It’s asparagus season, it’s baseball season, it’s school music program season, it’s kitten season.
All of these pale, though, compared to the One Season to Rule Them All.
Fruit pies are the pinnacle of the home baker’s art — sweet and tart, ensconced in a flaky crust. I’d go so far as to say they’ve always been an indicator of a farm cook’s prowess.
When I was just a wee browncoat I read the entire series of “Little House” books. Tacked onto the end of the boxed set is a slim volume called The First Four Years. The First Four Years covers the time just after Laura and Almonzo were married, and they set out to build their own household. It’s an unusual volume in the series in that it doesn’t bear the editorial stamp of Laura’s daughter, Rose, who edited and polished up the rest of the series to give it a smooth narrative and familiar themes.
The First Four Years is rougher and darker than the rest of the series as a result. Almonzo develops what sounds like a viral joint condition similar to rheumatoid arthritis which makes it difficult for him to work with his hands, weather disasters constantly eradicate their crops and efforts to get ahead, and Mr. and Mrs. Boast come off as pathetically creepy when they make Laura a modest proposal to adopt her new baby, their reasoning being that the Boasts themselves cannot have any but Laura and Almonzo could always have more.
we’re getting to the point
There were happy and amusing spots in the narrative, though. One which stood out to me as a child was near the beginning of the book, when Laura and Almonzo moved into the house he’d built for them. She marveled at the kitchen’s modern conveniences, like the pull-out bins for flour and other dry staples. I flashed back in recognition to my house’s kitchen, which had been remodeled when I was six or so. Before then, however, the cupboards had a couple of those same bins along the bottom, which, for the uninitiated among you, open in somewhat similar fashion to an expanding file folder.
laura’s rhubarb pie
The other humorous moment I remember from the book was the first time Laura made a pie in her new home. Almonzo brought home the threshing crew for lunch, and Laura had been wracked with nerves, sixteen years old, hoping everything she’d cooked would turn out satisfactory.
The crew was impressed by the food, relieving Laura. She put the rhubarb pie out. One man took a bite, paused, and reached for the sugar bowl. Lifting the top crust and generously spooning sugar on the rhubarb filling, he joked that the best kind of pie was one where you could control how much sugar was in it. Yeah, she’d forgotten to add the sugar.
with rhubarb pie, try not to forget the sugar
There’s a reason rhubarb is known as pie plant. Familiar to people in the past, rhubarb was rarely used in cooking before sugar became commonly available, because it’s so incredibly astringent. I kind of proved this in my savory rhubarb experiment, in which I found out it was very difficult to make rhubarb tasty without sugar.
The beauty of fruit pie is that balance between sweet and tart. Try not to freak at the 1-⅓ cups of sugar in this rhubarb pie recipe. The rhubarb needs it, and you’ll still have that distinctive rhubarb tang.
Rhubarb’s the first pie fruit of the season. Try to get a pie made with it before the rhubarb’s gone. You won’t be sorry.
I haven’t done a pie crust tutorial yet, and for that I apologize. If making your own crust, please, please just use the recipe on the Crisco can. Note that the shortening was reformulated several years ago to make it virtually trans-fat free (the label says 0 grams). You’ll be disappointed with butter. Use shortening, use ice cold water, add just enough water til the dough comes together cohesively, and don’t play with the dough too much, and you’ll have a flaky crust. Trust me.
oven: 450°F (then 350°F)
prep: 15 minutes (assuming pie crust is already made)
total time: 1 hour 15 minutes
pastry for a 9-inch double crust pie
4 cups chopped rhubarb
1-⅓ cups granulated sugar
6 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon butter
Preheat oven to 450°F. Roll out bottom crust and place in 9-inch pie plate. Trim edge of pastry.
In a medium bowl, combine sugar and flour. Sprinkle ½ cup of the sugar-flour mixture on the bottom pastry crust in the pie plate.
Dump the chopped rhubarb on top of it.
Sprinkle the remaining sugar-flour mixture evenly on top of the rhubarb.
Cut the butter into 6-10 smaller bits and dot the rhubarb with them.
Roll out top crust and cover the pie. Trim, seal edges, and crimp. With a sharp knife, make a few slashes in the top crust to allow steam to escape.
Place pie in 450°F oven on bottom rack. Bake for 15 minutes, then lower the oven temperature to 350°F and bake another 45 minutes, or until top crust is very slightly golden and fruit is bubbling.
Remove pie from oven and let cool on a rack for an hour or more. If you cut into a warm pie, it goes all over the place! If you can resist long enough to let it cool completely, you won’t have watery juices pouring out from the slice you just cut.