In a vocation revolving around butter, flour and fruit, it is not unusual to refer to yourself as a pie whisperer. Easing a slightly warped sheet pan of buttermilk pies into a commercial oven requires a steady hand and a calm inner voice. The need for patience is paramount when convincing graham cracker crumbs flecked with almonds to cling to the sides of an aluminum pie plate. Believe me, pleading with pie plant and strawberries to meld into a perfect balance of sweet and tart takes some coaxing. (In case you missed the Jeopardy category dedicated to pie, pie plant is another name for rhubarb.)
Standing on the cusp of spring, my rhubarb connection at Whole Foods has yet to deliver and folks are starting to get antsy. Winter citrus provided a sunny respite but months of Meyer lemon seed removal has grown tiresome. Living in a state known for its bounty of stone fruit and berries in the summer months, the bakery’s walk-in refrigerator currently holds little in pie-spiration. Desperately seeking fruit in the big box stores, it has been easy to bypass Costco’s consistent offerings of underripe bananas and seedless grapes stacked high in vented plastic. On Fridays, hand trucks roll into the bakery offering wooden crates of fujis and galas and grannys named Smith. This simple act can turn a former pie whisperer into a pie hisser, ultimately into a pie screamer. Don’t take it personally Lancaster County apples; it’s not you, it’s me.
On Wednesday, I read with great interest as Pie Coach Kate McDermott explained the importance of listening to pies, describing the sound a pie makes when perfectly baked. I’m all ears, Kate but the struggle is real. Trying to hear the pies amidst the din of a Marcuzzi espresso machine, the incessant beeping of an oven timer and the tidal wave of retail conversation as it sweeps across the bakery is challenging. My cues are more visual; pies seeking refuge on a baker’s rack have their own heartbeat, a pulse of fruit beating steadily beneath a top crust. Opening the double doors of the convection oven unleashes a fragrance of sweet fruit and almost too much butter. The center of the pies bubble rhythmically, a puddle of wayward juices pooling around the edges. Somewhere in the distance, an oven timer beeps.
For those who believe pie baking is a cakewalk, I beg to differ. It is a labor of love, a lesson in patience requiring all of the senses. I’ll take Pie-pourri for a thousand, Alex.
The answer is: What you bake when rhubarb is not yet in season.
What is, Bittersweet Chocolate Tart with Blueberry Conserve.