Thursday, July 26, 2012

Hail the noble rhubarb stalk!

Posted By on 07.26.12 at 06:52 AM

Strawberries not welcome here
  • Cory Doctorow
  • Strawberries not welcome here
I make pies. Fruit pies. One of my favorites is rhubarb pie. Pie making is a time for meditation, and meditating on rhubarb gets me into the realm of ultimate questions. One of these is about the differences—not only botanical but, well, spiritual—between fruits and vegetables. Rhubarb is botanically a vegetable, just as the tomato is botanically a fruit. My heart knows better. So does Bakers Square.

Because my taste for rhubarb is well established I am occasionally treated to a rhubarb pie. But this pie is almost always a rhubarb-strawberry pie. I am genial enough as I gulp it down, but I don't actually hold with rhubarb-strawberry pie. The strawberries detract from the tartness of the rhubarb. They add nothing.

The strawberry, which is botanically not even a berry, is also—between us—not a particularly interesting comestible. Strawberry jam is dull jam, and for some reason stickier than grape jam or apricot jam. At breakfast, it winds up more often smeared on my newspaper. Raspberry is a much more audacious flavor than strawberry, which may be why raspberries are turned into sherbet, where flavor is all, and strawberries into ice cream, whose creamy texture does a lot of the heavy lifting pleasure demands that the strawberry can't manage on its own.

The best part of making a rhubarb pie is laying the stalks out on the counter and bringing your heaviest knife—better yet, a cleaver—down on them. Thump thump thump. If your stalks are fat you will first want to split them lengthwise, and this is an exacting process. Actually, it's easy as can be, but there's something about it that makes you feel like a master chef or even a surgeon. Into the bowl go the pieces, which you could almost call chunks. When you dump the pieces into the crust make sure it's a crust you made yourself, even if there's nothing to it but flour, lard, and water. People think I make good pie, but what they're actually responding to is the homemade crust.

My daughters haven't struck out on their own in the pie realm. But the daughter of a friend who ate my pies growing up announced herself as a pie maker when she came home from college. If there were rivalries among pie makers (there are not), I would not enjoy running up against her in a bake-off. But now she is in the Peace Corps in Rwanda! Strawberries are grown in Rwanda and are said to be delicious, but I'm sure she's on her guard.

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