Have you seen what I've seen lately? Fruit! Fruit other than apples are back in my farmers market. Now in Dupont there are cherries; at Eastern Market you can get North Carolina peaches; and all over the place are ruby-green stalks of rhubarb and ruby-red boxes of strawberries. I've never made a fruit pie from scratch -- I've never made pie crust from scratch -- so I figured, on what better stage to try out a difficult and finicky dessert than the great and very public Internets? And so here I am, and the results, while not necessarily pretty, are darn tasty.
Can we spend a second talking about my kitchen, Bob? Bob, as I've tried to show you, is tiny. Beyond tiny. Barely bigger than a kitchenette. The counter space is maybe 2 feet; almost all of that is basically blocked by the fridge. And the small part that's exposed is mostly taken up with my dish rack. There was no way I could roll out pie dough on 6 thin inches of counter. So I did the only thing I could do: I made it on the floor.
Now, before you think I'm some filthy beast, I covered the floor with trashbags that I masking-taped to the carpet (a surprisingly effective method). I also vacuumed thoroughly before that. And all food prep took place well on the plastic, and on cutting boards and in bowls as well. The only thing that touched the plastic directly was the pie dough, and I wiped it down before that. So this is a thoroughly sanitary pie, okay?
That doesn't change the fact I did this on the floor. I know. I know.
The recipe for pie dough is simple, as all recipes for pie dough are simple on their face. Flour, salt, shortening and butter, worked in with the fingers just 'till the dough comes together. The second it does, wrap in plastic and chill. Basic. Simple, yet unbelievably difficult to pull off.
My dough came together rather quickly, I think because my shortening wasn't chilled enough. When I went to roll it out after 20 minutes or so of fridge time, it cracked apart; I had to add water, put it back in the fridge, and wait a little longer, and it was still a little dry. In the end it was surprisingly tender, but not that ideal flaky -- it disintegrated in your mouth, more than flaked. Not dense at all, I'm proud to report. It's not ideal, but I think it's a solid first effort. And it's darn tasty crust -- I used butter flavor shortening (not specified, but I was curious), and the result is fabulously rich next to the sweet tanginess of the filling.
Speaking of which, the filling was way easier. Strawberries, rhubarb, sugar: mix and pour into pie crust. I let mine sit for about 10 minutes beforehand and ended up with a very juicy pie. I think, for best results, I would mix the filling mere seconds before filling the crust. It's worth noting that the original recipe in the Joy of Cooking mentions nothing about letting it sit; I don't think it's intended to.
This is a closed pie, and as you can see my pie had several smaller pieces of pie dough (that cracking was a problem, I tell ya) cobbled together; in an ideal world, one would make a single sheet and lay it gently across the top of the pie, pinching it artfully closed around the edges instead. Baking time is 40 minutes, 20 at 400 degrees and 20 at 350. Be careful when you take it out, it's a juicy pie and I spilled some juice on my hand and got lucky I didn't get seriously burned. And you have to let it cool. If you don't, the second you cut into it, you get a nice strawberry-rhubarb soup.
I made a Franken-pie. But what does it matter what my pie looks like? Because it's been less than 24 hours since I made it and it's already almost gone.
Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie adapted from The Joy of Cooking (c. 1975)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
2/3 cup vegetable shortening, chilled (or lard, if you're hardcore)
2 tbsp butter, chilled
Sift together flour and salt. Mix butter and shortening. Take half of the shortening mixture and work gently into the flour (either with the tips of your fingers or with a pastry cutter) until it has the consistency of cornmeal. Add the second half of the shortening mix and work into the flour until it has the consistency of peas. Sprinkle four teaspoons of water into the dough until it comes together into a ball that pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Immediately stop handling the dough; wrap it in plastic and refrigerate until time to use.
2 cups sliced strawberries
2 cups diced unpeeled rhubarb
1 ¼- 2 cups of sugar
Put rhubarb and strawberries in a bowl. Add the sugar slowly, sprinkling and mixing until it's to your taste. Rhubarb is quite tart, so you may want to sweeten slightly beyond what you're aiming for in the finished pie because the rhubarb juices are as tart as the flesh and will balance it out a little bit. Prepare the filling after you've rolled out your dough for the best result.
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Roll two sheets of dough to about ¼ inch thick (I used a sheet of plastic wrap on top of it and found that it really helped -- especially if your dough is a little dry like mine). Gently place one of them in/over the pan and press into the crevices. Use a knife to trim the excess. Scoop the filling into the pie crust, then cover with the other sheet. Trim the excess again, pinch the edges closed. Bake for 20 minutes at 400 degrees; then turn your oven down to 350 for the final 20 minutes. Let cool completely on a rack. Then enjoy. I sure am.