The first time I remember tasting strawberry rhubarb pie was in Aspen, at a backyard party meeting my husband’s family. With its gemlike strawberries and ruby stalks of rhubarb, this pie has marked many special occasions since then. Our honeymoon, a post-wedding party in Colorado, and the birth of our son, Noah, who arrived in this world on August 31. Mike, the proud papa, has whipped up no fewer than four strawberry rhubarb pies since Noah’s birthday.
With my few hands-free moments in the past three months, I’ve tried to set down a story to share with you about the travails and triumphs of new motherhood… but I’ve been stuck. It’s not the lack of sleep, though there’s been plenty of that, or the lack of material—there’s loads. It’s the lack of words.
How do you describe the delicate way the back of your son’s head smells? Or how he stretches first thing in the morning, his arms overhead and knees tucked in a tight curve—“like a little comma,” says my writer-friend. Or how he collapses, limp, into your arms, completely milk drunk.
How do you describe the sweetness of an infant asleep on your chest? The gentle pressure calls to mind other joys: the weight of a feather down comforter on a cold autumn night; the warmth of a dog curled against your leg, loyal as ever; the nearness of a lover spooned close. But a sleeping baby is its own particular slice of heaven.
Motherhood isn’t all pies and smiles, of course. The dog has taken to chewing a worry spot into her tail. The chickens lost all their feathers (molting, it turns out). The husband made a few jibes about our baby bogarting my boobs. And the baby, well, he has had some nights when only the roar of a vacuum cleaner could dispel his crying.
As for yours truly, in my weaker moments I’ve been stress-eating pie. But I’m learning that it’s all part of the family package. Inexperience with newborns turns out to be inconsequential when you have your own; it’s a steep learning curve. Give it a week. You’ll know what to do soon.
I’ve learned that if relatives can quiet my baby better than me, it’s better to embrace the peace and quiet than fret that I’m an inept mother.
That the right answer is almost always to slow down.
That a walk in the fresh air with your baby can fix anything. Even at 2 a.m.
That hell on Earth may be stop-and-go traffic with a hungry, wailing infant in the backseat.
That even if you were never what you would call a “baby person” before birth, you will fall hopelessly in love with your own baby. It might take a few weeks, even a month, but it happens. Noah makes this one cooing sound that absolutely melts my heart; ironically it usually signals that he’s about to puke milk on me. Infanthood is like this. Enormous eyes, sweet coos, and baby jibberjabber—they all soften the rough patches of those first weeks and months.
So while the rest of the nation bakes pumpkin pie this week, we’ll be whipping up yet another strawberry rhubarb pie. Obviously this isn’t the most seasonal dessert. But we have a prolific rhubarb plant in our garden, and strawberries grow year-round on the California coast. Indulge us. The new season has come early in our household.
Mikey’s Strawberry Rhubarb Pie
When in doubt, go easy on the sugar. Better a tart pie than an overly sweet one. We’ve been using readymade piecrust lately (life with a baby!), but if you’re feeling ambitious, I’ve included my grandma’s favorite piecrust recipe below.
2½ cups strawberries, quartered
3 cups rhubarb, cut into half-inch chunks
½ cup flour
½ cup white sugar
½ cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons butter, cut into small cubes
1 teaspoon vanilla
Wash, stem, and quarter the strawberries. Wash and slice the rhubarb stalks. Be sure to discard the rhubarb leaves if they are still attached as they are poisonous.
In a large bowl, mix together the strawberries, rhubarb, flour, sugars, and vanilla. Let sit for 30 minutes. Mike says this step is crucial to allow the flavors to stew—don’t skip it!
Meanwhile roll out your piecrust into a pie dish. Add the filling and top with a second rolled-out piecrust, crimping the edges closed. Cut a few slits in the top of the pie and brush with melted butter or egg yolk if you like.
Bake at 400 degrees for roughly an hour (check it at 45 minutes), or until the crust is golden brown to your preference. Let cool fully before serving.
Grandma Dixie’s Piecrust
4 cups flour
1 3/4 cups Crisco
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 beaten egg
½ cup ice water
Mix the flour, salt, sugar, and Crisco together until crumbly. In a separate bowl combine the egg, vinegar, and ice water, then add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Form the dough into three or four balls, adding a bit more water if the dough is too crumbly. Roll out two of the balls for the strawberry rhubarb pie and freeze the extra one wrapped in plastic wrap or a Ziploc bag.
If you’re leery about using Crisco, Alice Waters has a fabulous piecrust recipe that uses only flour, butter, and water. You can find that recipe here.