Father's Day is just around the corner, and I love seeing all the Dad-themed crafts that are popping up all over the internet - the tie-shaped cookies, the painted stones that say 'Dad Rocks', the King-of-the-Grill aprons, the creative candy bar cards. My dad would have loved all of those things, but he passed away four years ago and this holiday has always hit close to home ever since.
To honor his memory and keep myself from too much introspection, I always make an effort to mark the day in a way that would have been special to him. Sometimes it's reading a nautical book (Arthur Ransome's stories are a childhood favorite), or watching an Alfred Hitchcock movie, but more often than not, it's baking strawberry rhubarb pie.
Last year, I spent the holiday on the road so I had to be satisfied with store-bought pie (at least it was Amish-made!), but this year, I had the opportunity to make my own. My Dad was a great lover of pie - a fellow sweet-tooth in a house full of savory-lovers - and strawberry rhubarb was his favorite.
We had our own rhubarb when I was growing up in England; a few large plants that sprung up at the back of our garden, amidst some rambling raspberry bushes and a hedge of beautiful-but-deadly foxgloves. I remember distinctly the first time I saw it, the slender, ruby red stalks a stark contrast to the large and spreading green leaves. I thought it was a vegetable (and it is, technically!) so I was amazed when a friend taught us to cook it with sugar and bake it in pies - such sweetness from a sour vegetable seemed nothing short of kitchen alchemy to me! I've been enthralled ever since, and though I love the magic and simplicity of a pure rhubarb pie, the addition of strawberries really does give you something special.
I make my strawberry rhubarb pies with a crumb topping because that's the way my dad liked them, but there is method to my madness - one of the most common problems with strawberry rhubarb pies is that they can become 'sloppy' during baking. Lots of recipes add cornstarch or tapioca to counter this, but I prefer to keep additives to a minimum, so I have a few tricks up my sleeve:
Firstly, the crumb topping helps to absorb some of the excess liquid while also allowing steam to escape easily during baking, unlike a regular pie crust, so there's no need for venting. Secondly, I cook my rhubarb on the stove first, with some of the sugar, to create a rhubarb compote which makes the filling thicker. And thirdly, the trick is to allow your pie to 'rest' before serving. I know there are few foods more comforting than a hot slice of pie with a cool slick of vanilla ice cream, but resting the pie does make a difference - you'll notice that I did not rest my pie before taking these pictures (do as I say, not as I do!) which is why some of them still look a little gooey.
If you really, desperately want to serve your pie hot, you can re-heat the pieces individually after cooling or just serve it fresh from the oven with the knowledge that you probably won't be dishing up picture-perfet wedges. Along the same lines, you'll get even better slice if you refrigerate your pie before serving - if you can wait that long! Of course, absolutely none of this matters if you're just going to eat it straight out of the pie plate with a fork. Or perhaps a teeny tiny spoon. Don't worry, I'm not one to judge.
Disclaimer: I have to admit that I'm not happy with the photos of this pie - Matt and I were so eager to dig into it that I didn't take the time for a proper shot, and it shows. I'm also a little disappointed that I had to use 100% whole wheat flour for the crust. I don't recommend this since it creates a drier crust, but since we're in the process of moving and trying to use up our groceries, I had to make do with what we had on hand. I guess all of that means I'll just have to make it again - soon!
Now that my excuses are out of the way, I will say that there was one thing that completely lived up to my expectations - the taste! This pie was absolutely delicious, from the first sticky-sweet mouthful to the very last brown-sugary crumb...and yes, Matt and I ate the entire thing between the two of us. Somehow, I'm pretty sure my dad would have approved.
Crumb-Topped Strawberry Rhubarb Pie
1 recipe All-Butter Pie Crust (or your favorite 9-inch pie crust)
3 1/2 cups rhubarb, untrimmed and chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
1 16-ounce container strawberries, hulled and sliced (about 3 to 3 1/2 cups)
1 cup granulated sugar, divided
2 Tablespoons corn starch, divided
1 Tablespoon lemon juice (clearly optional, because I forgot it!)
1 cup flour
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
3/4 cup old-fashioned oats
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Preheat oven to 400°F. Butter a 9-inch pie dish and place in the refrigerator to cool. On a well-floured surface, roll the pie dough into a 12-inch circle and transfer carefully to you chilled pie plate (draping the crust over the rolling pin makes this easier, but if you're using my Amazing All-Butter Pie Crust recipe, your crust should be reasonably thick). Return to the refrigerator to chill.
In a small saucepan, combine rhubarb, 1/2 cup granulated sugar and 1 Tablespoon cornstarch. Heat this rhubarb mixture over medium heat until it begins to bubble. Reduce heat and allow mixture to simmer until the juices are reduced (mixture should have the thickness and consistency of prepared pie filling - don't worry, it tastes much, much better!). Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.
Combine the strawberries, remaining sugar (1/2 cup) and cornstarch (1 Tablespoon) and toss to coat. Allow to thicken for about 15 minutes or until rhubarb mixture has cooled.
Meanwhile add the crumb topping ingredients - flour, butter, oats, sugar and cinnamon - to a large mixing bowl. Using a fork or pastry cutter, cut the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Use your hands or a wooden spoon to gather the mixture together into large, loose crumbs. Keep in the refrigerator until ready to use.
Once the rhubarb mixture has cooled, add it to the strawberry mixture and stir until well-blended. Spoon filling into pie crust and top evenly (and generously!) with crumb topping.
Bake at 350°F and bake for a further 50 - 60 minutes or until crumb topping is golden and filling has thickened (if your crumb topping begins to get too brown, cover with foil for the remaining baking time). Cool on a wire rack and serve warm or chilled with a bit of cream, ice cream or some homemade vanilla sauce.
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