Patsy’s Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

My brother-in-law Patrick is a pretty darned good cook. Besides teaching Boy Scouts how to bake cakes in the wilds of northern Wisconsin, he turns out some great soups and roasts and bakes a mean strawberry rhubarb pie. When I asked him where he got the recipe, he said I should ask my sister Patsy who happens to be his wife. She told me that she had created it by changing her mother-in-law’s recipe for rhubarb raisin pie. The result is a winner.

INGREDIENTS:

2 1/2 cups rhubarb
1 1/2 cups strawberries
8 Ritz crackers
1 cup granulated sugar
1 T all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1 large egg
1 T butter
1 tsp. sugar to dust the top crust

PROCEDURE:

Clean and chop the rhubarb stalks into half inch pieces. Wash and quarter the strawberries and set the rhubarb and chopped berries aside while you make the crust. Here is my recipe for an easy and good plain pie crust.

Preheat the oven to 350º.

Crush the crackers fairly fine and stir them into the sugar, flour and cinnamon in a bowl. Mix the rhubarb and strawberries with the dry ingredients. Beat an egg until it is lemon colored and stir it into the mixture. The egg and liquid from the fruit will moisten the dry ingredients as you stir.

Roll out half the pie crust dough and line the bottom of a nine-inch pie plate. Fill the crust with the strawberry rhubarb mixture. Dot the filling with small pieces of butter, roll out the top crust and seal it to the bottom.

Use a sharp knife to cut a pattern of small holes in the top crust to let steam escape. Bake for about an hour until the top crust begins to turn golden brown.

After thirty minutes, cover the edges of the crust with foil to prevent them from getting too brown.

NOTE: Nellie, Patsy’s mother-in-law used ordinary saltine crackers in her recipe, but I think that Patsy’s substituting Ritz crackers was an inspired thing to do. I like the buttery flavor. Try it both ways. There should be plenty of rhubarb and strawberries for the next few weeks.

Pineapple Pie—Always in Season

Not long ago our friend Rich was lamenting the fact that he could no longer find pineapple pie in bakeries. For several years he had been able to buy them from a supermarket in Brainerd when he and his wife vacationed there.

Last year, however, the bakery manager told him that they were no longer making pineapple pies. People like me were probably part of the reason why the store stopped offering them. I have never bought one. I like a lot of different pies—apple, pumpkin, sour cream raisin, cherry, blueberry, lemon, custard, chess, banana cream, and pecan to name a few—but I had never even tasted pineapple pie.

My favorite pies are seasonal treats. Though we can buy frozen sour cherries throughout the year, a cherry pie made with fruit picked the same day tastes better to me than one filled with cherries picked last summer, even if they were flash frozen and packaged with care.

There was a cafe in Saynor, Wisconsin in the early 1960’s that featured a cherry pie that attracted customers from many miles around. If my memory serves me right, the restaurant was called Grandma’s Kitchen. I discovered it my first summer while working at the new radio station, WERL, at Eagle River, Wisconsin. All of us at WERL wore at least two hats that summer. I was both a disc jockey and a sales representative, which is how I discovered this wonderful pie.

I stopped in to sell some advertising and left with a stomach full of the best cherry pie I had ever eaten. The lady who owned Grandma’s Kitchen had a standing order for fresh sour cherries from an orchard in Door county. When the cherries started arriving, she began baking pies. People who knew of her cherry pies would start calling after the Fourth of July to ask if cherry pie was on the menu, and she would share the latest update from the orchard.

I do not have her pie recipe. It was a single crust pie that most cooks would call a tart. When I asked how she made it, she told me she just used fresh sour cherries with a little sugar and thickening. She served it with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream, which added sweetness. It was wonderful.

The secret almost certainly was the fresh cherries. Other fruits with short bearing seasons like blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and rhubarb (if you want to call it a fruit) present the same challenge and opportunity. If you want to make a pie that your guests will rave over, pick a couple of quarts of wild blueberries on a cool morning and bake them into a tender crust in the afternoon.

But I think that some fruits taste as good or better canned than fresh. Pineapple is one of them. I like fresh pineapple, but it irritates my mouth. Fresh pineapple contains bromelain, an enzyme that breaks down protein. This explains why pineapple tenderizes meat, but it is also the reason why eating fresh pineapple can make your mouth burn.

Canning pineapple destroys the bromelain but preserves the flavor. So when Rich told me about his pineapple pie predicament, I offered to try making one. The result was better than I expected.

Canned pineapple is always in season and even better, you don’t have to pick, peel or chop it to make the filling for a delicious pie. All you need is a can opener and about ten minutes.

INGREDIENTS:

3/4 cup granulated sugar plus 1 T for garnishing the crust
3 T cornstarch
1 twenty ounce can crushed pineapple in its own juice
1 T lemon juice
1 T milk

PROCEDURE:

First make the dough for a nine-inch double crust pie. Here is a recipe.

Line a nine-inch pie plate with a crust. Preheat the oven to 425º.

Mix the sugar and cornstarch together in a medium saucepan. Stir in the pineapple and the lemon juice. Put the pan over moderate heat and keep stirring the mixture until it thickens and starts to boil. Reduce the heat and continue cooking and stirring for another minute.

Remove the pan from the heat and allow the filling to cool slightly while you roll out the top crust. Pour the hot filling into the pastry-lined plate. Moisten the edge of the bottom crust with a finger dipped in water. Cover the filling with the top crust and seal it to the bottom. Trim and make a decorative edge by pinching the dough with your fingers or using a table fork.

Make a few slits in the top crust to allow steam to escape. Paint the top crust with a little milk and sprinkle it with sugar.

Bake the pie on a center shelf in the oven for 30 to 35 minutes until the crust is lightly browned.

Cool on a rack and serve chilled or at a cool room temperature.