I've decided the main reason I had such a blast at the rhubarb festival was due to a change of mind-set. Normally at this type of event I watch from the sidelines, a wallflower worried over looking silly or drawing attention. This time I decided to just enjoy myself and have fun instead of worrying about how silly I looked or felt trying something new. It worked(!) and I'm looking forward to applying that approach to the rest of life. In fact, I was having so much fun making pie I didn't even try to hide from the camera. (Ten pictures of me in this post should be good for quite a while, right?)
I signed up for the contest on a whim and ended up as a contestant. For each category (kids, men, women and over age 65) 4 names were drawn out of hat to participate. Each person was given pie dough, chopped rhubarb, sugar, flour, salt and utensils. A recipe for the filling was also provided. Contestants had to roll out the dough, prepare the filling and then roll out a top crust to decorate. Guidelines were minimal and it was more about having fun and being creative. What's not to like about that?!
The kids went first and I was really impressed with the 8-year-old boy. He did everything without help and his pie looked great. I was so into it I forgot to snap a picture. Next was the men's category, also a lot of fun to watch. They did a great job and even pulled out the pocket knives to make a few decorations.
After the guys was the over age 65 group. Watching hands that have made countless pies was a treat. This lady even used rhubarb to crimp the edges.
It was clear she was the pie maker in the family. Her husband was next to her making his very first pie. He did a great job with the bottom crust (above) but then dumped the flour for the filling into the crust. Upon realizing his mistake he tried to dump it back into the mixing bowl but the crust went with it. After re-situating his crust he did the same thing with the chopped rhubarb. His wife fixed his crust while he wasn't watching, it was pretty cute.
Then it was my turn. After watching everyone else I was relieved that the crusts were rolling out so easily. I enjoy making pie, but in my perfectionism the crust tends to frustrate me. I never seem to cut in the fat to the right degree or I add a tad too much liquid. (Actually there's quite a few other things that I could be doing wrong...you should read about the science of pie crust in BakeWise). Needless to say I was pretty excited to work with such a great crust recipe, and one that had already been prepared for me. Here's me starting on the bottom crust.
Dough for the bottom crust was made by a local baker and utilized vegetable shortening as the fat. Dough for the top crust was made using lard from the organic pigs raised by the event coordinator. The type of fat used in a pie crust makes a difference in final results. What's known as a mealy or tender crust is often used for the bottom of fruit pies. This type of crust absorbs some of the liquid without getting soggy. Top crust is preferably flakey. The texture of the crust is determined my the size of the fat particles and how well they coat the flour proteins....annnnd I'll stop on the science and get back to the contest. Now I'm rolling out the top crust.
Then I cut it into strips for a lattice top. Ideally you would do this before pouring the filling into the crust, but I was having fun here and ignoring the science.
This was not a test kitchen experiment but I couldn't resist trying something new, which is where the twist comes in. I decided to go for a lattice on the top crust, but with a twist. Somewhere in all my food gazing I ran across the idea of twisting the strips. (Actually, I think this idea came straight out of our old Betty Crocker cookbook.) Since I was having such a good time and not worrying about making it look perfect I decided to give it a shot.
On second thought I would have stopped with the twists above and left them all in the same direction, but I had a lattice on the brain. I didn't want to take time with weaving (or get frustrated with breaking strips) so I just laid the twisted pieces right on top of the others. Much easier than weaving and it still resembles a lattice.
Then I attempted to flute the edges. I can never figure out how to work the strips into bottom crust without making a mess. By this point my fingers needed a good apron wipe and my hair in my face was driving me crazy. So in the spirit of fun I just called it good enough.
Rhubarb Sister, Peggy Hanson, was the judge and found the twisted lattice different enough to declare me the winner of the women's group. The girl next to me cut out the shape of MN in her crust with a heart marking Lanesboro. It was her first pie, and looked much cleaner than mine. But like I said, there weren't any hard and fast criteria for selecting a winner.
Each contestant got to take their pie home to bake and I received a rhubarb cookbook and rolling pin as a prize. But the best part was definitely just having fun. Free pie plus someone else did the hardest part making the dough and I just got to play with it. Win, win, win.
I was looking forward to a taste test between the top and bottom crusts to evaluate the lard (yes, I am learning to be flexible and ate lard). But by the time I'd carried the pie around the rest of the day and then stored it in the hot car while we walked around town, it wasn't an accurate comparison. A pie should be baked immediately upon filling so the crust doesn't get soggy. By the time I got home the sugar had drawn out a good portion of the water from the rhubarb leaving about a half cup of sugary liquid in the bottom of the bag. The crust looked pretty wet and wilted so I wasn't expecting anything too grand. Much to my surprise the pie still baked up wonderfully.
SO MUCH FUN!!!!!
Food for Thought: "I must learn to love the fool in me, the one who feels too much, talks too much, takes too many chances, wins sometimes and looses often, lacks self-control, loves and hates, hurts and gets hurt, promises and breaks promises, laughs and cries. It alone protects me against that utterly self-controlled, masterful tyrant whom I also harbor and who would rob me of my human aliveness, humility, and dignity but for my fool." -Theodore Isaac Rubin