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May 11, 2004

Small-Time Cooks

The warm, rainy weather reminded me of summer thunderstorms, and I knew summer would be here soon. Mark was stuck sitting in a car drinking stale coffee while staking out some crooked businessman. I decided to bring him some apple pie—a summer favorite of mine—to rescue him from boredom. He didn't get much sleuthing done that night, but the pie sure was good.

Pie Shell

This recipe makes a shell (crust and top) for a 9" pie

1 1/2 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 stick (1/2 cup) cold butter

1/4 cup cold milk

Combine the flour and salt, then add butter. With your hands, mix the butter in the flour until you get a dry, coarse meal. Add in the milk slowly, forming the dough by folding into the milk. Form a ball out of the dough, and divide in two: one part slightly larger for the piecrust, one smaller for the top of the shell. With your fingers or rolling pin, press out the dough in a circle until it is about 1/8 inch thick and large enough to cover the pie pan.

Apple Pie

4 Granny Smith apples

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 Tablespoon cornstarch

2/3 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon lemon juice

3 Tablespoons soft butter

1 pie shell (see above)

Peel and core the apples, then dice into 1-inch cubes. In a mixing bowl, combine the apples with the other ingredients and mix with your hands until well combined. Don't dilute the cornstarch in liquid; the juices from the apples will suffice. Lay down the piecrust and transfer the apple chunks into the pie pan, but be sure not to transfer the liquid that accumulates at the bottom of the bowl. Top with a pie shell or criss-crossed strips of piecrust dough. Bake for about 40 to 45 minutes at 350 degrees, or until crust turns golden brown. Let cool for about 10 to 15 minutes before serving.

Rhubarb Pie

1 1/2 pounds rhubarb root

2 to 4 Tablespoons sugar

1 pie shell (see above)

Wash and dry the rhubarb well and cut into small chunks. Lay down the piecrust and fill the pie pan with the rhubarb. Add more or less sugar, depending on how sweet or tart you want it. Top with a pie shell and cut holes in the top. Bake about 50 minutes at 350 degrees, or until the rhubarb is mushy and the liquid is of desired sweetness or tartness.

Rhubarb is a root mainly cultivated here in the Midwest, although its origins are first in China, then Europe. It is often used with fruits (or acts as a fruit) in deserts or pastries. The leaves of a rhubarb plant are poisonous, so they are almost never sold still attached to the root. The root itself is very tart when raw, but the sweetness of it can be coaxed out when cooked with sweeteners. This pie can be very sweet or tart, as you like it.

All of the recipes are lacto-vegetarian. To make them vegan, substitute vegan margarine for the butter and soymilk for the milk. Substituting oil for the butter will change the texture of the dough. In the apple pie filling, just leave the butter out. If you avoid processed sugar, substituting maple syrup might work, but you should use less or the pie will be runny. Frozen piecrust is an easy substitute for making dough from scratch. However, many of the frozen piecrusts sold in grocery stores have lard in them; be aware of this and check the ingredient list.