Well, that’s NOT what she said! And Marie Antoinette probably wouldn’t have said that because working class folks have been eating pie since the days of the ancient Egyptians, according to the research I’ve read on the origins of pie. Recipes for pie came over on the Mayflower, their ancestors being the English tart (one crust) whose pastry was a staple ingredient of Medieval kitchens. The pie served as a baking dish, storage container, and serving dish all in one. The first pies were very simple and generally the savory kind (meat and cheese). Pies traveled well and all manner of pies have been made for individual consumption – these portable pies: pasties, turnovers, empanadas, pierogi, calzones, have been enjoyed by working classes and sold by street vendors over the ages.
In case you’re not familiar with rhubarb, it is a vegetable with stalks similar to celery and was originally cultivated in the New England area.
Rhubarb pie is particularly popular in those areas where the plant is commonly cultivated, including the British Isles and the New England region of the U.S. Besides diced rhubarb, it almost always contains a large amount of sugar to balance the intense tartness of the plant. In Canada and the United States, strawberry-rhubarb pie is a popular late-spring pie, generally combining the last rhubarb of the season with the first of the strawberries.
The Don, being a Yankee and New Englander born in upstate New York, was reminiscing about yanking stalks of rhubarb from amidst the giant green leaves and chomping on the crunchy, tart sticks and decided to plant a couple of rhubarb plants in our garden. Now that the plant, with its platter-size leaves was overcoming my herbs, he asked The Young Baker for a Strawberry-Rhubarb pie like his Gran used to make.
To make one like Gran, we referred to the tried and true cookbook of Gran’s era – The Fannie Farmer Cookbook. Fannie Farmer (1857-1915), author of the Boston Cooking School Book, was a household word and the voice of authority during that era. Her book was so prized that it was something one could put confidently into the hands of a bride. First published in 1896, my husband brought into our marriage the 1984 edition. To me this venerated cookbook of family favorites of that time period is to American cooking as Julia Child’s Art of the French Cooking is to French cooking. We used the basic pie pastry recipe from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook and the filling was adapted from a Food Network recipe.
Grandma’s Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie
1½ cups flour*
½ cup shortening
¼ teaspoon salt
3-4 tablespoons cold water
2½ cups chopped red rhubarb, fresh
2½ cups strawberries, de-stemmed, washed and cut into large pieces
1 ½ cups sugar
1 tablespoon flour
½ teaspoon lemon zest
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons butter, cubed small
1 egg white, lightly beaten with 1 teaspoon water
Turbinado (large granule) brown sugar*
Mix the flour and salt. Cut in the shortening with a pastry blender or two knives. Combine until the mixture resembles coarse meal (or the size of tiny peas) – the texture will not be uniform but will contain crumbs and pits and pieces. Sprinkle water over the flour mixture, a tablespoon at a time, and mix lightly with a fork, using only enough water so that the pastry will hold together when pressed gently into a ball.
Divide the dough into two balls. Roll the bottom crust out 2 inches larger than the pie pan. (Fannie Farmer says: don’t handle the pasty dough an more than necessary or it will be tough.) Ease it into the pie dish and chill in the refrigerator. Roll out the top crust and cut into strips. Or you can fill the pie, then put on the top crust, prick in a several places with a fork, or use a knife to make small slits.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Mix the rhubarb, strawberries, and other ingredients in a large bowl and pour into the chilled crust. Dot the top of the filling with the butter. Place the lattice strips or top crust on top of filling, crimp the edges. Brush lattice strips or edges with egg white wash and garnish with large granule sugar.
*Note: we used organic Turbinado brown sugar which, combined with the white whole wheat flour, gave the crust an amazing rustic, crunchy, almost graham like quality.
Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes. Decrease temperature to 375 degrees F and bake for an additional 45 to 50 minutes, or until the filling starts bubbling. Higher altitude will take 450 degrees F and 400 degrees F respectively. Let cool before serving.
Rhubarb photo credit: Betsy Fitzgerald