Summer Dreams and Pie

RhubarbPiesSummer is perhaps one of the best seasons for eating – weekends are for cookouts, piles of colorful produce flood farmers’ markets, and restaurants eager to open their patios and porches get creative with menus. Since I started this blog, there has always been one dish that best defines my summer repertoire: pie. I’ve made lots of pies, and have tried nearly every approach to pie dough (including a unique experiment with vodka); yet the all-butter crust that my grandma would be proud of is tough to beat. For this post, I made a bite-sized version with these Rhubarb Cream Cheese Hand Pies.
Rhubarb_1I found this rhubarb at the farmer’s market – big, ruby stalks of the stuff. Their pigment comes from varying levels of anthocyanins (the same compound that colors blueberries and black rice; ahhhh science). Even though it’s a vegetable, rhubarb is often prepared in dishes that are fruit-forward. The tart flavor and celery-like texture lend themselves well to compotes and jams and pie fillings. For this recipe, it’s simmered with nothing more than sugar; and you don’t even need to really stir it. You want the mixture to have as little liquid as possible when done, so it’s easy to work with when filling the pies.
PieDough_2The trick to handmade pie crusts is to keep the dough very cold; from start to finish. It can be frustrating…especially when you’re working on a hot summer day, but it’s worth the patience. If you have to refrigerate the dough halfway through making it, that’s OK. It’s also a little messy (with all the flour) but again, worth it. I could have chilled the dough a bit longer before starting the assembly process…but was watching Westworld and became too focused on keeping up with the plot twists. All the same, they tasted great! Click HERE to make this recipe a new summer tradition. 
RhubarbPies_2Summer and pie are a perfect pair, rousing memories of lazy, hot days with sweet iced tea and picnic blankets. Today was a perfect example of that kind of weather…although I spent a good deal of it beneath a fan with the A.C. blasting. In thinking about a musical pairing, one of my favorites came to mind – Knoxville: Summer of 1915, Op. 24, for soprano and orchestra (by Samuel Barber). This piece takes it inspiration and prose from the James Agee essay of the same name. Agee allegedly wrote the piece in an hour and a half. To date, it is one of his most famous works. The story is woven by the childhood memories of our protagonist, who paints a scene of her family lounging on quilts in the backyard while listening to the birds and streetcars passing by. While our protagonist relishes in this memory and the perfection of that summer evening, there is bittersweet inflection in her words: the now adult is all-too-aware of the passing of time and the journey to find one’s identity. In empathy, it’s difficult to not feel a yearning for the simplicities of childhood. The following recording features soprano Leontyne Price with the New Philharmonia Orchestra – I hope you enjoy!

Sources Cited:
“Rhubarb,” Wikipedia
Myers, Chris. “Knoxville: Summer of 1915,” Redlands Symphony. 2015.

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