Several years ago, I found myself in the congenial company of Emily and Melissa Elsen, and Dinah Grossman; owners of (then) up and coming pie shops Four & Twenty Blackbirds in Brooklyn and Cheap Tart (now Spinning J) in Chicago, respectively. It was a steamy summer evening, and we were drinking beer on Sarah Franklin's waterfront porch on Isle au Haut. Sarah is a food writer hailing from Brooklyn, who is also lucky enough to be a part owner of a family summer home on the island. She invited me over that day because she thought it would be helpful for me to meet other women making their way in the food biz. Though pie and chocolate are vastly different markets, we found lots of common ground in subjects ranging from managing employees, trying (and not succeeding) to moderate our work schedules, and thoughts on ways to increase our markets by shipping product beyond our own stomping grounds.
"Would you order pie through the mail?" they asked me.
"I would," I confessed. "If it was a brand I could trust to be the best pie I ever had. Because frankly, pie is a pain the ass."
"And hand-made chocolates aren't?" Sarah laughed.
"Well, yes," I said. "But everyone thinks pie should be easy. And it's not. What works for me one time, won't necessarily work the next time. I wan't dependability. If you can give me that, then I'm yours."
I still feel that way about pie.
But while both the Elsen sisters' and Dinah's businesses have grown and blossomed, neither of them do mail order pie. And while there are great bakeries in Portland, I'll admit, there's something about the challenge of coming up with a great pie recipe, that works time after time after time, that has me hooked.
And that's why I love this recipe. Yes, it's still a pain in the ass. But it is the little black dress of pie. It's the magic pair of jeans, that look good on everyone. It is dependably delicious, with perfect body and texture every single time I make it. Without fail.
So, if you're feeling energetic on a cool morning this weekend, I encourage you to celebrate the start of strawberry season by making this pie. Enjoy it on a porch, on a steamy evening, and in the congenial company of friends.
This recipe fills a nine-inch DEEP DISH pie pan, or a 10-inch regular pie pan.
1 cup + 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
4 oz (1 stick) cold, unsalted butter
about 1/4 cup cold water
4 cups diced rhubarb stalks
4 cups (about 1 pound) hulled and quartered strawberries
1 cup sugar
4 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 tablespoon vanilla
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
1 cup walnuts
1 teaspoon allspice
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons butter
For the crust:
- Toss the flour, salt and sugar together in a wide bowl. With a hand grater, grate the cold butter directly into the flour mixture, tossing it in as you go. With cold hands, quickly rub the butter into the flour. Leave some flakes big. Drizzle in the cold water, mixing briskly with a rubber spatula as you go. When the mixture is crumbly, but moist in clumps, stop adding water. Empty the contents of the bowl onto an un-floured granite slab or wooden board, and finish mixing by smearing and scraping the dough with the heel of your hand and a bench scraper. Press the dough together and roll out immediately on a floured surface. Press into a pie plate, crimp the edges, poke the bottom all over with a fork and plop it into the freezer for a good 1/2 hour.
- Heat the oven to 375°. Remove the crust from the freezer, line with foil and fill with dried beans. Bake crust for 12 minutes. Remove the crust from oven, and remove the foil/bean liner.
While the crust is in the freezer, prepare the filling:
- Place the rhubarb, strawberries, sugar, and butter in a large sauce pan and heat, stirring occasionally, until the butter is melted, the sugar is dissolved, and the mixture is bubbling. Sift in the cornstarch, and stir and cook until the mixture just starts to thicken. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla.
While the filling is cooling, and the pie crust is baking, prepare the streusel:
- Place the brown sugar, flour, oats, walnuts, allspice, cinnamon, salt, and butter into a food processor and pulse until the mixture begins to clump.
Assemble and bake the pie:
- Scrape the filling into the partially baked pie crust, and level out. Spill the streusel topping onto the surface of the filling, and pat down. No filling should be showing.
- Place the pie on a lined cookie sheet (you’ll thank me for this suggestion if your pie bubbles up and leaks out of the pan), and bake until the crust is golden brown. This will take 45-60 minutes. The topping may crack and the pie may ooze. This is fine, and good.
- Cool the pie completely if you can stand it. It will smell so good, this step will seem like torture. Serve at room temperature.