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The Essence of Summer: Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble Pie

There is nothing that screams summer louder than a strawberry-rhubarb pie; the kind with sticky ruby juices oozing out of its top crust, or bubbling between the rubble of crumble topping and the crimped pastry edge. I make one at the earliest opportunity, as soon as my rhubarb pokes its way out of the ground and some half-decent strawberries show up at the market. This year it happened to be on a day when my last pie plate was at the neighbour’s house, so I half free-formed it in a ceramic quiche dish; I don’t see any reason to go back to my old ways now.

I love free-form pies and galettes; the pressure for perfection is off, and the end result is charmingly, beautifully rustic. With something juicy like strawberries I like the idea of containing it somewhat in a sided dish like this, but I’m sure it would have worked as well baked on a parchment-lined sheet. You simply roll out the dough, pile on the filling, leaving a couple inches around the edge, then flop the edges over to contain the filling but not cover it; this also alleviates any need to cut slits in the top crust to release steam. Doing all this in a simple round ceramic dish ensures it’s well contained, and makes for an even shape, too. And yet there’s no need to neatly trip and crimp the edges, as you might be pressured to do while using a traditional pie plate. There’s no compromise – the finished pie looks just as good as it would with a perfectly crimped edge and latticed top. And really, it’s all about the taste.

A crumble topping provides the best of both worlds: pie and crisp in one. It’s easy to mix together a crumbly blend of flour, butter and sugar- while you’re at it, mix up a big batch and freeze the rest for future pies, crumbles or muffin toppings.

As with any baked fruit pie, strawberry-rhubarb is best served warm, topped with vanilla ice cream. (Try sour cream ice cream, if you haven’t yet.) Eat it outside, in flip flops, if at all possible.

Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble Pie

Pastry for a single crust pie (see below)

3-4 cups chopped fresh rhubarb
3-4 cups really good strawberries, hulled and halved
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
3 Tbsp. cornstarch

Crumble topping:
1/2 cup flour
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
2-3 Tbsp. butter
Pinch cinnamon (optional)

Preheat your oven to 400°F.

Take your pastry dough out of the fridge and roll it out on a dry surface that has been lightly dusted with a combination of flour and sugar (too much flour could dry out your pastry) until it’s about 12″ in diameter. Drape the pastry over your rolling pin and transfer it to a pie plate, and fit it inside, letting the edges hang over.

Put the rhubarb and strawberries in a large bowl. In a smaller bowl, stir together the sugars and cornstarch; add to the fruit and toss gently to combine. Mound into the pie crust.

To make the crumble combine the flour, brown sugar and butter in a small bowl and mix with a fork or your fingers until well combined and crumbly. Sprinkle over the fruit, squeezing it as you go to create larger lumps of crumble. Trim and crimp the edge of the pastry, or just loosely fold it over the filling, even if there isn’t much to fold.

Bake the pie (put it on a cookie sheet or pizza pan if you are worried about drips) for 20 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 350°F and bake for another hour, until the pastry is golden and juices are bubbly and run clear. If the crust is browning too quickly, cover the pie loosely with foil.

Eat warm, with vanilla ice cream.

Grandma Woodall’s “Never-fail” Pastry

This will give you enough pastry to line a 9″ pie plate; double it to make enough for two pies or a double crust. Some pie bakers swear by a teaspoon of vinegar added to their water to discourage the formation of gluten and make a tender crust, but it’s not necessary. Using all shortening instead of a combination of shortening and butter is OK too.

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 cup butter, chilled and cut into pieces
1/4 cup shortening, chilled and cut into pieces
2-4 Tbsp. ice-cold water
1 tsp. vinegar (optional, stir it into the water)

In a large bowl or the bowl of a food processor, stir together the flour, sugar and salt. Add the butter and shortening and use a fork, pastry blender, wire whisk or the “pulse” motion of the food processor to blend the mixture until it resembles coarse meal, with lumps of fat no bigger than a pea.

Drizzle the minimum amount of water over the mixture and stir until the dough comes together, adding a little more a bit at a time if you need it. Gather the dough into a ball, flatten it into a disc, wrap it in plastic and chill it for at least half an hour. If you are making a double crust pie, divide the dough in half, making one half slightly larger than the other. (Your pastry can be prepared up to this point and frozen for up to 4 months; let it thaw on the countertop when you need to use it.)

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