Monday, June 8, 2015

Pieathlon the Second! or, What is a rhubarb?

Today we find out the consequences of letting strange recipes into your house! Everyone who tasted last year's recipe is still scarred from the experience. The upside-down chicken pie has become the standard for terrible cooking here at A Book of Cookrye. So, naturally, when Yinzerella announced another Pieathlon, we at A Book of Cookrye enthusiastically said yes.

This year we actually got a really good recipe! I actually almost feel bad for having such luck. I got strawberries and rhubarb, but I submitted onions. Taryn over at Retro Food for Modern Times got to make a Belgian Onion Pie which had been lurking in a cookbook and staring at me. It might actually turn into a good pie since it comes from a Louisiana Junior League.
This recipe comes to us from Clara at Heritage Recipe Box who submitted it with this note:

The most interesting (and seasonal) recipe I found came from a cookbook called "Bi-centennial Culinary Collection" published in 1976 by the Gowanda (New York) Area Bicentennial Committee. I scanned the cover, first page, and a page with 2 possible recipes. Whoever makes this can choose between the strawberry and the rhubarb and raisin.
And here I thought the bicentennial just meant those quarters with the drummer boy.

Choose between the recipes, eh?  Well, the really good strawberries went out of season months ago and rhubarb does not grow here. Therefore, neither pie had the advantage of being in season at farmers' markets. Faced with the choice of out-of-season, flavorless strawberries or whatever a rhubarb is, we at A Book of Cookrye choose both! (Does this mean we're making two pies or can we say we're making tau?) As a bonus (since we don't have one), we will be doing this... without a pie pan! Yes, we will be doing this with a casserole lid and a cake pan!

And now, on to the first pie!
Rhubarb grows like a weed in many parts of the country, and we at A Book of Cookrye don't live in any of them. In fact, we've never eaten a rhubarb in all our lives.

We had no idea if we'd bought enough rhubarb for this, so we went home and looked up how many ounces of rhubarb make one cup. Most places we found an answer in seemed to agree that one cup of chopped rhubarb weighs 5⅓ ounces. The more mathematically inclined may note that we therefore did not quite have two cups of whatever a rhubarb is.

This is what dedication looks like.

I don't know if I'm disappointed or relieved to get some delicious pies this year. I mean, no one ever is disappointed by a good pie (much less two of them), but this lacks the adventure and trial-by-ordeal aspects of last time. However, when I sent invitation messages to my still-wary-from-last-time friends, at least I could make the offer more enticing by attaching the recipe page to prove that no frightening ingredients would be involved (except possibly raisins-- for some reason, they are nearly as polarizing as cilantro among my friends). Nevertheless, no one who was there last time returned for this one.
Let's get this started with a food porn shot involving eggs.
Protip: Stir the sugar and flour together first or else you'll be chasing down flour lumps to bash apart with a spoon.

And now, we get open the rhubarb package to see what a rhubarb is! We had left on top of the refrigerator overnight to thaw because presumably the recipe did not allow for turning rhubarb-shaped ice cubes into a pie when they calculated the baking time. The rhubarbs stayed in the bag when we tried to empty it out, leaving only this to trickle out.
Whatever a rhubarb is, it seems to bleed Kool-Aid.

We at A Book of Cookrye would like to credit Clara for submitting the first recipe that made us have to look up ingredients on Wikipedia. It seems a rhubarb is also called "pie plant" and also most parts of the plant are poisonous. We will be eating the little individual stems that the leaves grow on because the rest of the plant will kill you. We would like to know who after presumably getting poisoned from eating rhubarb leaves decided that the leaf-stems must be fine?
Looks like dyed celery.

We had to have consultations with people about rhubarbs before we could proceed. A friend in Wisconsin said it grows like a weed in his state and was all over the groceries. It seems rhubarbs make very good jam. Another friend from Colorado said it really only grows in the northern part of this country and that I better be dumping a lot of sugar on it. Lastly, my roommate who is from Wales said it tastes good but is kind of sour.
As a cultural note, it seems that while people in the US usually mix rhubarbs with strawberries, the combination is apparently unheard of in the UK. Upon his asking what pies I was making, I answered rhubarb and strawberry. Misconstruing that as a single pie containing both, he looked very confused for a second and then asked whoever would mix rhubarb and strawberries? Well, we at A Book of Cookrye did not have any intention of putting rhubarbs with strawberries, which is why we instead were engaged in the tedious business of chopping raisins.
We literally spend minutes doing this.

Did you know that once you've chopped them up, raisins make a pretty good (albeit brown and wrinkly) modelling clay? We made a raisin pyramid and dropped it into the bowl of rhubarbs.
Great. Now most people haven't tasted one of the ingredients and can't stand the other.

If nothing else, this pie took hardly any time to get into the pan. However, we had to spread and stir the filling around while carefully trying not to mess up the pie crust that took forever to make because it kept sticking to the @#$%$# counter no matter how much flour we threw around!

Looks like dead ants and weird dyed celery.

Incidentally, we tried some of that strawberry milk-looking stuff that everything was swimming in and it tasted like that jamaica tea you can get at Mexican grocery stores. For those who have access neither to rhubarbs nor to Mexican grocery stores, imagine something between Pixie Sticks and Sweet Tarts, only not fake-tasting.
Now the raisins look like blackberries.

We at A Book of Cookrye have been trying to master that roll-the-pie-crust-around-the-rolling-pin-and-then-unroll-it-on-top-of-your-pie thing. While we're getting better at it, we have yet to master starting placement.
So close!

Well, it's patched and gashed. Although given how many cracks the crust ended up with, did we really need to ventilate it?
Onward and ovenward!

Right, that's one pie done. We've got one more and we can identify everything that goes in it! The recipe called for a quart of strawberries which was a bit difficult to purchase because no one in the grocery store lets you open all the strawberry boxes and measure out the contents. Hopefully this is the correct amount.

However, as a recipe note, those who wish to try this at home will want to either share the job of pinching the little green parts off the strawberries or use a knife instead. After a while, it feels like your fingernail is getting pulled off. Seriously, this is a really big pile of strawberry leaves to pick off in one go.

Fortunately, strawberries being small, washing them only required temporarily setting up a strawberry bog.

If you ignore the fact that strawberries don't grow floating in water, it looks like a low-budget juice commercial.

I like how realistic this recipe is. When you buy strawberries, only a very few of them will be really pretty, bright red, and totally perfect. Most of them will have a few wrinkly spots but still be perfectly fine, and a few of them will look seriously iffy even if they picked the strawberries the same day. So for this pie, you set aside the really good ones to put on top, boil the lousy ones in syrup until you can't tell they were nearly dead, and dump the rest into the bowl and cover them with syrup to hide their little flaws.
However, it would have been nice had they mentioned draining the strawberries would require clearing an entire countertop.
On the bright side, a countertop of strawberries made the kitchen look so happy.

So, we got the iffy strawberries into the pot ready to simmer, and then it occured to us we might want to cut them up first.

We then decided cutting them up would take too long and just tore them to pieces. They're getting boiled to strawberry mush anyway. Said mush ended up the color of pink lemonade. Also, to our astonishment, it tasted just like strawberry-flavored candy! It sounds like a stupid thing to be surprised about, but you know how nothing with banana flavoring tastes like an actual banana? Or how cherry flavoring only sort of resemble cherries? Well, this tasted exactly like things that have strawberry flavoring in them! It looks like our friends in the food industry, in the process of helping us live better through chemistry, actually got one of their formulas right.

We tried spreading the cream cheese with a spoon and then a knife, but we couldn't reach past the sides. Therefore, we ended up fingerpainting it to the crust.
Putting in a blob  of straight cream cheese seriously unnerved us. We're not adding anything to it. Instead, we're just putting a slick of it straight onto the bottom of what looks like an otherwise good pie. Have you seen three-ounce packages of cream cheese anywhere? (If so, where do you live? I want to know where they sell them.) However, since the recipe said many ounces of cream cheese are in the package they had in mind, we avoided smearing an entire brick of the stuff in there. We later decided that after putting unnaturally colored, probably-not-poisonous plant pieces into one pie, is a little cream cheese really so bad?

Fearful of the rhubarb pie boiling over in the oven, we had put it in the more capacious pan. This proved a mistake as the casserole lid was having difficulties with the quart of strawberries. It looks like a lovely tempting heap of strawberries, but we had to smash some of them in there to make them stop rolling off.

After carefully placing the strawberries in a stable stack (then fuming and smashing them into place when they kept refusing to stay there), we then somehow got all of the syrup to fit in the pan. The recipe didn't say whether we were supposed to cool the syrup first, but we at A Book of Cookrye figured it would better soak into the strawberries and correct any out-of-season blandness if we dumped it on right after we took it off the burner.

Is there any point in saving strawberries for garnish when you can't tell where the pie stops and the garnish starts? I mean, the pie looks amazing and divoon, but what was the purpose of the garnish?
We tried to get them in a ring around the center. Can you tell?

It was later pointed out to me that the extra strawberries might have been intended to go next to an individual pie slice on its plate. However, this would require carefully rationing garnishes while cutting pie slices and passing them around the table.
At any rate, this pie went into the fridge where the recipe informed us it would firm up. At this point we decided that using the casserole lid for the strawberry pie wasn't so bad an idea after all.

Meanwhile, the other pie's 45 minutes of baking had finished. Despite containing rhubarbs which we still didn't quite know what to think of, it at least smelled really good.

We at A Book of Cookrye then remembered we had people coming over and we needed to come up with plates and such. As a bonus difficulty, some of our teacups had broken when we had to move to a different building for the summer. Fortunately, our roommate lent us two of his. You may be able to deduce at least one sports team he's a fan of.
Also, for once other people leaving their dishes to fester in the sink paid off as we otherwise would have lacked sufficient cutlery.

Also, by way of abandoned appliances, we had a perfect teapot!

We easily sliced the rhubarb pie and got it onto the plates, but the strawberry one caused some difficulty. We couldn't see where the cuts were, and therefore had no idea how evenly sliced we'd gotten it. While it had firmed up a little in the refrigerator, it still had no hope of holding itself together. We ended lifting out each person's slice while most of the strawberries fell off, then just scooping what looked like a decent helping of berries out of the pan and piling it on each plate.
This is the pie after we cut it.

For once, having to use a pot lid as a plate paid off. It makes a really spiffy presentation platter if you're serving two pies.

Two people had issues with the presence of raisins in one of the pies. I had to say that they knew the pie contained raisins, therefore there was no chance of them mistaking the raisins for chocolate chips and getting traumatized.
Given the aforementioned camera-shyness of some of those who came over for this, I instead passed around a piece of paper for everyone to write on. Herewith follow everyone's thoughts.

As for myself: Both of these were really good!
For the strawberry pie:
The syrup somehow got into the hollow inside of the strawberries so they were sweet from the inside out. While slathering straight cream cheese onto the bottom of it made me think the bottom would be just flavorless white glop, it actually tasted really good. Also, enough syrup got into it to make up for any lack of sugar stirred in. Just like strawberries have a shelf life of about a day once you get them home, the pie was already getting kinda sad looking after an hour of being out of the fridge. But it's so delicious that the short shelf life will never be a problem. The entire pie was gone in less than two hours.
However, you need to get really good strawberries. This is one of those recipes designed to show off how your fruit tastes so good you really don't need to do anything to fix it. If you get good strawberries, this will be absolutely divoon. If the only strawberries you can buy are somewhere between bland, sour, and bitter, they'll still taste bad in the pie.
For the rhubarb pie:
It tastes a lot better than it sounds like it would when you try to describe it. It tasted like really concentrated raisins with some extra tartness. It also really tasted like jamaica tea if you've ever had it. It wasn't sour like lemon things usually are, but in a different way. It was so good that we at A Book of Cookrye would welcome rhubarb into our domicile again! (Well, we'll have to since there's a partial package of the stuff lurking in the freezer. But we'd do it again on purpose.)
Even those who hate raisins liked this pie. It is that good.

In closing, we at A Book of Cookrye would like to share this because it is awesome.

Be sure you see what everyone else made!
I'll be putting direct links to everyone's pie as I get the address, but they might have theirs posted already even if the link's not there yet.

Yinzerella from Dinner is Served 1972  -  Melton Pork Pie (she also organized this!)
Erica Retrochef from Retro Recipe Attempts  -  Steak and Mushroom Pie
Taryn from Retro Food for Modern Times  -  Belgian Onion Pie (this one's my recipe!)
RetroRuth from Mid-Century Menu  -  Cheese Pie


  1. Hi S.S, The Belgian Onion pie was awesome, once I tweaked the recipe to reduce the huge amount of butter. Also, I love rhubarb so if you are looking for recipes for your over supply I could be happy to send some through. The only one that springs to mind, and it is AWESOME is the rhubarbagrita from The Splendid Table website. Thanks for the recipe, loved it madly. xx

    1. I looked that recipe up and it looks really good! Since the frozen rhubarb ends up almost a pulp anyway once it thaws, it looks like it'd be a cinch.

  2. Well I have had Strawberry pie and strawberry rhubarb pie but I've never had just plain rhubarb - you do make it look good though!

  3. These look really good! I've never had raisins with my rhubarb - I'll have to try it!

    1. Thank you! I was surprised how well they went together.

  4. Replies
    1. Thank you! I was surprised I got off so easy this year.

  5. My grandmother used to make a version of that strawberry pie every spring. After seeing this I might have to try the recipe out myself.

    1. You should! It's really easy, and if you have in-season strawberries it'd be amazing.