Rhubarb Pie and Grandma

Hello all,

Today I want to talk about my grandma, and about pie.
Mostly because they have to do with each other in my story, but also cause grandmas and pie usually go together, don’t they?

So here’s my story, I hate pie.

The crust is dry or burnt or flavorless more often then it is not. The filling has a tendency to be overly sweet, mushy or it tastes like the fruit is from a can that’s been hanging out in the back of the pantry, saved in case of apocalypse or something worse – like seriously not having anything else to eat and you’re on the verge of starvation.

Like I said, I’m not a fan of pie.

EXCEPT when it’s my grandma’s pie (cliche, I know).
I swear though, nobody does pie better than my grandma, Pauline.


Maybe it’s because she grew up on a farm full of fruit orchards in Canada with a big family full of hungry boys, and nothing warms you up like a hearty slice of pie in cold weather.

Maybe she makes such gosh darn good pie because when she grew up she went and had a big family (this time full of girls) and worked as a nurse so making pie was a good way to unwind after a long day of work and taking care of all her little ones.

Maybe, it’s cause now her 5 kids have all grown up and gotten married and had tons of babies themselves and the staple of every family gathering are Grandma’s pies.

Basically has had to stay on her pie game her whole life.

I have been thinking lately though, that if my grandma can make excellent pie, then maybe I can too. I might just have that pie making gene stowed somewhere in me.

She makes a most wonderful apple pie, a mouthwatering crusty and crispy pecan pie, pumpkin pie with filling so smooth and topped with leaf shaped crust pieces that will make you squeal with delight, but my absolute favorite pie is her rhubarb.

Rhubarb is divinely unique and not the most common of pies, its bitter when uncooked but addicting and tart when cooked and is absolutely positutely my favorite of Grandma’s pies.

So, while I was in LA for a few days for my dad’s birthday I cornered my granny with a pie cutter and said “Lady, you better give me your recipe for Rhubarb pie or I’ll slice you and put you in a pie!”

OMG I’M TOTALLY KIDDING

It really went more like this “Granny, you make the best pie in the whole gosh darn world, would you share your most delectable recipe for Rhubarb pie so that I may continue the family tradition.” Then granny smiled with her adorable, non-dentured, smile and said “Oh of course, honey girl!” That’s what she calls me, honey girl. I love my grandma.

Sidenote: I incidentally recently painted my kitchen table a color named “Rhubarb” and while slicing the stalks for the pie I decided to gauge just how well it matched

God damn that’s a match!

Moving on

What you’ll need:

For the most buttery and flaky crust:

2 1/2 cups flour, plus a little extra for rolling

1 stick of butter, cubed and frozen

1 tsp salt

1 tsp sugar

8 Tbs water, ice cold

For the luscious filling:

5 cups Rhubarb, chopped into 1 inch pieces

1 1/4 cup sugar, I used brown sugar

1/4 cup cornstart

2 Tbs lemon juice

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp salt

1 1/2 Tbs butter

What to do with it:

For the crust:

Combine flour, sugar, salt in a food processor and lightly pulse

Gradually add in the cubed frozen butter. I’ve learned that frozen butter is the secret to excellent pie crust. Pulse until the butter hunks are the size of your pinky nail

Now add the water, 1 Tbs at a time keeping watch of the dough’s consistency (flour has different absorbancy levels, so while I needed all 8 Tbs, you may only need 6 or 7). You want the dough to just stick together when you press it together between your fingers

Take the dough and squish it on the counter under your hands to break up the butter a little more to encourage that, oh so, desirable flaky crust

When you’re done smushing it around roll it into a ball and cut in 2 pieces then form those into 2 flat patties

Dust the two pieces with flour, wrap in plastic wrap and set to chill in the fridge for a little more than an hour

Once the hour is up, take out and let them soften for about 5 minutes…chill and then soften? I know, just do it

Take a floured rolling pin and roll out one patty on a floured surface until it is about a foot across, the edges don’t have to be perfect as you will be trimming them anyway

Fold in half and place inside your baking dish, I used my cast iron skillet since I don’t actually have a pie pan

Gently unfold to fill the pan and press into the edges

For the filling:

Preheat oven to 425

Place chopped Rhubarb into pie crust

Mix together sugar, cornstarch, salt, cinnamon and lemon juice in a bowl

Drizzle over rhubarb and gently mix around with your hands to coat

Dab with pieces of butter

Cover with the other patty of crust, that’s been rolled out, of course

You can cover the pie in a few ways, the coverall method in which case you would slit holes in the top to allow it to breath

OR the rustic way where you cut the rolled out dough into 1 inch strips and weave it – that’s what I chose to do

If you opt for this method just pinch the ends together with the bottom crust to close it off

*DON’T do what I did and forget to add 1 cup of the sugar – the copy of the recipe my granny gave me is old so the 1 1/4 cup sugar looked like just 1/4 cup. So there I was thinking to myself “God, who says pie is unhealthy, there’s only a 1/4 of a cup of sugar!” And anyone who has had unsweetened rhubarb can imagine my surprise when I first sampled a teeny bit of the filling through the pie crust. So there I was with an almost baked pie that was pretty nasty. In the event you did do that here’s the fix: take the extra 1 cup and mix with the tiniest amount of water to make it pasty and painstakingly drip it through the slots of the pie top. Then slosh the pie around with enough force to mix the filling, but not spill it. It’s an art, my friends, and I am here to say that I think I have mastered it.

The conclusion: The pie was delicious, the filling had texture and was tart yet sweet, and crust that wasn’t dry, overall a huge pie success for my first time.

But there’s just something about grandma’s pie.

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A Slow Day at Work Inspires Nutella Pizza

Usually a day time shift on a Saturday at work means lots of business. Sprinkled in every couple months though are days like today. The weather can’t make up its mind and neither can our patrons. They just don’t come in. So you are left with 2 servers and a phone operator who are forced to stare at each other and watch each others hair grow.

Truly it is a painful experience. Boss’s don’t like to see their money going to waste, so its best to look busy. But really, there are only so many times I can straighten cups, restock napkins, adjust place mats, and wipe down pizza trays. And really, my rag is only gonna get so clean, no matter how many times I rinse it out.

On days like this, I pace. I go to the kitchen and stand near the microwave and tell one of the guys working how I’m bored. Sometimes they are generous and share with me the task they’re performing (God bless ’em). Most of the time its making lasagna or Bolognese sauce. I have even learned how to make pizza dough and can now take a ball of dough and twirl it and work it through my hands to make the crust.

Again, today was just not that day. There was however, one fundamental difference with today though. The boss was there. And so was his 12-year-old son, Dominic.

I love when Dominic comes in. He is a funny kid who follows you around and does everything he can to help. Plus he puts customers in a good mood because he stands up straight as soon as they come in, asks them how many are in their party and then looks to me for my approval for him to seat them. Customers find it adorable that a kid is so eager to serve.

Plus when Dominic comes in you can get away with some fun stuff. There we were. Bored. And little Dominic comes up with a brilliant idea. We should really have a dessert pizza on the menu. Then a real stroke of genius. We should make a proto-type right now. He is quiet for a second and then proclaims that he has $10 and is going to the store to get some Nutella.

He comes back a few minutes later with a small jar of Nutella and starts discussing with me what else we should put on this pizza. We agree that we need bananas and chocolate sprinkles. He runs up to the office where his dad is to get permission to actually execute this plan, his dad apparently wasn’t opposed because a second later he comes back down clutching a $5 dollar bill and marches determinedly to the corner market yet again.

Then a freakin’ lunch rush comes. Typical. So we had to put our plan on hold for about a couple hours. As soon as there are only 2 tables left I head to the front of the restaurant and find Dominic in the kitchen having a conference with the pizza chef about the positives and negatives of regular and thin crust. He decides that thin crust would best serve our needs and politely asks the pizza chef if he could be so gracious as to bake a medium size thin crust pizza dough. The little diplomat. The chef obviously obliges. (As if he would say no to the owner’s son though).

Ten minutes later, the crust is done. I find Dominic looking from the crust to the jar of Nutella not moving. This is when I decide to intervene. I go over to him and instruct him to go get me a spoon. He comes back with 2, big and little. I take the smaller one and start scooping out heaps of Nutella and plopping the spoonfuls in various places on the dough. I then start smoothing it down with the back of the spoon to the edges of the crust and all through the center – like you would tomato sauce.

Next up was the banana. Dominic was in the middle of peeling and then looked to me and said he didn’t want to mess anything up and handed me the banana. I finished peeling and then showed him the best way to slice the banana. I did it on the diagonal so the slices were longer, and ’cause it looks pretty that way. Then we laid them out in a circular pattern. With my hands full of banana bits and Nutella smears, I asked him to please go get a few sugar packets. I ripped a few open into my hand and then rubbed a little bit onto each piece of banana so that when we popped the pizza back into the oven the bananas would caramelize a bit on the top, not burn. A few shakes of the sprinkles and a dash of cinnamon over it all and it was ready for its last stint in the oven.

Five more minutes in the oven and Voila!

The crust was crispy, the Nutella was still a little gooey, and the chocolate sprinkles had melted onto the bananas. Next time though, I think I will cook the bananas on their own for a few minutes because they were still really soft and Dominic and I agreed that they would have been better a tad crunchy.

His dad is dropping him off tomorrow for work. I am kinda sorta maybe hoping it’s slow again so we can come up with something else.