unless his mama still makes it for him when he comes home to visit. Or maybe if he finds it at a random truck stop diner. Why, you ask? Because people don't make pie anymore, dang it! And I can't think of any other way people use rhubarb other than for pies, jams and jellies. I would like to change that. In the meantime, I'll stick to using it for pie, because rhubarb is the key ingredient in what might be my favorite pie!

For Father's day, I wanted to make my father a strawberry rhubarb pie. He loves rhubarb, but I don't remember my mother ever making rhubarb pie when were growing up. It was always apple pie. So this Father's Day, rhubarb pie was it!

I had made my first strawberry rhubarb pie last summer for my friend's birthday. I hadn't even ever tasted a strawberry rhubarb pie before that. If you have never tried strawberry rhubarb pie, please do yourself a favor and either make one, or, if you are not into baking pie, go find some in the store. I have seen some strawberry rhubarb pies in the Market District Giant Eagle grocery store. There is something so magical about the sweetness of the strawberries versus the tartness of the rhubarb.

If you have never tasted rhubarb, it tastes a lot like a very tart apple. The texture when baked is also similar to an apple. Before baking, rhubarb looks like a red stick of celery and has the same texture. I've never tasted it raw, but I might try it. Who knows? Maybe raw rhubarb is the next big item in salads!

Karl, who purchased the rhubarb from McGinnis Sisters Special Foods Store (because the local Giant Eagle did not have any rhubarb, which stoked the fires of my wrath), "accidentally" got too much for a single strawberry rhubarb pie (1.4 lbs at $2.69/lb)...he said the scale said .75 lbs, but I don't really believe him!), so I "had" to make a small rhubarb pie-loaf in addition to the strawberry rhubarb pie.

It was interesting to taste them side by side. I believe I prefer the marriage of sweet and tart with the rhubarb and strawberries. The rhubarb-only pie was tasty, but really just reminded me of apple pie. Something about adding strawberries to the mix brings out the subtleties of the rhubarb.

I think it is important to balance the quantities of strawberry and rhubarb, however. Go heavier on the rhubarb than on the strawberries or the rhubarb will just get lost in the shuffle. Also, most recipes tell you to dice the rhubarb, but I like to chop mine rather bigger. This helps the rhubarb to retain some firmness and not disintegrate into the mix.

Now go make some pie! It's summer! (Hopefully you have central air conditioning that will make baking more bearable in the hot months).

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie
Makes one 9-inch pie

Your favorite double crust recipe
1 1/2 cups strawberries, sliced
1 1/2 to 2 cups rhubarb, sliced
1 cup light brown sugar, packed tightly
1 1/2 tsp allspice
1/4 cup flour
3 TBSP corn starch
1/2 tsp salt
zest of 1/2 lemon
juice of 1/2 lemon
2 TBSP butter, cut up

Preheat oven to 425˚F.

Roll out the bottom crust and place it in the bottom of a 9-inch pie plate (TIP: in the heat of summer, it really helps to have refrigerated or frozen whatever fat you use in the crust, and to chill the dough before rolling it out. This helps to prevent the dough from being sticky and unmanageable from the heat. It also helps to roll out the dough on a cool surface if you have one, like stainless steel or, even better, marble).

Place the sliced strawberries and rhubarb in a medium sized bowl. In a smaller bowl, mix the flour, brown sugar, allspice, corn starch and salt. Sprinkle 1/4 of the mixture on the bottom of the crust. Mix the rest of the mixture into the fruit (but don't mash the fruit up! Gently stir in folding motions with a flat spoon). Mix in the lemon zest and the lemon juice.

Dump the mixture into the pie shell and dot with the cut up butter. Roll out the top crust. I like to make a lattice with my crust for strawberry rhubarb pie, but it always ends up being kind of messy because I am not good at keeping the strips intact while weaving them. The pie will taste pretty awesome if you just roll out a regular top crust.

Bake in a 425˚F oven for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350˚F. Bake 25-35 minutes longer, or until the juices are bubbling (you might not be able to see them if you don't do a lattice top crust, so just stick a knife in the middle to see if the fruit has softened up. It's also a good sign if the crust is starting to get to a nice golden brown).

Allow to cool before serving. Enjoy!