Rhubarb is one of those gorgeous, tasty foods that is almost mythically beautiful. Its pinkish and purpley stems look like they popped right out of a Dr. Seuss book and its flavor is known to be just about as vibrant as its color.
Sadly, some people (myself included) struggle with the slightly bitter flavor of this gorgeous vegetable. My dad tells harrowing stories of how his mom used to make rhubarb pies when he was a kid that were unpleasant at best and I can’t say that I don’t see where he’s coming from. Despite its beauty, Rhubarb as an ingredient feels aloof, unapproachable, even intimidating, like the most popular girl in school or an ornately-decorated hotel room.
But rhubarb is honestly too lovely an ingredient for me to pass up. If I am offered the chance to cook with the mythical magenta celery of my dreams, I am going for it. But how to tackle this hidden gem of the vegetable aisle?
Luckily, I have friends who are much wiser than me when it comes to the culinary arts and one of those wise friends suggested that I try pairing rhubarb with another sweeter food, like strawberries. Turns out, this is a classic combination that has been a part of early-summer cooking in the South for centuries.
There are tons of wonderful recipes out there for strawberry rhubarb pies, of course, but I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t take some time to experiment and come up with my own. So, after calling on my basic pie crust recipe and a few pounds of strawberries, the Summer Strawberry Rhubarb Hand Pies were born. And they are good, y’all.
The sweetness of the strawberries, especially when fresh, compliments the sour notes of the rhubarb, and the tartness of both ingredients fades into the background when they’ve been cooked together with some rosemary, brown sugar, and a bit of lemon.
And all of that fresh, vibrant flavor is wrapped up in a buttery, flaky, handy-dandy little pie-crust pocket. These are perfect to pack for a picnic (socially-distanced of course), and they freeze well, in case you’re not in a place where you can eat a dozen hand pies in a few days (usually not a challenge for this dessert-lover).
Make the Crust
This is my go-to pie crust recipe. It’s light, flaky, and relatively easy to pull off. However, it does need to chill for at least an hour before use, so keep that in mind.
Pie crust can give some folks trouble. But as long as you keep your butter cold and don’t mess with the dough too much, this crust should turn out golden, crispy, and delicious. Truly the perfect vehicle for any yummy filling, sweet or savory.
This recipe makes a dozen 5-inch hand pies, or one top and bottom crust for a full-sized pie, if you want to do some recipe experimentation of your own.
2 c. all-purpose flour
2 tbs. white sugar
1 tsp. salt
16 tbs. (two sticks) unsalted butter, cold, cut into chunks
2 tbs. milk, cold
1 egg, cold
- Sift together the dry ingredients. Tempted as you may be, don’t skip this step. Trust me, your crust will be lighter and airier if you sift.
- Cut in the cold butter (using a pastry cutter or two knives) until it has been reduced to pea-sized chunks.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the milk and the egg. Add this to the dry ingredients and butter mixture, slowly stirring until the dough is mostly smooth with some large flecks of butter remaining. I like to use a wooden spoon for this, but a rubber spatula also works well.
- Turn the dough onto a floured surface (I prefer a silicone baking mat on top of my counter top to help with clean up), and split in half. Shape each dough lump into a flat, rounded disk.
- Cover each disk in beeswax wrap (or plastic wrap) and refrigerate for at least one hour before using.
Make the Strawberry Rhubarb Filling
This is a tasty, flavorful filling that takes little-to-no work. The rosemary adds an unexpected herby note that compliments the strawberries and rhubarb perfectly. Like the pie crust, it does need to be refrigerated before it can be used.
1 lb of strawberries, hulled and stems removed (can use frozen, but these will be so much better if they’re fresh)
¾ c. chopped rhubarb (can use frozen, but again, it will be better if fresh)
Juice and zest of half a lemon
¼ c brown sugar
3 sprigs of fresh rosemary
Dash of nutmeg
- Chop up the strawberries and the rhubarb. I like the filling for my hand pies to be fairly smooth, so I cut my filling ingredients into a small dice. If you like larger chunks, feel free to leave the pieces bigger.
- Add the chopped strawberries, rhubarb, lemon juice and zest, brown sugar, rosemary, and nutmeg into a small saucepan over low-medium heat.
- Bring the mixture up to a low simmer and let it bubble for around five minutes. Then, turn the heat to low and continue to let the filling reduce for another 20 minutes or until it’s close to a chunky jam in consistency.
- Once the filling has reduced to the desired consistency, take it off the heat and remove the rosemary sprigs. Refrigerate the filling for at least thirty minutes before using.
Make the Hand Pies
Finally, it’s time to bake! Let’s join the pie crust and the filling in delicious, holy, sweet-and-tart matrimony.
- Grab your filling and your pie crust from the fridge. Preheat the oven to 400°. Whisk up an egg with 1 tsp of water in a small dish to use for your egg wash.
- On a floured surface, roll out one of the dough disks to about ⅛ of an inch thick.
- Using a 5-in wide small bowl and a paring knife (or a cookie cutter, if you have one of that size), cut five circles of pie dough and place them on a parchment paper or silpat-lined sheet pan. Gather the scraps of dough and roll them out together to make a sixth circle.
- Place a spoonful of filling onto each dough round. You’ll need less than you think.
- Wet the edge of each circle with egg wash, and then fold over one side of the circle and seal the edge with the tines of the fork.
- Brush the top of each pie with egg wash. Use a paring knife to cut three small vent holes in each pie, making sure to cut through the top crust to the filling.
- Repeat steps 2-6 with the other pie dough disk.
- Bake your hand pies at 400° for 15 minutes. Then, lower the
oventemperature to 350° and bake the hand pies for another 15 minutes, until the tops are golden brown. You might get some seepage around the edges. It happens. I don’t let it stress me out.
- Separate the hand pies from any seepage as soon as they come out of the oven, or else things can get a little sticky. Let the hand pies cool for about 10 minutes before enjoying.
I love eating these hand pies for breakfast with a cup of earl grey or for dessert, lightly warmed in the toaster oven and topped with whipped cream. Enjoy!