Pie is to baking as soup is to cooking and if cooking is an art, then baking is a science. There’s just more chemistry involved in baking and consequently, more potential for your experiments to go horribly wrong. Making a decent pie however is as easy as…well…pie.
Chances are, if you throw some vegetables and appropriate seasoning in a pot of boiling water and leave it long enough, you’ll end up with some soup; edible if not surprisingly delicious. Trade the pot for a pastry lined pie dish and fill it with fruit and sugar instead of vegetables and salt and you’ll end up with pie. This is a great discovery for me, who has devoted much more time to fine dining than to the practice of actually preparing food for oneself.
The other day, I could no longer stand passing by the rhubarb in the produce section of my grocery store and so I bought some, with the intention of making the only thing I know of that features rhubarb, namely strawberry-rhubarb pie. Sounded like a great idea and it was.
Here’s my recipe for cooking in general. First, think of what you want to eat. Next, Google the key ingredients and try to hone in on a general plan. Finally, combine the most interesting elements of all the recipes you’ve looked at, pour yourself a glass of wine, don’t measure anything and begin.
Today was the first time I worked with rhubarb and I decided to heed the advice I’d read to peel it first. I could see how the celery-like stringiness of rhubarb and the squishiness of pie would not go together well. Of the recipes I studied, the constant ingredients were strawberries, rhubarb, sugar and pie crust. Variable ingredients included, but were not limited to, flour, corn starch, instant tapioca, milk and eggs. From this information I concluded two things. (1) There is a liquid issue to which starches or gelatins but not both provide a solution. (2) Some people enjoy a custardy variation. I incorporated the facts as follows.
You need strawberries and rhubarb. I used all the rhubarb I bought; what was I going to do with the leftovers? I used all but the strawberries I needed for my daughter and I to put on our cereal in the morning. This is as precise a measurement as I made throughout the process. I love molasses so I poured a bunch of that over the chopped strawberries and rhubarb. Later, I drained some of it out but this was a mistake; I should have left it in. I used it as a partial substitute for granulated sugar and also because I thought it would be influential in the viscosity crisis. I sprinkled some corn starch on top as well and then sprinkled some more after it instantly dissolved. I’m glad I did. I added a bunch of granulated sugar as well as a safeguard. Regarding dairy, sour cream is delicious so I threw a good amount of that in there too. Nutmeg? Absolutely. Just a little though, and then a turn and a quarter from my sea salt grinder. Lastly, I totally dug the orange zest idea I read about so I broke out the grater, being careful not to get any of the bitter white pith into the bowl, and continued zesting until I tired of the chore. Lastly, I’m tempted to lie, but I lined my pi dish *(see footnote) with a store bought pie crust, filled it with the goodness in my mixing bowl and tossed it in the oven. Usually I bake with my daughter and so the dough making is the best part. Today I bake alone and so I cheated.
And now a brief interlude to honor my oven, glorious appliance that it is. It’s a porcelain Universal circa nineteen-fifty- something by my estimation. I don’t know if it’s in cahoots with the three dollar oven thermometer I bought but you set that dial to 400 and that’s exactly what you get…and that’s exactly what I did.
I baked my pie at 400 degrees for fifteen minutes after I remembered to set the timer then I lowered the heat to 350 when I noticed that my delicious pie filling was escaping, drop by gooey drop to the oven floor in audible intervals. About 30 minutes later I could stand the anticipation no more, and the crust was golden brown, so I removed my pie to let it cool.
Though it is painful, I fully recommend tasting your pie immediately after removing it from the oven. Your taste buds will not soon recover from the scorching heat of the filling but who the hell wants to wait another 10 minutes after all this chopping and mixing and trying not to peek in the oven every other minute?
Now that your pie is done you’ll want to start drafting a short list of people you intend to impress by sharing a slice of it with. If you are a single male like me, I recommend including attractive women you are interested in. Of course, always save a piece for mom and grandma if they are near; you’ll get far more appreciation than you deserve. The rest, I like to just enjoy by the fork or handfull as I pass by the refrigerator during the course of my day. It feels kind of like a pat on the back every time you do so.
To sum up, pie is nearly impossible to screw up yet the accolades following its production are gauranteed to be disproportionately in your favor. So if you have an hour or so to spare, an oven and even a hint at what tastes good, try making a pie; you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
*My mother bought me a pie dish with the Greek symbol Pi in the center and the first 100 digits of the mathematical constant named after it around the edge. 3.141592654…….