Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Baking With My Granddaughter for the World to See


When I pitched a story about writing a cookbook for my kids to Gwenn Friss, the food editor at the Cape Cod Times, she thought it was a perfect story to run for Mother’s Day. I explained to her how my mother had written one for me and how I planned to start a food blog to help me (eventually) write one for my children.

I was really excited about the story, but I didn’t really think about how the story would be illustrated. No problem because Gwenn had a plan and assigned a photographer to come to my hovel house. I actually love my house, but my kitchen isn’t the most photogenic and I had just gotten back from vacation and hadn’t had a chance to clean the house yet – and it’s not like I had time to clean before we left. So two weeks of dust bunnies hopped around in the corners and two weeks of mail was piled up. In fact when I looked around, every surface of my house seemed to be buried in something – books, magazines, Ipods, Legos.

I attacked the house like a madwoman, first hiding putting everything away, then scrubbing like crazy. If I could have repainted the kitchen, I swear I would have. Instead I actually wore out one whole Mr. Clean Magic Eraser (but it did erase the dings on the wall behind my jar of cooking utensils). Finally with an hour to go, I still needed to take a shower AND make the pie dough before the photographer arrived.

I had decided to make Strawberry Rhubarb Pie because the ingredients were in season and colorful and I could use my Grandma Palmer’s recipe from the cookbook my Mom made. The photos were supposed to be a three generational thing with my daughter Jess and her daughter Skylar, but that kind of went the way of the best laid plans. Jess forgot about the photo shoot and had just gotten back from the gym. “I’m not being in the photos,” she insisted. “This was your idea, not mine.”

Skylar had just come home from pre-school and was a bear. She was tired and ready for a nap and when I asked her if she wanted to have her picture taken, she yelled, “No!” from the living room where she was firmly ensconced in Papi’s chair watching “Barney.”

With shaking hands, I whipped together the ingredients and was just adding the flour when the photographer Steve Heaslip showed up. While he set up his equipment, I lured Skylar into the kitchen with a sure fire line: “Do you want to play with dough with me?” Yep, she did, and Steve snapped away as we molded the dough, rolled the dough, filled the pie and proudly held up our efforts.

As Steve was packing up his stuff, I realized that I had forgotten to take off my apron. When I cook, I usually wear a vintage 1940’s bib apron I bought in a thrift store because it reminds me of my great grandmother. Grandma Richards wore a different apron like this every day of the week and I think of her every time I don mine. That day I was wearing a white blouse that I didn’t want to get dirty. But I meant to take the apron off before the photos were shot. It wasn’t even clean! Way to look like a hip young grandmother…

Plus I discovered some remnants from lunch on Skylar’s face. “You just look more realistic,” Steve said, before he left. So for days I’ve been fretting about those photos and just how realistic we might look. The story called “Recipes from Mom” ran today and you can’t even see my kitchen at all – not any of it. And Skylar’s face looks just fine, although she does look quite a bit shyer than the little imp who usually runs around here.

Somehow the whole photo shoot escaped my hubby’s attention and he had no idea it was happening. Later that day when he called to ask about my day, I told him I’d cleaned our house and baked a pie. “Awesome!” he said. “You should do that every day.”

As if…

But there was something incredibly gratifying about making my grandmother’s pie with my granddaughter. And she can’t wait to do it again, but next time she wants something a little less sour – like apple or blueberry.

The Recipes:

Water Whip Pie Crust

This recipe from my grandmother (taken off the label of Spry shortening) is exactly the opposite of every pie crust recipe I’ve ever seen. Instead of using cold water and handling the dough very gently, it uses boiling water and a mixer. The resulting dough is flaky and delicious and very easy to work with.

3/4 cup, plus 2 tablespoons of Butter Flavored Crisco
1/4 cup boiling water
2 tablespoons milk
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt

Put shortening in a mixing bowl. Add the boiling water and beat with mixer until smooth. Add milk and salt and beat again. It will look like whipped cream. Add the flour one cup at a time and mix by hand. Yield: a 2 crust 9-inch pie.

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

In my family we like our pies a little tart, so if you prefer a sweeter pie increase the amount of sugar.

Make recipe for two crust pie.

2 cups of rhubarb, washed and sliced into 1-inch pieces.
2 cups strawberries – leave smaller berries whole and cut larger berries in half or thirds
3/4 cup sugar (1 cup if you like your pie sweet)
1/4 cup flour
3 tablespoons butter

1. Roll out bottom crust and place in pie plate.
2. Put rhubarb, strawberries, sugar and flour in a bowl and mix well. Pour into prepared pie crust. If there is extra flour and sugar that hasn’t been absorbed by the juice of the fruit, sprinkle it evenly over the top.
3. Cut the butter into small pieces and disperse on top of the fruit mixture. Roll out top crust and cover the fruit.
4. Cut off excess overhang (should be about a half an inch all the way around) and fold top crust under bottom crust and pinch together. Crimp the edge by making a V with your left thumb and forefinger and pushing the dough into the V with your right forefinger.
5. With a knife liberally poke vent holes in the top of the crust in a pleasing design, making sure the whole crust is covered.
6. Bake at 375 degrees for 45 – 50 minutes. To check if pie is done, slide a knife into one of the vent holes. Fruit should be tender.

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