Good Times in a Crust
When the rhubarb came up in my grandmother's garden, Maplewood, New Jersey, she'd always call me first. It didn't matter if I was home, one town over, or in college in upstate New York, or at my first job in Durham, New Hampshire. She'd ask when I could come over and help her make pie. In my younger years, my mom would drop me off so I could help chop the rhubarb, measure the flour and roll the dough. We'd make fairy cookies of the dough scraps, cutting them with a sewing thimble, sprinkle them with sugar to bake up into golden orbs. And, we'd finish at least two bubbling pies, one to "test" and another to serve. When moved out of town, she'd call and we'd bake the pies together, in our separate kitchens, heads cocked to cradle the receiver, as we measured, stirred and rolled. To this day I can hear her voice, "before you start, for pity sake, wash those hands."
This month, four high school girls are "interning" in my kitchen, helping me test recipes. They wanted to learn to cook and bake. Energetic and shy, they come each morning with questions, gossip and laughter, and the kind of hungers only adolescents know. We've been finalizing recipes for a forthcoming book, mornings immersed in puffs of flour, the yeasty thump whack of focaccia dough, whiffs of cinnamon and vanilla. In memory's kitchen, I return to my grandmother's recipe. We just finished two rhubarb pies. Maybe some day, when they are my age and I am long gone, one of them will pick up the phone and say, "When can you come over, I need you to help me make rhubarb pie. One to 'test' and one to share."
Makes one pie
This is one of my grandmother's favorites because it doesn't require a bottom crust. It's as easy as, well, pie to put together. The fruit bubbles up through the top lacquering the golden layer with pretty, flavorful juices.
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
1/3 cup butter, cut into bits
2 to 3 tablespoons icy cold water
2 pounds rhubarb, diced into ½ -inch pieces
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
½ cup maple syrup
To make the crust: mix the flour and salt in a medium bowl. Cut in the butter using a pastry cutter or your fingers until the particles are the size of small peas. Sprinkle in the cold water, 1 tablespoon at a time, tossing with a fork until al the flour is moistened and the pastry leaves the sides of the bowl. (You may need to add a little more.)
Gather the pastry into a ball. Shape into flattened found, then wrap in plastic and refrigerate for about 30 to 45 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Toss together the rhubarb, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and syrup in the pie dish. On a lightly floured board with a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough out so that it covers the pie pan or baking dish. Lay the dough over the top of the rhubarb tucking into the sides of the pan to make a secure crust. Bake until the crust is light brown, about 30 minutes. Lower the heat to 350 degrees F.
Remove the pan from the oven and slice the crust in criss-crosses over the top. Return the pan to the oven and continue to bake, another five minutes so that the juices bubble up to glaze the top, as it becomes golden. Serve this warm.