My Mom is not the sort of woman people think of as strong. Possibly, this is because of the way she looks: she is a tiny woman, almost to the point of frailness. She wears an expression of perpetual worry and confusion, as though she is always lost. She carries three sorts of footwear and least five different jackets in the car with her when she goes into town, in case the weather changes. She is known to spend over ten minutes deciding between two muffins in the shop. Which do you think looks better? As though if she were to pick the wrong one, things would go terribly, terribly wrong with the world. When she is nervous, she grips her thumbs within her fingers so tightly that the knuckles turn white. She is the youngest of four sisters and has never quite lost that air of being the baby. You just want to take care of her when you look at her. She is like a baby bird.
And yet, nobody who knows my mother well would ever make the mistake of thinking her weak. We have all learned the hard way about the shear force of her determination. Yes she frets and hems and haws about things longer than most, but once she’s made up her mind, well — just try and stand in her way then. And as to kindness, and love: I have never met another person who possesses more. She cries for people she reads about in the newspaper. She stays up all night worrying about the cashier at the grocery store whose daughter is ill. And if those that she loves fall into hard times, there is nothing she would not do to comfort them. She will exist for days off of coffee and shear willpower if needed. She will not sleep. She is, I am convinced, possessed of superpowers.
While my Mom does share with me an intense love of food, she does not particularly love to cook. She once confessed that reading a recipe gave her the same feeling as filling out a tax form. But she does love to make pie. She doesn’t make them very often. But when she does, it is an event. You can see her contemplating it days beforehand. And then, one morning she will lay out apples, butter, cinnamon, flour, bowls, measuring spoons, rolling pin across the kitchen counter as though preparing for battle. When you speak to her, she holds up her palm like a stern policeman directing traffic – now was that one teaspoon or two? She cuts the apples in her hands, bringing the knife through to her thumb, letting the pieces fall into the bowl. (I have never learned how to do this and it still holds the enchantment of a magic act for me.) Any extra pieces of dough left over she will brush with milk and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar and when they come out of the oven she will watch with gleeful pride as we fight over them. The secret is the cinnamon she will say. She really does make the best pies. They are a testament to the amazing things that can happen with this tiny slip of a woman puts her mind to something.
A note on the crust: I could attempt to invent a crust recipe for you, but the one that Heidi Swanson makes with rye flour is really so good there isn’t any need. You can find that recipe here. Just follow her directions for the making the crust and take the recipe from there.
- 5 cups (750 g) sliced rhubarb
- 1 ¼ cups (187 g) Muscavado or dark brown sugar
- 5 tablespoons flour
- 1½ tablespoons cinnamon, plus 1 additional tablespoon for the crust
- pinch of salt
- 1 egg, beaten
- 2 - 3 tablespoons Demerara sugar
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F/ 220 degrees C.
- Make the dough recipe as instructed at 101 cookbooks. Chill for 30 minutes wrapped tightly in clingwrap.
- While the dough is chilling, make the filling by combining the rhubarb, muscavado sugar, flour, cinnamon and salt in a large mixing bowl.
- Take the dough form the fridge and divide into two pieces. Roll the first piece out on a lightly floured surface, turning as you go until you've got about a 12 inch round. Line a 9 or 10 inch pie plate with the first round of dough, leaving about an inch of dough overhanging the rim. Trim any excess and save.
- Add the rhubarb mixture to the dish and brush the edges of the dough with the beaten egg. Roll out the second half of the dough into a slightly smaller round and lay on top of the dish. I like to fold the bottom crust up over the top layer and then seal with my thumb, making a nice ripple of thumb indents around the edge, but you can do this part however you like. Crimp it with a fork. Fold it under. However the mood takes you. If there is any excess dough from the top layer, trim it off and save for later.
- Brush the top of the pie with the beaten egg and then sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar. If you have any leftover scraps of dough, you can roll them out as well, brush with egg, and sprinkle liberally with cinnamon and sugar. These can be placed on a baking tray beside the pie and will be ready to eat after about 15 minutes of baking: a nice thing to tide you over until the pie is done.
- Cut a few slits into the top of the pie and place in the oven for about 45 minutes, Check often after 25 minutes of baking. Once the crust is golden brown and the juices are bubbling through the slits, the pie is done. Let cool and then serve with a good scoop of vanilla ice cream.
P.S. A group of very talented writers and illustrators that I am lucky enough to be a part of are attempting to self-publish an anthology of short stories (one of which I wrote!). We are attempting to fund this project through Kickstarter and I’d be so grateful if you could help out in anyway. The minimum donation is only a pound ($1.57) – the sort of pocket change you might be able to drag out from the cushions on the sofa. If you could also spread the word, I’d love you forever. The book is called ‘Casting Shadows’ and you can find the link here.