The goal of the afternoon was to bake me some pie. I’d seen a photo on Facebook of a strawberry-rhubarb beauty a few days before, the kind where the luscious red syrup has bubbled over the crust but the baker has had the foresight to put the pie plate on a baking sheet to catch it, and hadn’t been able to stop thinking about it.
I had strawberries so delicious they tasted like candy from my CSA basket — by the way, a big shout-out to the Waterstrats and their Sustainable Harvest Farm; their produce is really amazing — but I’m always a little stumped about where to find rhubarb. It seems to be at Kroger on an only occasional basis, and I couldn’t count on it being there that day.
So, I messaged the woman who had baked the pie, who happens to live in my subdivision, to ask her where she’d found hers. To be honest, I was asking simply to find out whether I needed to go to Kroger or, shudder, Wally World. But Mrs. Linda Cook messaged me immediately back with the answer: “We have it growing in the back yard. How much do you want?”
I immediately felt the warmth and security that comes from living in a small, agrarian place. Yes, there are drawbacks to small-town life, but being able to rely on kindness, neighbors and old-fashioned values are not among them. It still surprises me, actually, how immediately people help each other here, how they are rarely too busy to take the time.
I replied and told her I was getting a tire changed in town, but could be by in an hour to pick up the rhubarb. By the time I got home, there was a Walmart bag hanging on my front door, filled with blushing, tender stalks.
So, I got to work. We were having one of William’s partners for dinner and it had been ages since we’d seen him. I hauled out the food processor and got to work adding butter and Crisco into the flour, salt and sugar. A few tablespoons of ice water, a few pulses on the Cuisinart, and my dough was ready to rest in the fridge.
For the most part, I don’t enjoy making desserts. Cakes are time consuming and require an exactness that tries my patience. My cookies are almost always a failure, and then I eat them all anyway, so coupled with guilt. I could take or leave brownies, muffins, custards and, unless it’s the hottest day of the year, ice cream.
But I do always enjoy the pie, crumbles and cobblers section of my thickest, best cookbooks, in part because I always turn to them when I have some gorgeous fruit in the kitchen. Knowing that they’re in season for such a short time, it feels great to honor your best peaches and berries with a golden crown, doesn’t it?
I’m actually a little prideful about how well I can roll out dough. I mean, I’m no Martha or Ina, but I can get it done quickly, evenly, and I know how much flour to add to the cutting board so it doesn’t stick. This, of course, did not come without a heap of failures. One of Wm’s poor partners received a “Welcome to the neighborhood” pie whose crust had been so patched together it look Frankensteinian. Come to think of it, he was a bit of a disaster of a partner, so maybe the sketchy pie had been an omen. Anyway, now that I’m better at it, I like to remember when I wasn’t and feel smug.
The recipe for this strawberry-rhubarb number required some lattice work for the top, which I hadn’t done before. It was a little picky, but I managed and, once out of the oven, it looked so rustic and pretty, I took a picture.
That evening, we ate the pie after some wonderful conversation and a bottle of good rosé. What made the difference was that fresh-grown rhubarb. It added exactly the right amount of sour to make the strawberries taste extra tweet, and just the right amount of texture to prevent the filling from feeling too syrupy.
So, thank you, Mrs. Cook, for your generosity and kindness. And for reminding me just exactly why I like to live in this little place in the heart of Kentucky.