Monday, March 28, 2011

A Guest post by my Quaylo - The fruits of seasons and a family kitchen

A high point in my earliest food memories was an oft featured treasure from my mother’s ovens that caused ripples of delight any time we became aware that she was baking these. So fragrant were the smells that permeated our small home when my mother was baking that, in my recall, we all became a little giddy. Never more so than when we knew she was baking pie. It almost didn’t matter to us what kind of pie she was making, they were all great. Mom was a master at taking advantage of the best available ingredients. In this way her pies were woven into our sense of the seasons. In hindsight it isn't any wonder why I still love pie so much. Pie is a part of my biorhythms. It is a little sad that today's hot house production and global supply lines have rendered these seasonal dependencies a thing of the past. We can have any pie, any time we want. That is a substantial dilution to anticipation, that thrill when something we are waiting for gets closer and closer. Examples of pies that marked our seasons are distinct in my memory. For example the salad days of summer were made all the richer by the freshly picked peaches, which, when cradled in one of my mother's unbelievably flaky, lard based, crusts, was elevated to a culinary status that paid homage to mother nature's wonders. Since we helped pick the peaches at the orchard my father would drive us too each year, we had a connection to these pies that went beyond the simple enjoyment of eating them. It was almost transcendental. However, it wasn't just peaches, but also cherries, strawberries, and blueberry pies that marked our summer days as much as the warm sultry evenings during which we ate them. Today, a home-made summer fruit pie invokes memories of heading for the patio to escape the hot house, and the smell of freshly mowed lawns, the sounds of crickets, and the feel of cooling grass between our toes. Of course, after the weather had turned, and our care free days yielded to school days, there were pumpkin pies at Thanksgiving. They joined the fresh apple and pecan pies that became the standards of late fall and winter. Again, we were often the agents of the harvest, going back to the same pick-your-own orchards for apples, or finding pecan trees under which to gather the fallen bounty, or selecting the large pumpkins for our Halloween from the farmer’s market. My father had several prime pecan trees we went to each year, and they had an abundant output. Two of these were huge, ancient sentinels in the largest of the city parks. I often wondered why we were the only ones that hiked back to these trees to gather the pecans that had begun to litter the floor with the first cool fall winds. The pumpkins so deftly carved for Halloween were never allowed to wilt on the porch and instead were cleaned and stewed to put by for Thanksgiving pies. My mother never wasted anything.

One particular pie stood out. The fruit came from my father’s annual garden, along with the early asparagus which was another product of a rhizome plant. These popped up and grew as early as mid April, making it a sure bet for spring time. I am talking about the rhubarb, which traces its cultivation back thousands of years. The Chinese prized its root ball and stalks for medicinal qualities. Rhubarb roots are harvested in the fall from plants that are at least six years old. The roots are then dried for later use. The root was used in various preparations for use as an anticholesterolemic, antiseptic, antispasmodic, antitumor, aspirant, astringent, cholagogue, demulcent, diuretic, laxative, purgative, general tonic [1]. My father was an avid reader and world traveler, and he may have known all of this. But there was only one thing on his mind when he came into the house triumphantly carrying the earliest stalks of this remarkable plant. PIE!

Only the red stalks of the Rhubarb plant are used as an edible "fruit"

Today rhubarb is widely grown in hot houses year around. One rhizome can yield as many as three harvests per year. It isn’t a very popular pie filling here in Southeast Asia, but then pie is not particularly a popular dish except in kitchens that see western baking. Still, during a recent visit to Singapore, a friend of ours purchased some for us from a local market after I spoke about it the night before at dinner. Carefully wrapping the fruit and carrying them back on her return flight to Kuala Lumpur, Quaypo made sure the treasure was secured. In the meantime, I stayed on to finish my work, and almost forgot about the rhubarb until my own return a few days later. As soon as Quaypo reminded me I was on it. I chose to mix some strawberries into the filling I made, and wisely recruited Quaypo to make her crust as she has the same golden fingers for pie crust that my mother had, even though she is handicapped by the out of favor lard, in favor of a vegetable based alternate. My father loved the sharp tartness of a full rhubarb pie, but I favor a milder blend. The result was far better than I expected. The very tart rhubarb stewed up plump and juicy, and was balanced by the less tart strawberries and the sugar in the recipe. The pastry was typical of Quaypo’s talents. The memories of those pies of my youth were, well…priceless, which is why I am sharing them with you.
Stitch aka "Simplifried"

Strawberrie – Rhubarb Pie

1 1/4 c Sugar
1/8 ts Salt
1/3 c Flour
Zest of 1 lemon
1 T fresh lemon juice
2 ts vanilla extract or 1 pod scraped
2 c Fresh strawberries
2 c Fresh rhubarb, cut in 1" pieces
3 T cold butter
1 T Coarse sugar
Pastry for 2-crust pie

Combine 1 1/4 cup sugar, salt, and flour. Arrange half the strawberries and rhubarb in a pastry-lined 9 inch pie pan. Sprinkle with half the sugar mixture. Repeat with remaining fruit and sugar mixture. Dot with butter. Drape top crust and flute edges to make high-standing rim. Brush top of pie with cold water and sprinkle on coarse sugar. Cut steam vents in top crust. “Collar the edge of the pie with aluminum foil. Bake in hot oven (425 F) 40 to 50 minutes or until rhubarb is tender and crust is browned.


  1. this was always a stapple of our summers when I was growing up...such sweet memories.

  2. both of you baking together, what a lovely sight!

    I'd never tried rhubarb before but will definitely try to get my hands on some after reading your post!

    thanks stitch!

  3. Stitch and Veron, ah, no wonder you guys told me about rhubarb over the weekend! Here's your pie! Total American classic! And you know what happened to my strawberry-rhubarb pie, right? *LOL*

    Yes, you definitely can find fresh (not canned!) rhubarb in Kuala Lumpur but all these depend on a stroke of luck. Wendy of Table for 2 or more... once found hers at Jaya Grocer (I think) and I found mine at the Cold Storage in Times Square. It was an accidental discovery, seriously! Totally unplanned.

    Actually, what I haven't told you when I was visiting with you last Saturday is the fats I use for my pie crust here and back in MN. See, back in MN, I could easily buy lard off the supermarket shelf (the brand I used was Armour). True, lard yields the flakiest ever crust, and it was used in my flaky Chinese pastries too. Now since it isn't available in KL, I've been using both butter and (Crisco) shortening for my pie crust, in a ratio of 50 to 50. For real butter crust, I use butter and Crisco's butter-flavored shortening.

    And yes, in Asia, pies are unpopular and rhubarb as a pie filling is literally unheard of! I'm serious! I wouldn't even describe it as unpopular since the plant itself is almost unheard of.

    Ah, I'm so gonna make more when I spot rhubarb again! Well, we shall wait till spring hits the Down Under again.

  4. Amazing post, recipe and photos!

  5. great post from Quaylo! this pie looks just perfect!

  6. Hi Stitch,

    Thank you for sharing parts of your childhood with us. It's always great to get to know the person (in this case, people) behind the blogs you read. That's what makes blogging fun and more personal. I don't think I've ever tried home baked rhubarb pie before. I've had store bought, but I know home baked would definitely taste better. Everything home made is usually better. Your pie looks delicious, and that crust is perfectly baked and browned to perfection. Good job with the crust, Quay Po ;-). Thank you for sharing this recipe and the medicinal qualities of rhubarb with us. Hope you both had a wonderful weekend.

  7. What a lovely post! I agree, there is more to anticipate when we have to wait for our food. Strawberries and rhubarb, a classic beauty.

  8. David, thanks for the comment. Isn't it funny how things like pie can become iconic memories in our older years? Music, fragrances, and food are among the most consistent at yielding these vivid flashbacks. I honestly revel in these memories but not too much. I try to never say "good old days".

  9. Belinda; I have to say that when it comes to pie crusts, Guaypo rocks! I bang my head trying to figure out what I do wrong. But now I've decided that isn't necessary. Instead I think I'll just keep her. (For this and a 1000 other reasons). (^^,)

  10. Alan, the family that plays together..etc. When we are in the kitchen, that is exactly what we are doing. Playing. Rhubarb is a unique experience owing to its rather subtle tartness. By subtle I mean that is rather a rounded tartness to it, though it is big. It reminds me of truly excellent red wines that have tannins, and there is no mistaking them for what they are, but they are somehow soft. Rhubarb cannot be compared to ultra sharp tartness like a lemon. They are just not in the same zone from a taste standpoint. You should give it a whirl though note that I still vote for half rhubarb and half strawberry. Good luck!

  11. Pei-Lin, I loved your story about Rhubarb pie, and it's transformation to rhubarb cobbler. Only foodies like us can relate I suspect. I still wish we had kept some back for your visit. Oh...BTW, your macaroons lasted about two hours after you left. Did you ever attempt American style macaroons? I used to walk 6 long NYC blocks (1-way) to go to a deli that made these in the famous black & white cookie style. I'd buy two and they were always gone before I could get back to my apartment. I have to confess that I am a true "oinker" when it comes to sweets. We have a new recipe we are playing with now, for an Almond-orange-honey cake that we will try again next time you are over. Cheers!

  12. Yummychunklet, thank you. I consider that high praise considering your fantastic blog.
    ( )

  13. Sonia, thank you very much. We have to have another gathering here soon, where I can wrangle an invite from "management". Incidentally I love nasi lemak. We will be sure to ask Guaypo to make up some extra otak otak for your son. I hear he has hollow legs for it. Thanks again, so kind of you to comment.

  14. YummyChunklet, thank you for your very kind remarks as well. Gosh, I may have to start a food blog. Cheers.

  15. LeQuan, what can I say to such gratifying remarks except thank you. I've learned from bloggers like you and Quaypo that the best food blogs tell a little story. In that way you, Quaypo, Pei-Lin.. my gosh.. all of Veron's regular posters here, have been my muses.

  16. Daphne, thanks so much. By the way, your chocolate-peanut butter bars are absolutely next on my list of kitchen adventures. I will report accordingly. Is there anything better than that pairing? Maybe, but it hasn't reached my palate yet.

  17. lotsa memories in built in our bakes makes them even more delightful and meaningful :) really lovely pie!

  18. Mmm, we love Rhubarb for baking. I love your memories of it as well. Very beautiful post. Thanks for sharing it.

  19. Yet to try rhubarb in baking. looks like this pie is delicious i have to go shopping and find rhubarb.

  20. Stitch, the quaylo! How wonderful it is to have you here instead of Veron. ha.. At least, she can take a few days off. I think finding such unusual fruits or plant like rhubarb or fennel, it's all depends on our luck. It's even impossible to find them here in small town like mine. If I can just have them one day...I will make pie, jam, cakes and more out of it. Your pie sure looks terrific. Thanks for sharing the little secret recipe of your family.

  21. Jean, Betty Ray, you are both right & eating, are pleasurable experiences that we embed in our memory from our earliest days. Quaypo set out, initially, to document her mom's extraordinary Cantonese and Straits Chinese dishes. I simply ran with her idea. What is also extraordinary to me is the way Quaypo has taken to western dishes as well. When invited to contribute again, I will probably continue to focus on the cuisine heritage from my growing up days in Oklahoma. Thanks for visiting and the comments.

  22. Swathi; you really should try. Incidentally, Quaypo and I visited a market yesterday and found rhubarb here in Kuala Lumpur. I suspect you will have no problem but for us, it was a delight to confirm that it is appearing in markets here. Thanks for your comment, I hope we see a pic of a rhubarb pie on your blog soon.

  23. Kristy, many thanks for your warm welcome & comments. I have really enjoyed your light hearted blogs about cooking & baking and intend to try the eggs you featured recently. In terms of fennel, we are getting that on a regular basis from Cold Storage. We typically buy the local highlands grown fennel rather than the EU import. I love cooking and making salads with fennel, and my favorite recipe is Quaypo's porkburgers. They are out of this world. Cheers!

  24. I got to try macaroons (NOT macarons) in the U.S., but have never really thought of making these cookies. Since I have like a big stash of egg whites in the freezer, perhaps I should give them a try?! I'd love, love to dip mine in melted chocolate!


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