There is an ongoing freezer shortage at my house. Anyone lucky/unlucky enough to live with me knows I have a tendency to fill the freezers with bags of post season rhubarb. This means that in order to remove most anything from the deep freeze requires hoisting ziploc bags of pie plant out of the way. By the time you've completed this task chances are pretty good you will have forgotten what it was you were searching for in the first place.
I'm very prudent with the frozen pie filling, always worrying that I'll exhaust my supply before the next crop swings through town. My housemate(s) assures me this is highly unlikely and claims he has the freezer burns and mild concussions (from free-falling bags of rhubarb) to prove it.
January and February are blustery months where I live. Jealously watching @benbmims preparing jewel-like marmalade on the west coast, I complain to no one in particular, "I want to live where you can casually pluck citrus from your backyard tree!" No one replies; the only sound is ice pelting the windshield of my car. By the way, regardless of what you read in the cyber gospel, frozen rhubarb is not really the same creature as its spring-fresh sister. It unleashes puddles, (rivers, really) of moisture and is far better suited to a seriously par-baked crust.
Incidentally, the photo of the pre-baked shell is totally untouched; that little 'heart' is sun peeking through the curtains. I like to think Its a sign from my rhubarb-loving mother. She was also an avid photographer, Always behind the camera, swapping lenses, even developing film in a small darkroom in our basement. She had an eye for composition and light and I wish she was still around to take the pictures. I also miss the way she chose to á la mode her slices of fruit pie with chocolate ice cream which drove my vanilla loving father nuts. I don't have any ice cream in the house because there isn't any room in the freezer because of, well, the rhubarb. For our purposes, whipped cream steps in as a pretty agreeable understudy.
An innocent reach for a single lemon should not disturb neighboring produce. Pineapples however, tend to strut their tropical selves in showy displays that spell disaster. Wedged tightly alongside loose, bouncy citrus, the perennial fruit demands two-handed attention. There is always a shopper hell bent on removing one pineapple from its tightly arranged pyramid, agonizing over the purchase, handling it momentarily before casually placing it back and walking away. That pineapple waits for someone like me to brush against it just as it loses its balance, careening towards any untethered produce in its wake.
Aside from the embarrassment of tidying up a few lemons and cara-cara oranges, I placed the trouble making pineapple in my mittened hand and cradled one of the emancipated oranges in the other. As the remaining pineapples shifted unsteadily, I crept away.
Pineapple upside-down cake is one of the joys of winter. Cakes and pies have long been turned on their heads as a means of utilizing slightly tired fruit by covering it in a blanket of batter. In 1925, Jim Dole’s Hawaiian Pineapple Company sponsored a recipe contest seeking clever uses for the prickly fruit. Dole is credited with establishing canned pineapple manufacturing, launching the mass marketing of the once elusive, tropical sweet.
Cookbooks and pamphlets categorize Pineapple Upside Down cake as both a “Busy Day” cake and a “Celebration" cake.” Which leads me to believe that even on the busiest of days you can celebrate. Canned pineapple is arguably easier to use and reliably sweet. But where’s the fun in that when you can secure a fresh pineapple and get to know the poor fellow at Trader Joe’s tasked with reconfiguring the pineapple display?
Jessie’s version of upside down cake was generally baked in a 9” square pan. I think her reasoning behind that was it circumvented any fussing amongst the children. Each slice was the same size, sporting a perfect round of pineapple studded with a maraschino cherry and a pecan or two. I bake mine in a 10” two handled cast iron skillet because juggling a single handled, screaming hot pan is tricky and cumbersome. The cast iron skillet allows me to melt the butter and brown sugar right on top of the stove and then move on and choreograph the fruit. Jessie included a little orange juice and orange zest in the batter, which was probably her way of foreshadowing my forays into the produce aisles of January. This cake is truly one of my all time favorites and deserves bonus points because other than whipped cream, it requires no additional embellishment. Unless you forget to buy the cream when you're at Trader Joe's, forcing you to eat the cake straight up.
With a solid week of January under our stretchy waistbands and snow in the forecast, the kitchen remains a safe refuge from the outside world. It's doubtful Dr. Fauci will agree with me when I suggest a breakfast pastry can be considered an immune-boosting meal, one high in antioxidants and Vitamin C. But a morning bun swirled with citrus and slathered in lemon curd certainly couldn’t hurt our current state of wellness. And just think of all the egg white possibilities in a recipe yielding 7 leftover whites! (Despite landing on the cusp of a brand New Year ripe with resolutions, my leanings would be more Pavlova-focused, less omelette driven.)
Morning buns are indeed, a commitment, and might require a run to the market. (Technically not a run; my knees and wrists can assure you that slick pavements are totally unforgiving.) The curd can be made a day or two before, which will streamline the process and afford you a few spoonfuls to snack on while you wait for the dough to rise. Once the buns are assembled, you can slice through them with dental floss, a trick that’s been around for a very long time, despite its recent ten minutes of fame. Just make sure to use unflavored/unwaxed floss; this recipe is not intended for, nor does it endorse ‘minty freshness’.
As meteorologists quibble on the number of snowy inches headed our way, one remedy to the numbing temps and icy sidewalks is a serious dose of sunshine. Though a trip to the market is not nearly as restorative as a tropical vacation, a stroll through the citrus aisle can feel somewhat therapeutic, a harbinger of warmth waiting on the other side of this season. Hopefully you will remember to pause and grab a not-so-sanitized shopping cart instead of juggling the fruit, the eggs, and the flour in your hands. More importantly, may your check-out line be shorter than the lines for a rapid-test.
Professional Pie-isms & Seasonal Sarcasm