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June 4, 2007

Go Away, Minimalists! That Rhubarb Pie Needs Ice Cream


There is something you should first know about rhubarb pie before you cook one. Have ice cream on hand.


For many, ensuring the presence of ice cream to accompany fruit pie seems rather obvious. Pie, for many of us, is not pie unless is it really pie ala mode.


Untold numbers consider themselves minimalists, however, and to them ice cream is a frivolity best left to saluting children on birthdays.


The problem is rhubarb’s well-deserved reputation for tartness. It is one of our sassiest vegetables, requiring a prodigious amount of sugar to provide balance. The problem gets more serious as the stalks increase in size – big stalks equal big sass, and this is where ice cream enters the picture.


We would be remiss in failing to mention that you can short circuit a great deal of this agony by combining your rhubarb with strawberries, which provide sweetness that is also available early in the season. But, failing to address a hankering for pie leaves open the possibility that desire will turn into all-consuming obsession. You might go through your entire day, thinking of nothing but pie, and how to procure it.


We start by chopping rhubarb into pieces. They should be no bigger than an inch long, although individual taste certainly leaves room for smaller pieces. Go larger at your own peril and only under a doctor’s supervision.


Place the rhubarb chunks into a bowl and combine with about an equal amount of sugar (being more generous with bigger stalks) and tapioca pearls. Stir them all together and allow them to sit for about a quarter-hour (in this time, the little pellets of tapioca will soften). Stir from time to time.


While allowing them to mingle, prepare your pie crust. There are two ways you can approach this.


The first is by combining lard or shortening, flour, salt and water into a pie crust that some say is unequaled in the world of pie. Or, you could go out and buy one that is premade. In any case, the fruiting of pie means that you will have one for the bottom of the pan, and one to lay across the top.


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, grease the bottom of a pie pan and mold the crust into the pan. Cut off the parts of the crust that hang over the side of the pie pan. Spoon contents of your bowl on top of the bottom crust, and dot it with unsalted butter.


Lightly wet the crust around the ring of the pie pan, and – perhaps having offered a quick prayer to the gods of dessert – lay over it the top crust, folding the excess crust under the bottom layer. You will perhaps wonder how to fuse the two crusts firmly together, to prevent the top from sliding off in a freak pie accident. This is how:


While raising part of the crust with your thumb, pinch down on either side of it with your fore- and middle-finger, crimping the two together. Do this all the way around the crust.


It looks like pie, but is it pie? Well, aside from its generally uncooked nature, there are still two things left to do. The first is to lightly brush the top crust with milk and sprinkle yet more sugar over the top of it (leave nothing to chance when striking a balance between sass and sweetness), and then to cut four vents in the top crust. This prevents a possible steam explosion (this is that freak pie accident your mother might have warned you about, looking wistfully into the distance as in remembrance of pies of days past).


Now, it’s time for baking.


Put the pie onto the middle rack in the oven and allow it to bake for half an hour. Reduce heat to about 350 degrees and slide a cookie sheet under the pie pan. At some point over the next half hour, you might hear the sounds of hissing coming from your stove. This is the genesis of the phrase, “the anger has boiled over.” The filling, angry about the heat, wants out. Show it who’s boss by leaving it in there for at least another half hour. If you have forgotten steam vents in the crust, now is the time for panic.


Once done, place the pie either on a wire rack or a windowsill for about 15 minutes. If neither hippy nor hobo has stolen it by then, it’ll be time to break out the ice cream.


© 2007 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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