The Local Food Report: Blue Ribbon Pie

Elise Kaufman bakes a mean strawberry rhubarb pie. You know the type—rich, custardy filling; tender, flaky pastry; crystals of sugar on the crust, thick wedges that slide out intact. It's the kind of pie you want to devour with your bare hands, straight from the plate cold for breakfast, or hot out of the oven with vanilla ice cream on top.

The judges at last year's first annual Truro Ag Fair agreed. Elise entered her pie in the pie-baking contest on a whim. She and her husband and daughters had been watching reruns of The Waltons all summer, and there was this one episode—the one where Olivia enters her best pickles and pie in the County Fair—that had them all going one night. A few days later Elise's daughter saw a flyer for the contest at the fair, and the whole family agreed: Elise had to enter her strawberry-rhubarb pie.

She won the blue ribbon.

She was shocked, she says, but after watching her make the pie, I'm not surprised in the least. Elise has all sorts of pie-perfection tricks up her sleeve—she stews the rhubarb in orange juice to give it some sweetness along with a bit of extra tang, and she makes sure the pulp is strained. She keep the butter and water ice cold while she works with her pastry, then refrigerates it, the lattice already woven, so that it's still cold when it goes onto the pie. She takes the rhubarb out of the orange juice with a slotted spoon, then thickens the leftover juice with cornstarch before mixing it back into the fruit. She halves her strawberries, then gently spoons the rhubarb and thick orange juice custard over them before pouring it all into the plate. She brushes the crust with an egg wash, sprinkles a bit of sugar over top , and then finally, puts it in the oven, on the bottom rack. This helps the bottom crust cook through and the filling thicken up, she says, and then after 15 minutes, she turns down the heat and moves it up to the top rack.

It takes a lot of concentration. And on top of all that, she grows the rhubarb herself.

It's quite a pie to beat. But the Fair is coming up again next week—Sunday, September 5th, the Sunday of Labor Day weekend—and I'm thinking I might have to enter, even though the competition is so stiff. Of course, the more the merrier (is there such a thing as too much pie?)—if you'd like to enter your pie, you can find out more over here.

Elise will be giving us a run for our money, but I hope to see you there.


This is Elise Kaufman's exact recipe, though I've changed a few words here and there for clarification. It won first place—a blue ribbon—at the 2009 Truro Agricultural Fair Pie Baking Contest.

dough for a 9-inch bottom pie crust and a lattice top
4 cups strawberries, halved and hulled
1 pound rhubarb
3/4 cup granulated sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
1/2 cup orange juice, strained
3 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 egg
1 tablespoon cold water
a pinch of salt

Make your crust and chill it while you start the filling.

Clean the rhubarb and string it. Trim the bottom and top edges and chop the stalks into 1- to 1 and 1/2-inch pieces. Combine the sugar and orange juice in a medium sauce pot and bring to a boil. Stir occasionally until the sugar is dissolved and the syrup is boiling. Add the rhubarb and cook, stirring occasionally, until the rhubarb gives up some of its juice and the syrup thins. Turn off the heat, cover the pot, and leave the rhubarb to steam for 15 minutes.

Roll out the dough for the crust, lining a Pyrex pie plate with a bottom crust (Elise says Pyrex distributes the heat more evenly than metal) and weaving a lattice top (Elise does this on a baking sheet). Return both the bottom and top crusts to the fridge to chill.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Use a slotted spoon to lift the rhubarb out of the sauce pot and set it aside in a bowl. Sift the cornstarch into the orange juice, sugar, and rhubarb juice mixture and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture gets thick and becomes clear. Pour the thickened syrup into the rhubarb in the bowl and gently mix in the halved strawberries and the butter.

Get out the bottom crust and pour the fruit filling in. Slide the lattice on top. Whisk the egg, water, and salt together to make an egg wash, and brush it gently over the pastry top. Take care to make sure the egg doesn't pool—it will fry. Sprinkle with granulated sugar.

Place the pie plate on a cookie sheet with rimmed edges (the pie may overflow) and bake on the bottom rack of the oven. After 15 minutes, turn the heat down to 350 degrees F and move the pie to the middle rack. Bake for another 30 minutes, or until the crust is a deep golden brown and the filling is cooked through.

Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.


Alexandra said...

Thanks for all these tips! My husband loves rhubarb, so I will have to try this pie. Love that she uses her own, from the garden, and organic, no doubt!

Elspeth said...


Aren't they good to know? Elise didn't leave a single thing out when she showed me, and it was clear she'd spent a long time honing those skills. Her rhubarb is, indeed, organic.

Happy baking!


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