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Andrew’s Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

Andrew’s Strawberry Rhubarb Pie
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         One of the great joys of summer is that Andrew is back at the beach and back into baking.   It’s not that we don’t have temporary bursts of wonderful cakes, pies and cookies at other times of the year, but in Summer he settles in a routine which revolves around at least a dessert a weekend.  These are either served to our guests or taken to our hosts at the dinner parties that are as much a part of our summer as sunshine.  His selections often follow what is freshest and at its flavor peak as the season progresses.
         These few past few weeks that’s meant Rhubarb, tart and tangy and grown just over the hill from our house.  And then there are the strawberries from the same farm. Once you have even looked at these two things there is no question that they are not from the supermarket.   And then there’s the taste: Sublime strawberry sweetness and juiciness unlike anything we taste in berries shipped 2500 miles (at least) to get here.  Rhubarb is an even more seasonal treat: it simply isn’t sold except for these few fleeting weeks early in the growing season. Combined, these two fruits were baked into a Demerara sugar encrusted lattice work pie, melding sweet and tart and tangy all together.  The only thing missing was the essential scoop of Vanilla ice cream that seems to exist only to make Strawberry Rhubarb pie irresistible.

Interestingly neither Rhubarb nor Strawberries are true fruits. The flower of a plant forms a true fruit. The flower actually has ovaries below its pistil.  Strawberries are derived from other parts of the flower and they are called ‘false fruits’.  The treasured part of rhubarb is its rose-red stalks, which have nothing to do with the flower at all.  However much we think Rhubarb is as American as apple pie, it was brought to this country in 1820.  The plant itself has been used medicinally by the Chinese for thousands of years.  It appears in the 2700-year-old volume called The Devine Farmer’s Herb-Root Classic. Rhubarb was first grown in Maine and Massachusetts. Now, most commercial production is done in Washington, Oregon, and Michigan. But all over the northern US and Canada, it’s looked forward to every Spring.

The Strawberry Flower

The U.S. grows more Strawberries than any other country in the world by far.  Over a million three hundred tons were grown in 2011 alone.  And while the domesticated strawberry was first grown in Brittany in France, the Americas did contribute to the modern strawberry.  A strawberry called F. Virginiana was imported from Eastern North America to Europe where it was crossed with the local wild strawberry. 


The combination of Rhubarb and Strawberry is so commonplace the one food writer actually published a piece entitled “10 Amazing Rhubarb recipes Without Strawberries!”.  The combination makes so much sense.  The tartness of the Rhubarb combined the sweetness of the strawberry to make a filling that is at turns sweet and tangy.  Andrew worked with a recipe for Rhubarb pie (without the Strawberries)  from “The Four and Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book” (Grand Central Publishing 2013).  Four and Twenty Blackbirds is a bakery in Brooklyn that sells nothing by pies.  It was opened by two sisters from South Dakota, Emily and Melissa Elsen. They hail from a family of pie bakers including their grandmother who baked all the pies for their mother’s locally touted restaurant.  Andrew experimented with today’s recipe to make his own version of Strawberry Rhubarb pie.  The first pie he made was a 50/50 mixture of  strawberries to rhubarb.  This yielded a sweeter pie.  The second pie was 1/3 strawberry to 2/3 rhubarb. It is pretty much a matter of personal taste. While I favored the sweet version, Andrew preferred the tart. You choose.

The Elsen Sisters of South Dakota and Brooklyn
         He also worked with the crust.  The initial pie suffered from an unbaked bottom crust.  So the second time, Andrew pre-baked the crust to avoid the soggy bottom of the first.  In both instances, before he drained some of the liquid which the fruits yield when they come into contact with the sugar.  And he took into account  the following Pie Baking Wisdom from the Elsen Sisters: The flour and butter should be as cold as possible.  The bottom crust must be pricked with a fork.  The outside of the pie should be brushed with egg.  Don’t use a food processor to make the dough.  Instead use a pastry blender, chill the dough for a good long time. Do not manhandle the dough.  Adding a splash of vinegar to the ice water gives the crust a tang and finally a dusting of flour and sugar on the bottom crust helps keep the filling from boiling over. Here is the recipe:

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