Garden Lessons Learned & The Best Rhubarb Tart

Earlier this month I trusted some internet information which led me to a huge garden blunder. I planted my much cared for indoor tomatoes outside too soon. The weather turned cold and especially windy just days later and being away from home I was unable to protect those beauties. Mother Nature took a toll on the plants, but they held on. Today, in spite of their ravaged leaves they continue to thrive and I am already seeing a few tomatoes. Planting a garden can teach us many lessons. Remaining strong no matter how life chooses to chew us up and spit us out is one of them. Stay calm and plant some seeds. The rewards are great.

tomato plant

Tending a garden also teaches patience. For instance, I planted rhubarb last year and I really, really, really want to pick it, but I can’t. The rule of thumb is to let the plant build its root system and strength over a three-year period before harvesting. It’s the same with asparagus. It’s been 7 years since I planted the asparagus and today we are harvesting more than we can eat. It’s a joy to share it. The reward of patience. Lesson learned

As the world is opening up so is the produce at the market. Rhubarb is plentiful in the spring, but has a short growing season. Get while the getting is good and stock up on the naturally tart stalks. This darling of a vegetable can be added to pies, muffins, quick breads and even savory dishes.

Rhubarb Frangipane Tart

ALMOND FRANGIPANE

14 cup plus 2 tablespoon sugar

14 cup plus 1 tablespoon almond paste

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

3 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour

14 teaspoon baking powder

14 teaspoon kosher salt

In food processor fitted with metal blade, beat the sugar and almond paste until almond paste is chopped into small bits. Add butter; pulse just until blended. Add eggs and vanilla; blend until smooth. Scrape down the bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add to the butter mixture and pulse until just blended. Cover and chill while preparing crust.

CRUST

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened

14 cup plus 1 Tbsp. granulated sugar

1 egg yolk

14 cups all-purpose flour

14 teaspoon kosher salt

3 to 4 stalks fresh cut rhubarb, diced on diagonal (1/2-inch dice)

1 tablespoon sugar

With electric mixer, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Scrape down the bowl, then beat in the egg yolk. Combine the flour and salt, then add to the bowl, beating on low speed until just incorporated. Place dough in a 9-inch round fluted tart pan. Using fingertips, press the dough evenly across the bottom and up the sides of the pan to cover in an even layer. Dock (prick) the dough every 2 inches with a fork. Place the tart pan on a baking sheet; freeze for 10 minutes or until firm.

Meanwhile, set a rack in the top third of the oven and preheat to 350°. Spoon the frangipane to the center of the tart crust, and using an offset spatula, spread evenly all the way to the edges. Individually place the chunks of rhubarb on the frangipane in a pattern you like, leaving room between the pieces. Sprinkle tart with 1 tablespoon of sugar.

Bake until the top is lightly browned, about 40 to 45 minutes. Tart will look puffy, but then settle with cooling. Cool completely.

A symbol of wisdom, burning sage is used to achieve a healing state — or to solve or reflect upon spiritual dilemmas

Comfort Dreams & Lemon Meringue Pie

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I am inspired to write this today after my FB cooking buddy, Lois, posted about dreaming of her dad. Lois took great care of her father and prior to his passing spoke with him on the phone on a daily basis. She had been struggling with her grief until her dad came to her in a dream. They were talking on the phone. Dreaming of a shared experience affirming his life brought her peace.

Lois with her dad, Jerry, and two sons

I had a comfort dream of my own. One year after William’s death, I realized I needed out of my old life…that I would never heal if I did not move on, move away and simply just take care of myself. It was my first brave decision…but one filled with incredible conflict, as I would be leaving our home in Connecticut that was filled with 30 years of delicious memories and the place my son adored.

Imagine me packing up his room. The scent of his cologne still on his pillow. His dirty hand-print on the wall. Touching his things I was transported back to the places we had been, the fun we had had and the plans we had made…. the memories flooded over me.  Preserving these memories would allow me to move forward, but how? On our very first night in the new house now in PA I had the most vivid dream. I got up from my bed and looked out the window and in the driveway was my son looking up at me. It was then I knew he goes where I go. I carry him in my heart.

a bittersweet moment as the peak of my pie hit the oven grate and pulled away

Comfort dreams are moments of light and hope. They are stories of support and faith and what is most precious. To tell the story is a way of moving our grief along, but also is a gift to those we share it with. We all heal in the telling of our stories. It’s an uncomfortable blessing to express our pain, but in doing so there is a release and relief. Thank you, Lois for having the courage to mourn out loud. I’d like to think that your dad was telling you in that dream that he is always with you and that everything is going to be all right.

In honor of Lois’ dad I am sharing a recipe for lemon meringue pie. It was one of Jerry’s favorites and a recipe I have been tinkering with recently. The mile high cloud of meringue featured in the first photo above is an Italian meringue made with roasted sugar. It is light and fluffy with less sticky sweetness than the meringue featured in my lattice recipe design. As much as I love the lattice design the real reason behind it was to use less of the meringue I did not want to eat. Delicious citrus fruit is abundant this time of year, but if you can’t find meyer lemons go ahead and use regular lemons which will yield just a slight more pucker power.

Meyer Lemon Meringue Pie

Crust*

1 ½ cups (6 oz) all purpose flour

1 tablespoon sugar plus additional for pie edge

½ teaspoon salt

10 tablespoons (4 oz) vegetable shortening, cold

2 tablespoons (1 ounce) cold water

1 egg white

Meyer Lemon Filling

2 eggs

7 egg yolks

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

2/3 cup meyer lemon juice (about 4 lemons)

1 tablespoon meyer lemon zest

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 tablespoons heavy cream

Lattice Topping**

2 egg whites

1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar

¼ cup sugar

½ teaspoon vanilla

For the crust combine the flour, sugar and salt in a mixing bowl; cut in shortening. Add water and mix until just combined. Shape into a disc, wrap in plastic and chill 15 minutes. Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface and fit into a 9-inch pie dish. Decorate edge with pastry cut-outs. Line the pie shell with aluminum foil and weigh down with dry beans or pie weights. Place pie dish on a baking sheet. Bake at 375F for 20 minutes. Remove foil and weights. Lightly brush edge of crust with egg white; sprinkle with sugar. Return crust to oven and bake 10 minutes more or until a light golden brown.  Reduce oven temperature to 325F.  Meanwhile, prepare filling. In a medium saucepan, whisk eggs, egg yolks, sugar, lemon juice and zest. Add butter and stir over medium heat for 5 minutes or until mixture thickens and reaches 170F. on an instant read thermometer. Remove from heat; stir in heavy cream. Pour filling into warm pie shell.  For lattice topping, beat egg whites and cream of tartar to soft peaks. Gradually add sugar and vanilla beating to stiff peaks. Pipe meringue over pie in a lattice pattern. Bake 20 minutes or until meringue is golden brown. Cool and chill pie before serving. Makes 8 to 10 servings.

*ready made pie crust can be substituted for home made crust

** I suggest taking your meringue to the next level with this mile high light Italian Meringue made with roasted sugar. To roast the sugar: spread 1/2 cup of sugar on a piece of foil and place it in a pie plate at 350F for 30 minutes. Then continue with this recipe from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Pie and Pastry Bible

1/2 cup sugar (that you just roasted)

2 tablespoons water

4 egg whites

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

In small heavy saucepan, (I use one that has a pouring spout edge), stir the sugar and water until sugar is moistened. Heat, stirring, until sugar is dissolved and syrup is bubbling. Stop stirring and turn heat to lowest setting or remove from heat as you attend to the egg whites. In stand mixer with whip attachment, beat egg whites until foamy. Add cream of tartar and beat to stiff peaks. Increase the heat of the sugar syrup and boil until thermometer registers 236F. With mixer on high, immediately drizzle syrup into the egg whites avoiding the beaters. Beat for 2 minutes or until the mixer bowl no longer feels too hot to touch. Starting from the edges of the pie and covering the inside edge of the crust with meringue spread the meringue on top of the filling making swirls and peaks with a spatula. Bake the pie for 5 minutes at 350F to set the meringue and then place pie under broiler for 20 to 30 seconds for a deeper browning. You could also torch it.

Fresh Picked Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

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Warm, but overcast, yesterday was the perfect day for strawberry picking with my family. Highland Farms in West Chester, PA is the place to go for all sorts of fruit picking throughout the year. The scent of strawberries was in the air as we approached the field.

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photo by Caitlin

Do your littles watch the show Daniel Tiger? Annabelle loves the animated Mr. Rodgers version and on one episode Daniel and his friends go “fruit-picking”. My Annabelle could not wait to try it. She ate as much as she picked and was covered in warm strawberry juice by the time we were done. Want to have some fun? Go pick some berries!

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photo by Caitlin

Fresh picked berries are at their peak of sweetness compared to the more tart berries found in the grocery store, so less sugar is needed for the perfect pie. Make sure your filling is really bubbling (see video below) before you pull it from the oven to insure all the juices gel and don’t leave a soupy mess when the pie is cut. If the crust edge is over-browning then cover it with a pie shield or foil.

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Find a pie dough recipe here. It’s my favorite go to recipe and enough for a double crust, so wrap and freeze half of it for another time or just bake two pies.

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best baking buddy ever

Fresh Picked Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

Pie dough for a single crust pie

2 tablespoons gingersnap crumbs

Crisp Topping

½ cup all purpose flour

¼  cup brown sugar

¼ cup old fashioned rolled oats (not instant)

¼ teaspoon cinnamon

4 tablespoons salted butter, cut into cubes

Filling

4 cups of fresh picked strawberries, slice large ones in half

2 cups sliced (1/2-inch thick) fresh picked rhubarb

2 tablespons heavy cream

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

½ teaspoon vanilla

½ cup sugar

¼ cup all purpose flour

Heat oven to 400F. Line 9-inch pie plate with dough. Trim and flute edge.  (Roll out dough scraps and cut shapes for decoration. Sprinkle shapes with sugar, if desired.)

Sprinkle cookie crumbs over bottom of pie shell and chill while preparing topping and filling. For topping: combine all ingredients in a bowl working the butter into the dry ingredients until clumps form. Chill it. For Filling: Place berries and rhubarb in a large bowl. Drizzle with heavy cream, lemon juice and vanilla; gently toss to coat. Add sugar and flour; toss again. Spoon into pie shell. Sprinkle crisp mixture over the top. Bake for 60 to 70 minutes or until pie is bubbling and crust and topping are golden brown. Let cool to room temperature or serve just slightly warm.