“Grab a bucket and have at it,” the blond twenty-something behind the counter said to us. I could practically feel my hands itching. Their fingers wanted to pick. Jess and I each grabbed a black plastic bucket, big enough to hold several pounds worth of berries, and started to walk down the dusty road, following the signs that pointed us past the blackberry blossoms and the rows of marionberry vines and towards the rows of strawberry.
It was my first time on Sauvie Island. My first time picking berries, too.
I’d have been happy to pick any berry that had found its way into the season, but strawberries are the one I treasure most. With their deep fire engine color and their tiny pop-against-the-back-molars-of-your-mouth seeds. They remind me of my maternal grandmother who made ruby-hued preserves from fresh Ponchatoula strawberries that could actually make your heart melt. Like sweetheart fruit purée is how I remember her strawberry preserves. Fresh, rich strawberry sweetness slithering on top of buttery store-bought biscuits.
You read that right, by the way, I said store-bought. I know as a food blogger, I’m supposed to be all, “I learned how to make flaky southern biscuits the real and proper way – at my grandmother’s hip and apron strings.” But if I told you that, I’d be lying. And also, you’d have to worry. Because when my grandmother attempted to make biscuits from scratch, they were so rock hard, they were actually repurposed as swamp skeet. Pull, fire, POW! Breakfast fireworks, scattered across knobby cypress knees.
Thankfully, I figured out the biscuit thing myself.
But I wasn’t going to make biscuits and preserves with the strawberries we gathered on Sauvie. I was going to make pie. Or galettes. Or basically anything that included some kind of butter, flour, cold water combination from Yossy’s new book, Sweeter Off the Vine (Ten Speed Press, 2016).
Earlier that week, I’d gone to Yossy’s signing event as she was passing through Portland on her book tour. I spent the next several days flipping through it, drooling over things like Spelt Shortcakes with Roasted Stone Fruit and Cherry and Rhubarb Slab Pie, things that are definitely not immediately available in my wheelhouse as a cook but that make my mouth water when I think about them. So when Jess texted me and said, “Want to blow off work tomorrow afternoon and go berry picking?” I didn’t even check my calendar or consider the impending deadlines before texting back a big, fat, “YES.”
Life was sending me signs. Signs that carried such smart messages as: Find berries, make things.
At the end of our berry-picking day, I stood barefoot in my kitchen. There were seven pounds of the ruby red jewels on my countertop, some not-so-inconspicuous red stains on my lips, and a hunk of rustic rye pastry dough that had found the perfect mate: sugar-tossed strawberries and rhubarb. Cut into small discs, the dough rested gently, imperfectly, on top of the fruit, making for the beginnings of a pandowdy – a fruit-froward dessert that’s kind of like a pie but without the dough underneath. Baked until golden on top, bubbling in the middle, and finished with a scoop of thick vanilla ice cream.
I want to find the words to tell you how in love with this recipe I am. Love at first bite is too trite, pure heaven a little hackneyed. But you get my point. It was a far cry from skeet biscuits is all I’m saying.
- 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter
- 4 pounds of fresh strawberries, hulled
- 4 stalks of rhubarb, sliced into ½-inch pieces
- ½ cup of granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon of cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
- ½ cup of maple syrup
- ⅔ cup of rye flour*
- ⅔ cup of all purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons of kosher salt, or 1 teaspoon of regular or sea salt
- 9 tablespoons of very cold unsalted butter
- 2 teaspoons of apple cider vinegar
- 4 tablespoons of ice water*
- 1 egg, lightly beaten for brushing over crust
- 1 tablespoon of turbinado (or other thick granuled sugar such as raw cane or muscovado)
- For serving:
- Ice cream or fresh whipped cream
- Make the pie crust first by whisking together the flour and salt in a large bowl. Add the apple cider vinegar to the ice water and set aside.
- Cut the butter into ½-inch cubes and add to the flour mixture. Toss to coat so that each cube is covered in some flour. Then use your fingertips to press the butter into flat discs or sheets, continuing to toss in the flour mixture as you do this so that the flour begins to stick to each butter sheet. Yossy says it well, "The idea is to create flat, thin shards of butter that range from about the size of a dime to about the size of a quarter."
- Work quickly so that the butter does not get too warm in your hands and at room temperature. If it does start to warm up, just pop it in the refrigerator for fifteen minutes and then begin again.
- Use you rhands to sprinkle a few tablespoons of the cold vinegar-water over the flour and butter mixture, stirring with a wooden spoon until it is combined in the dough. If the dough seems dry, you may need to add more water, but don't add too much -- the dough may look slightly crumbly, but the ideal texture is to have it stick together without falling apart when you squeeze it tightly in your hand.
- Press the dough together into one cohesive ball, then flatten it to form a 1-inch high disk. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least two hours before using and up to 24 hours. If you prefer, you can freeze it at this time, but do thaw it overnight in the refrigerator the day before you're ready to use.
- When ready to cook the pandowdy, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F with the rack you plan to bake on placed in the center of the oven. Butter a 10-inch cast iron skillet and place on top of a parchment-paper-lined baking sheet to catch any drips.
- Roll out your rye pie crust onto a lightly floured surface until it's thin, about ⅛-inches thick. Use a biscuit cutter (or some other round cutter like a glass) to cut small circles out of the dough. You can also simply rip it into pieces if you prefer, it'll look a little messier, but sometimes that's fun. Lay the pieces on a baking sheet and place in the refrigerator while you prepare the strawberry rhubarb filling.
- Add the strawberries and rhubarb to a bowl and toss with the granulated sugar, cornstartch, vanilla extract and maple syrup. Pour into the skillet and place the pie crust pieces on top in a layer -- it's fine if the pieces overlap a bit. Brush topping with egg and sprinkle with turbinado sugar.
- Place skillet on baking sheet in oven and bake until crust is golden, about 40-45 minutes. Spoon into bowls and serve with ice cream or whipped cream.
Do not skip the "ice" part of the ice water. This is critical for achieving a good flaky dough, as it keeps the dough very cold as you pull it together.
If you'd prefer to make a pie for this recipe, simply double the dough recipe.