Strawberry Rhubarb Pie is a Southern spring tradition that I should be as intimately familiar with as pound cake or grits. Somehow though, after spending my entire life being raised by Southern parents I had – wait for it – NEVER eaten even a single bite of it. (I am imagining all of your terribly shocked faces at this revelation). I don’t know if it was my preference for cake over pie when I approached a church supper dessert buffet, or just the fact that it wasn’t something my mom ever chose to make, but this fruity delicacy had never crossed the threshold of my lips. That is, until last night…
Courtesy of the fine folks at Spring Valley Farm and Orchards in West Virginia, I snagged two baskets (pints that were piled high enough to be quarts) of plump, juicy, ripe strawberries on Sunday. I had no idea what I was going to make with them – kind of becoming a theme here – but I had to have them. Then, shortly afterward, I met up with my friend Amanda, her fiancé, Wes, and her fantastic mom, Rose, for a quick Mother’s Day breakfast (my own mother decided to skip a visit on Mother’s Day in favor of a beach vacay with her girlfriend). Rose, like my parents, hails from North Carolina. And she loves to garden and cook. While I am severely lacking in the green thumb department, it’s clear that we still have much in common – which brings me back to how I ended up making pie with my strawberry score.
We’d been talking about gardening, in-season produce, and farmer’s markets. I had wanted to pick up some rhubarb that morning, but a small bunch of it was $7 and I was just not interested in blowing that much of my budget on one item with so little product. When I mentioned this, Rose just goes “man, I wish I could just send you some!” So, I subtly (or not so subtly) told her about how my mom once sent me 3 lbs of fresh green beans in the mail. Well, before you know it she was back home, snipping rhubarb from her garden, and asking for my address. Yes, this amazing woman sent me rhubarb via UPS. AMAZING. When it arrived yesterday it was still crisp and beautiful, just as if she’d cut it that morning. Woo hoo!! And that’s the story of how strawberries from West Virginia and rhubarb from North Carolina came together in a pie made in Washington, DC.
Since this delectable dessert isn’t something that has previously been a part of my culinary repertoire, I had to rely on the recipes of others. For the pie crust I specifically wanted to use lard, which I believe always yields a more tender result than just butter or shortening, so I found a couple pretty standard recipes and picked one. The one I used has one tablespoon of cider vinegar in it, which I would never have thought of using. Apparently it helps the crust become flakier. Who knew? As for the result, I was thoroughly impressed. I will definitely be using this recipe again.
When it came to the filling, I had figured that it would be a fairly straightforward mixture of fruit, sugar, and butter, but my research turned up a couple of interesting things. First of all, a lot of strawberry rhubarb pie fillings call for cinnamon. Now, I don’t know about you, but cinnamon is not a spice that screams springtime at me. Quite the opposite, cinnamon makes me think of autumn, holidays, cider, and apples. In order to highlight the bright sweetness of strawberries, I decided that cinnamon was definitely out. The other thing I learned was that because of the water content of both the strawberries and the rhubarb, most pie fillings tend to pretty soupy and sloppy. In order to give the recipe some more structure, but not make it too JELLO-like, several recommended using instant tapioca (in varying proportions). Definitely not something I would have thought of (and had to run back to the store to grab), but again, it worked like a charm. I admit, I added a tad more tapioca than even my guide recipe called for. It also called for lemon juice, to balance the sweetness of the sugar, but I decided to add lemon zest as well. The result was a bright, light flavor that was not overly sweet.
So, here it is – the recipe for my very first strawberry rhubarb pie. As someone who doesn’t bake all that often, and generally avoids pie crust like the plague, I’m pretty darn happy with the result. My fellow foodie co-worker, Marty, suggested that I add even more lemon flavor. Next time I may also try to work some basil into the equation for a bit more of a modern kick.
Strawberry Rhubarb Pie
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp salt
2 tbsp sugar
12 tbsp cold butter, cut into pieces
7 tbsp lard (I get mine from the Mexican food section, since you want real pork lard)
1 tbsp cider vinegar
5-7 tbsp ice water
The number one thing to remember when making pie crust is to keep everything cold. Keep your butter cold, stick your lard in the freezer for at least 10 minutes before using (it’s usually kept at room temperature), and make sure your dough gets nice and chilly before you try to roll it out. If you don’t follow these steps then you risk the tenderness and flakiness of your crust, not to mention the fact that the dough will be really hard to work with. Also, using your food processor to cut the fat into the flour is much easier than doing it with a fork or pastry cutter. It also ensures that your dough comes together while the butter and lard are still cold.
Combine flour, salt, and sugar in your food processor. Give it a quick pulse to mix and get rid of any lumps. Drop pieces of cold butter (about ½” cubes) into flour, as well as pieces of the cold lard. Put the lid on and process for about a minute, or until the mixture has pea-sized lumps. Pour into a large bowl, then combine the cider vinegar with 5 tbsp of ice water. Slowly pour over the flour mixture and toss with a fork until the dough just starts to hold together when squeezed gently. If it’s still too dry, add up to 2 tbsp more of ice water, a little at a time. Divide dough in half, wrap tightly in plastic, and pop in the fridge for 30 minutes to 1 hour. While it rests, prepare the filling.
When the dough has rested, remove it from the fridge, one piece at a time, and turn our onto a floured counter. Slowly roll the dough out into about a 12” circle, occasionally lifting it up to dust more flour underneath it. This will help it to avoid sticking to the counter and tearing your crust. When you have it completely rolled out, dust it with a bit of flour and gently fold it into quarters (so that it’s easier to transfer to the pie plate). Gently lay it in a 9” pie plate and unfold, tucking the crust down into the bottom. Leave any extra dough hanging over the sides.
When you’ve filled the crust, repeat the rolling process for the top crust, and gently lay it on top of the pie. Pinch the edges together and use a knife to cut off all but a ½” perimeter. Tuck the edges underneath and pinch at ½” intervals to make a decorative edge. Cut slits in the top of the pie so that the filling can vent while cooking.
3 ½ cups cut strawberries (large pieces)
3 ½ cups fresh rhubarb, cut into ½” pieces
½ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup light brown sugar
Juice of ½ lemon
Zest of 1 lemon
¼ tsp salt
¼ cup instant tapioca (heaping)
2 tbsp butter, cut into small pieces
Mix all ingredients but butter in a large bowl. Gently pour into pie crust, dot with butter pieces, and then cover with the top crust.
1 egg yolk
2 tsp water
When the pie is assembled, combine egg yolk and water, whisk quickly, and use a pastry brush to glaze the top of the crust.
Bake the pie at 400 degrees for 20 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 degrees and bake again for another 20-25 minutes. Remove from the oven and let sit on the counter to cool until the filling has set slightly. Serve (preferably with ice cream).