I don’t remember much about her, I think solemnly as I gently tousle the impressive leaves clouding my sight. My palms are buried deep in my sleeves as I search, crouched low to the ground and tossing my hair occasionally to sweep aside my growing bangs to simplify the hunt. Ruby red or bright green; thick or thin; I’m presented with a plethora of choices. But which would she pick?
I remember the pie from so long ago; within the perfect crust were distinct green and red stalks intermingled with puffed and swollen pink strawberries. It was sweet, but only just so, as the pie drew most of its flavor from the natural sweetness of the included fruits. I’m sure that was what drew me to it. But how to recreate it?
Just like the creation of the pie, most of my memories of her are, unfortunately, fragmented.
I remember a red and green candy dish; glass, fragile and filled with candies I only saw at her house. My favorites were the Strawberry Bon Bons, wrapped in patterned bags with clever twists. No matter how many I asked for and how many I quickly devoured, she always made sure there was at least one more hiding in the bottom of the dish, just waiting to be plucked.
I remember going to the movie theater, and although I don’t remember the films, I do remember the way she insisted that my brother, cousins and I brought coats and blankets. “You will be cold,” she would gently and knowingly warn as she folded quilts neatly in the living room.
And I remember her being right, even though it was summertime.
I remember eating Reeses Puffs in her kitchen. Reeses Puffs weren’t something my parents would buy because back home we ate shredded wheat – the big rectangular kind – tossed with milk or pancakes for breakfast. Why did she buy them for us? Because she was awesome.
I remember her liking the way I cut sheets of paper when we would make crafts at her dining room table. The scissors were sharp, and I could cut the paper without snipping the blades more than once.
And I remember feeling very proud when I “taught” her how to do it too, even though I’m sure she already knew.
I remember the motorhome; stationed in their yard and even parked at campgrounds from time to time. Each opening of the door produced a river of stories about their horses, their adventures with the Michigan Trail Riders and their trips around the state. Stories that I loved.
I remember the smell of peaches, and although I don’t remember eating them, I will always love how comforting and familiar the scent is.
As I crouch next to the rhubarb plant, spreading far and reaching wide, these memories rush back as they are apt to now and again. But the numbered memories offer no answer to my question. Undeterred, I begin selecting thin red stalks, shying away from their thicker surroundings for fear that they will be stringy. I think this is what she would have done.
I think it makes sense.
I pluck and pull, discarding the over-sized leaves (which make great fairy caps, if you were wondering) and clutching the precious remaining stalks in my freezing palms. It’s raining and the sky won’t rest, but I am sure she would collect her crop in the same weather. Besides, this is great pie-making weather. Standing inside, moments later, crashes of thunder are the only sounds I hear and lightning is all I see outside. I’m happy to be inside Dad’s kitchen, working dough and chopping fruit; the promise of a great dessert in the near future.
Although her recipe has been passed to me, I’m quite sure that she didn’t follow it very strictly because mine always turn out too sweet. So, this time I cast aside the recipe and let intuition be my guide; handfuls of rhubarb went into a bowl with strawberries, sugar, flour and just a pinch of salt. After a gentle toss, I emptied them into a crust.
Of all the recipes I try, this one will always be my favorite and I will always hold it very close to my heart. What I can make isn’t perfect, and I know I will never match or best Grandma’s, but it’s close enough for me.
And that makes me happy.
Strawberry Rhubarb Pie
This is one of my favorite recipes and certainly one of my favorite things to eat! Feel free to adjust the sugar if your berries aren’t super sweet.
Makes enough for one 9″ pie with lattice top
1 1/2 c flour
3/4 tsp salt
9 Tbls butter, cubed and frozen
3 Tbls shortening, frozen
6 Tbls water, cold
To make the pie crust, combine the flour and salt in a medium-sized bowl. Add the frozen butter and shortening, then cut in using two forks, a pastry blender, or your hands. Continue working in the butter and shortening until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add just enough water to bring the dough together and knead a few times to ensure that the flour is evenly moistened. Divide the dough into two portions: one should be 1/3 of the mass and the other 2/3. Press into disks, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 30 minutes or up to two days.
When ready to roll, dust your counter with flour. Remove the larger portion of the dough from the fridge and let rest on the counter for 5 minutes to allow it to warm and become more manageable. Roll the dough into a circle large enough to fit your 9″ pan and transfer to the pan by rolling the dough around your pin and draping it over the top. Trim so there is about 1″ of overhang.
Roll the remaining dough into a 10″ x 10″ rectangle and cut ten 1″x10″
strips out of it. Set aside while you prepare the filling.
4 c chopped rhubarb
4 c quartered strawberries
3/8 c sugar
1/4 c + 1 Tbls flour
1/2 tsp salt
To make the filling, combine all ingredients in a large bowl, tossing well to coat. Pour into prepared crust. Top with strips of pie crust, arranging in a lattice pattern. Fold overhang over the lattice and crimp. Place pie in freezer.
1 egg, beaten
Heat your oven to 450F. When it has come to temperature, remove the pie from the freezer. Brush all exposed crust with the beaten egg and sprinkle liberally with sanding sugar. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes. Reduce heat to 350F, remove the foil and bake 40-60 minutes longer or until the pastry is well-browned and the filling is bubbling.