Raspberry-Rhubarb Pie

When you only have one photo, you go with it.

Since winning a first place ribbon at the 2016 Iowa State Fair with this raspberry-rhubarb pie, I have had several requests to make it. I made three more just last week. Yet, I have had no opportunities to take any decent photos because I have not been able to cut into a single one I made. This is the only photo I have. Not the greatest photo, but the ribbon makes up for that.

You might be wondering, why raspberry rhubarb?

A few years ago I spent a morning enjoying pie and coffee with a few of my cousins at the Coffee Cup Cafe in Sully, Iowa. They are well-known for their homemade pies, having received numerous accolades including USA Today's Top 10 Places in the U.S. for Pie, as well as being featured in Jane and Michael Stern's "Road Food" and "500 Things to Eat Before It's Too Late", among others. Even Lance Armstrong stopped there for a slice of coconut cream pie during RAGBRAI in 2006.

I'm always hesitant to order restaurant pie, even at small-town cafes where the pie should be homemade, even if they are known for it, because I have been disappointed on more than one occasion. Not even a hint of disappointment was to be found at the Coffee Cup. The pie there was spot-on, homemade delicious. My cousins and I each ordered two slices so we could taste-test several varieties. I can't even remember what my other slice was, because I was absolutely smitten with the raspberry-rhubarb. So smitten I went home to try to recreate it myself.

My first attempt was in the ballpark. I decided I didn't get it sweet enough and would add more sugar on the next attempt. Except that second attempt didn't come until this year's state fair.

For the two-crust fruit class, a class in which I had yet to take first place, I wanted a fruit combination that might catch the judge's attention -- and I remembered the raspberry-rhubarb I had made only once. So I bumped up the sugar to 1 1/2 cups and reached heavenly perfection. This pie is so yummy, and if you have the best homegrown rhubarb, it melts in your mouth.

Now most people serve pie with ice cream. At my house, most people have to request ice cream if they want it with their pie because I do not. So if you are an a la mode kind of girl or guy, be my guest. But this version of a rhubarb pie, with a sidekick of raspberry, doesn't need it (in my opinion). If it does, you could always bump up the sugar a bit more. Either way, I think you will enjoy this pie as much as anyone. But if you're going to write a blog post about it, take a picture before it's all gone.

Yours in pie,


Raspberry-Rhubarb Pie

2 c. frozen red raspberries, partially thawed
2 c. frozen rhubarb cut into ½-inch pieces, thawed
1 ½ c. sugar
1 T. cornstarch
2 T. tapioca
Dash of salt
2 T. butter

Sparkling sugar

Line the pie plate with the bottom crust.  In a bowl, combine sugar, cornstarch, tapioca, and salt. Pour over raspberries and rhubarb and combine gently. Let stand 15 minutes. Transfer to crust. Dot the top of filling with butter. Adjust top crust and crimp edges; apply decorative crust pieces if desired. Brush crust with milk; sprinkle with sparkling sugar. Cover edges with foil to prevent over-browning. Bake on middle rack at 400° for 10 minutes, reduce heat to 350° and bake another 45-50 minutes or until crust is lightly browned and filling is bubbly in center. Cool on wire rack.

I shared this recipe on Full-Plate Thursday at Miz Helen's Country Cottage.


A Black Raspberry Pie Story


It's been a while. Like, more than two-and-a-half-years-a-while. So long, I can't even remember how to use Blogger.

What would have me coming back to write a pie blog after all this time? Why, the greatest of state fairs, the Iowa State Fair! (Really, it is. I have a t-shirt that says so.)

Today was the last day of the 2016 state fair, and I'm feeling a little sad, as I always do once the fair is over for the year. To cheer myself up, I turned to pie. Because pie fixes everything. (Really, it does. I have another t-shirt that says so.)

The pie I turned to was black raspberry, the one I entered in the fair yesterday. It won 3rd place in the division "A Pie Story", sponsored and judged by Kate Lebo, author of Pie School and A Commonplace Book of Pie. For the contest, entrants were required to bake a pie and write a story (fiction or nonfiction) somehow related to the pie. My third place finish garnered a personally autographed copy of Pie School, as well as an Oxo pie plate and Le Creuset pie bird, both compliments of Kitchen Collage in Des Moines.

It has been three years since I entered pies in the state fair, but doing so has me excited at the prospect (keyword) of continuing to write Pie on Sunday. So to celebrate this grand "re-opening", I am sharing with you the recipe and the story that landed another ribbon at the fair.

This is a true story…

Black raspberry. The pie I was called to. You know, the one that whispers ever so gently, “YOU, _(insert name)_, will be a pie maker after all!”

My confirmation call came eleven years ago in a not-so-gentle shout. It was a hot, steamy July morning – it’s always those hot summer days, isn’t it? Just a few years prior, I had discovered a large patch of wild black raspberries along the trail in the woods near my house, where my yellow lab and I took our daily morning walk. Thinking I had found a special treasure, each morning I would carefully collect a small container of berries and freeze them until I had enough for a pie. But on this day, there was one slight difference…

I was hot, and pregnant, and did I mention hot? Rather than dress in long pants and long sleeves to protect myself from the berry brambles and potential poison ivy as I otherwise did, I instead braved the elements in shorts and a t-shirt. When I came out of the berry patch, I was quite pleased with myself, for I had a substantial gathering of delicious, stain-your-fingers-purple black raspberries. The next morning, however, I realized I had something else: Itching. Lots of it. All over the lower half of my legs.

I soon recalled that I had gone into those berry brambles unprotected. I was certain I must have come into contact with poison ivy, so after a quick internet search on what to do, I ran to the drug store and bought out their supply of calamine lotion and Zanifel, that abrasive wash that is supposed to scrub out the oil the poison ivy leaves behind. Wow, was that painful! Especially after it didn’t work.

The next day I presented my legs to my doctor, who announced, “My dear, that is not from poison ivy. Those are chigger bites – and the worst case I have ever seen.” Those nasty little mites were making railroad tracks all over the lower half of my legs at this point – not to mention causing the most intense itching and torture I had ever experienced – so my doctor prescribed an insecticidal cream to take care of them. But that didn’t work either! As the railroad tracks began climbing farther and farther up my legs, I wondered what other parts of my body were in danger. So once again I pleaded with my doctor to make it stop, and he prescribed a steroid pack, which finally did the trick. Chiggers be gone!

I have never had another experience quite like that one, the summer the chiggers turned my legs into a roadmap. Mostly because I made sure of it, by never picking black raspberries (or anything else, for that matter) in the wild again. In fact, my husband, having just suffered his own miserable experience with a hot and tortured pregnant woman, planted a black raspberry patch in our backyard immediately the next year.

And that, my friends, is how I was called, for better or worse, to black raspberry.

Yours in pie,


Black Raspberry Pie

3 c. all-purpose unbleached flour
1 tsp. salt
1 c. lard
6 to 7 T. ice water

In mixing bowl, stir together flour and salt. Using pastry blender, cut lard into flour mixture until pieces are size of small peas. Sprinkle 1 T. of ice water at a time over part of flour mixture and stir gently with a fork. Push moistened dough to side of bowl; repeat until all the dough is moistened. Divide dough in half. Form each half into a ball. Roll out and ease 1 crust into pie pan. Roll out second half for top crust.

4 c. frozen black raspberries, partially thawed
1 c. sugar
1 T. cornstarch
1 T. tapioca
Dash of salt
1 T. butter
Sparkling sugar

Combine sugar, cornstarch, tapioca, and salt; pour over berries and combine gently. Let stand 15 minutes. Transfer to 9-inch crust. Dot the top of filling with butter. Lay on top crust, seal edges, and apply decorative pieces. Brush crust with milk; sprinkle with sparkling sugar. Cover edges with foil to prevent over-browning. Bake on middle rack at 400° for 10 minutes, reduce heat to 350° and bake another 45-50 minutes or until crust is lightly browned and filling is bubbly in center. Cool on wire rack.

I shared this recipe on Full-Plate Thursday at Miz Helen's Country Cottage.


Cranberry-Raspberry Pie and a New Year

Happy 2014!

New year, new pie post.

(Hopefully I won’t be saying “Happy 2015” before I write again.)

We had several Christmas gatherings in the past week, and of course I made a few pies. We hosted my side of the family in our home, and I made a chocolate chip pecan pie, which I have already shared. For gathering with my husband’s side of the family in Minnesota, I brought a cranberry-raspberry pie.

I saw this pie being prepared on the winter holiday edition of Iowa Ingredient. (You can watch the segment here.) The recipe was shared by sisters Amy Barton and Elaine Keuning, who own and operate All About Pies, in Monroe, Iowa. I think it’s hard to find a good pie away from home, so I’m always interested in finding places to try good, homemade pie. I’m planning a day very soon to take my kids snowshoeing out on the prairie, and since Monroe is just down the road from the refuge, we may have to make a little detour and pick up a pie to take home.

I’m always looking for new ideas for using cranberries, especially in pies, and Christmas seemed like the perfect time to try this combination. I loved the tart bitterness of the cranberries paired with the flavor of the raspberries, and the almond flavoring hinted just a bit at cherry. If you plan to serve this pie minus the ice cream (the only way to eat pie, in my humble opinion), you may want to bump up the sugar just a bit, depending on your sweet tooth.

This is a pie worth eating again and again, so stock up on the cranberries in your freezer and you can make it whenever you want.

Yours in pie,


Cranberry-Raspberry Pie

adapted from recipe by Amy and Elaine of All About Pies, Monroe, IA

1 ½ c. coarsely chopped fresh cranberries
3 c. partially-thawed, frozen red raspberries
½ tsp. almond extract
¼ c. flour
1 ¼ to 1 1/3 c. sugar (to suit taste)
1 T. butter
Sparkling sugar

Line the pie plate with the bottom crust.  In a bowl, combine cranberries, raspberries, almond extract, flour, and sugar. Spoon filling into pie plate; dot filling with small pieces of the butter. Apply and adjust the top crust; trim, seal, and flute edges; cut slits to vent steam. Brush top crust lightly with milk and sprinkle on sparkling sugar. Cover edges of crust loosely with foil to prevent overbrowning. Bake at 400° for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350°. Remove foil; bake about 35-45 minutes longer or until crust is golden brown and filling is bubbly. Cool on a wire rack.

I shared this recipe on Full-Plate Thursday at Miz Helen's Country Cottage.


Appleberry Pie...Gone!

I brought three pies to my family reunion this past weekend. I came home with two slices of peach pie (promptly finished off last night), but the strawberry-rhubarb pie was gone, and so was the apple-blackberry pie. If it hadn’t been such a hot day, I might have had the ambition to take a few photos to share with you.....before we polished it off.
I have entered this pie in the Iowa State Fair a few times. It took 3rd place in the two-crust fruit class at the 2009 fair and again in the 2010 fair. I try to improve my entries from year to year, at least until I earn first place…..so I guess I have a little work to do on this one! No matter the fair results, if you are a berry lover, you must try this pie. (And give me any suggestions you have to improve it!)
Yours in pie,

Appleberry Pie

2 c. frozen blackberries, partially thawed*

2 c. thinly-sliced, peeled Golden Delicious apples

½ T. freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 c. sugar

2 ½ tsp. cornstarch

2 ½ tsp. tapioca

½ tsp. ground cinnamon

2 T. butter


Sparkling sugar
*I often use one whole 12 oz. bag, which partially-thaws to about 2 cups.

Combine blackberries, apple slices, and lemon juice. In a separate bowl, combine sugar, cornstarch, tapioca, and cinnamon. Add to fruit mixture and combine gently. Let stand 15 minutes. Transfer to pastry-lined pie plate. Dot the top of filling with butter. Adjust top crust; seal and flute edges. Brush crust with milk; sprinkle with sparkling sugar. Cover edges with foil to prevent over-browning. Bake on lower middle rack at 400° for 10 minutes; lower heat to 350° and bake for 1 hour more or until crust is lightly browned and filling is bubbly in center. (Remove foil last 15 minutes of baking.) Cool completely on wire rack.



Butterscotch at the Potluck

You can also find this post at Two Chicks from the Sticks. A big thank you to Jamie and Jill, who invited me to guest blog!

I hope that when my kids are of necessary age, they will choose to join the best youth organization known to mankind. (In my humble opinion.)
Want to know what it is?
Why? Of all the activities I was involved in growing up, and there were plenty, 4-H provided the greatest opportunity for me to grow in all aspects of life and to develop any and every quality and skill I chose to pursue. After all, there are four H’s: head (clearer thinking), heart (greater loyalty), hands (larger service), and health (better living). On every scale: my club, my community, my country, and my world. Yep, I think that pretty much covers it. What else is there?

I was a proud member of the Shiloh Sunny Smilers (don’t you just love those 4-H club names?), an all-girls club that was the female answer to whatever it is that boys do in their all-boys clubs. While the girls in my club still had the opportunity to pursue other traditional “farm club” interests such as machinery and animal husbandry (I’m sort of making that up, I don’t really know what they called raising animals to show at the fair), our girls’ club focused on all things domestic.

Many of my fondest memories of my childhood and adolescence are of the varied activities and projects our club completed together. I recall field trips to visit experts, such as when we were introduced to a woman who refinished furniture. She had so many beautiful pieces in her shop, and I remember thinking that I wanted to learn how to strip down old wood and make it shine like new. At another club meeting each of us designed our own individual quilt blocks, and then shopped with our moms for coordinating fabrics to bring life to our designs. One frustrating individual sewing project involved a floral print blouse with a collar and yoke that put me in fits and tears. (My mom had to help me finish that one.)

Every fall we prepared for our biggest club fundraiser, canning and selling beef. Long before school was out for the day, our club leaders and several of our moms would set up in the school cafeteria, ready to roll by the time all the girls would arrive from our classrooms. We were assigned different tasks depending on our age, such as cutting up the beef, packing the jars, or measuring salt. Our moms (mine included) would handle the processing of the jars in the large pressure canners they had lugged with them and placed over the burners of the large industrial gas range, sometimes staying hours into the night to finish in an initially-cool kitchen turned steamy-hot once the first lid was removed. Their commitment made all the difference when in early November, we set up our table at the local craft show and bake sale, where we would sell out of canned beef just a few hours in. Our canned beef was so popular that after the first few years, our club leaders began taking advance orders so we could better keep up with demand. Certainly, this offered us a lesson not only in home economics, but in economics itself.

Our club also held an annual senior citizen luncheon at the community building, which coincided with preparations for our town’s annual celebration, Wellsburg Days. As the carnival had arrived overnight and began to set up right in front of the building, we would scurry back and forth between the kitchen and the only grocery a half-block up Main Street, grabbing whatever essentials we had forgotten as we began preparing a lunch that I seem to remember included beef-burgers, potato salad, and a fruit salad with marshmallows. I’m sure there was more, but the details have begun to fade. (Surprising, considering it involves food!)
For entertainment at the luncheon, some of our club members who would be delivering a demonstration and competing at the county fair would use the opportunity to practice and, in turn, delight an audience of senior women, women who had long mastered the skills we had barely just begun to undertake. One such day in the middle of June, my fellow club member, Monica, and I demonstrated how to make banana bread. We used an old recipe that her mom provided for us, which is still one of the best banana bread recipes I have. A few months ago, after my recent appearance in Our Iowa Magazine, I received a handwritten letter from back home, from a woman 101 years young (who still lives in her home, by the way). She remembers me as a child and as a young teenager, who demonstrated making banana bread at the senior citizen luncheon. And she still has our recipe. Apparently, we made quite an impression!
That banana bread demonstration equally impressed the judges at the Grundy County Fair, as Monica and I were selected to advance to competition at the Iowa State Fair. In all honesty, though, I can’t remember if it was banana bread that we prepared for the state fair audience. We had also demonstrated how to make an angel food cake one year at the county level, but I don’t know for sure which demonstration brought us to Des Moines. Either way, it was 4-H that gave me my first opportunity to compete in and develop a love for the greatest of state fairs, a love that continues today. I’ve now been competing in the foods division for thirteen years straight.
As much as I love the Iowa State Fair, 4-H brought me far beyond the ninety-minute trip to our state capital. While I’ve traveled to destinations far more exotic and worldly, spending a week in our nation’s capital as a teenager learning about how our government functions, from its beginnings, is one of the greatest opportunities I think I’ve ever had, one which formed lifelong friendships. The Citizenship Washington Focus trip for 4-Hers is not your typical sightseeing tour. To put it mildly, it’s like leadership camp on steroids with Washington, D.C., as your classroom. Not only did we have a jam-packed week with visits to both well-known and lesser-known landmarks and institutions that represent our nation’s history, we also participated in various group learning sessions, assuming roles of policy-makers and “practicing” those roles out in the community. While the capital city itself was mesmerizing, my personal favorite was on our twenty-some-hour drive out East. Visiting a Civil War battlefield at Gettysburg, standing on sacred ground that saw a moment in history which shaped our nation forever, is most humbling. The up-close-and-personal understanding of that history, well past a century later, established the purpose of our week in leadership learning and the importance of ensuring a future in which history will not be repeated.
4-H provided serious opportunities, but it also provided fun, fellowship, and food. In my club, that included our annual family potluck. In my mind it came around every May, because I remember the feel of the warm air on the breeze that wafted through the wide-open windows of the school cafeteria. (In a small town, everything happens in the school cafeteria.) I looked forward to it because it meant school would soon be over for the summer, and the one dessert that I waited all year on which to feast, would grace the potluck table as it did every year. The lip-smacking butterscotch pudding, layered over rich cream cheese and topped with fluffy whipped cream and nuts (let’s face it, it was most likely Cool Whip), all atop a pecan-studded crust, was simply irresistible to me. Just like my uncle who started dishing his plate dessert-first any time my grandma put her raisin cream pie on the table at a family get-together, I too could not risk my long-awaited annual treat to be swept out from under my fork. The position of the butterscotch dessert on the potluck table was the start of the serving line, as far as I was concerned. Yes, it was the first bite to hit my lips once I sat down with my plate, brimming full of the best fare lovingly prepared by the best cooks in town and on the farm, but it was also the last. I was careful to save one final morsel to savor after finishing the rest of my dinner, to linger on my tongue…until the next annual 4-H potluck. My only regret was never knowing who continued, year after year, to please my palate at the potluck. It’s as if they knew.
Butterscotch aside, my days as a Shiloh Sunny Smiler presented me with more opportunities than I probably even deserved, but certainly did not take for granted. I know someday soon my own children will be presented with many of those same opportunities…for clearer thinking, greater loyalty, larger service, and better living. They’ll learn cooperation, to pursue new skills, to be leaders. They’ll explore their world both near and far. They may even find their own version of butterscotch on the potluck table.
All they have to do is choose 4-H.

Yours in pie,

Several years ago I came across a recipe for a butterscotch pecan dessert, which turned out to be just like the one I remember from the 4-H potluck table. It immediately took me back to the warm, fresh air blowing through the school cafeteria, and now I make the dessert to enjoy every May.
Of course, why wait a whole year to savor that rich, sweet treat, when you can enjoy it in a pie just as easily. This recipe comes from Ken Haedrich’s Pie: 300 Tried-and-True Recipes for Delicious Homemade Pie. I entered this in the 2010 Iowa State Fair and took first place in the butterscotch pie class. Checkerboard crust or just simple crimped edges, this pie is a winner either way!
Butterscotch Pie with Checkerboard Crust
Checkerboard Crust:

Roll out dough and ease into pie pan. Trim crust. Make cuts through the dough at approximately ½-inch intervals and approximately ½-inch long. Carefully fold every other section up and toward center of pie to create checkerboard appearance. Line pastry with parchment paper and fill with pie weights. Bake in 450° oven for 8 minutes. Remove parchment paper; bake 5-6 minutes more or until golden. Cool.

1 c. packed brown sugar
1/3 c. all-purpose flour
2 c. whole milk
3 large egg yolks
¼ tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
3 T. butter, cut into small pieces

Combine brown sugar, flour, milk, egg yolks, and salt in saucepan. Cook over medium heat, whisking until mixture thickens and starts to boil, about 6-7 minutes. Continue to cook, whisking rapidly, for 2 minutes more. Remove from heat; whisk in vanilla and butter, one piece at a time. To cool, transfer filling to a bowl and chill over an ice water bath, stirring occasionally, until completely cooled. Transfer filling to pie shell, cover surface with plastic wrap, and chill in refrigerator for several hours or overnight.

1 c. heavy whipping cream
3 T. sugar
½ tsp. vanilla
Chopped pecans

In large bowl, beat cream until soft peaks form, gradually adding the sugar during beating. Add vanilla and beat until nearly stiff peaks form. Spread whipped cream over pie and top with chopped pecans. Serve and store remainder in refrigerator...as if you'll have any.


Something Old, Something New

Three weeks ago I made a pie, and I’m just now getting around to writing about it. (Lately, that’s nothing new.) Something I figured out, not having time to do both:

It’s a whole lot more fun to eat pie and not write about it than it is to write about not eating pie.

I’m sure you would agree. Nevertheless, I thought I should at least share the pie with you. I mean the pie recipe. The pie itself is long gone. The recipe, however, is something old. Before I share it, I’ll fill you in on…

Something New
You may have noticed the straying from my usual format of a few photos with captions laced in between. That’s thanks to one of my favorite blogs, Small Things. Ginny Sheller shares about her life with her family in their 1800s farmhouse in eastern Virginia, where she raises six children, knits, and tries to maneuver life around her husband’s renovations. Most importantly, she shares their life in beautiful photographs that always seem to bring a sense of peace and calm pouring over me. My photos do not come close to measuring up to Ginny’s talented eye, but I thought I’d deliver them today in a way that might string together a story without me having to explain every detail, and let you put it together for yourself.

Of course, I’ve been known to over-explain in duplicate, sometimes even in triplicate, my random thoughts now and then. (Just ask my husband. I’m sure he’d be more than happy to confirm that for you.) So, there’s a chance that by the time you’re done reading, I will have given you the whole story in words anyway. I thought I should warn you. But then, I guess you will have figured that out by the time you are done reading…

Something Old
As you may have guessed, I collect cookbooks. I have hundreds of them. (Okay, I haven’t counted, but the tally is up there.) One of the series I continue to add to is my collection of Iowa State Fair cookbooks. A recent find is of the fair’s eighth edition, “History in the Baking,” during Iowa’s sesquicentennial celebration. The recipes contained within its pages are from three years of competition: 1993, 1994, and 1995. A special section includes recipes of yesteryear, a sampling representative of Iowa’s 150-year past.

While not from the section of historical recipes, I came across a recipe for coconut cream pie that looked to have the simple, old-fashioned flavor I was looking for. This pie won first place in the cream meringue class in 1995 and was prepared by Clifford R. Ellington of Des Moines. He topped the pie with meringue, but I was in the mood for a sweetened whipped cream. The only other adjustment I made to the recipe was adding a bit of coconut flavoring to the filling. The result was divine. I could have eaten it all day.

(Oh, wait…I did.)

Three weeks ago was also the first warm day of Spring for us, and the first weekend of soccer games. My kids wanted to spend their down time “playing sports”, so I snapped photos while they did so with their dad. And I observed a few more birds (a mourning dove and a brown thrasher) to add to our growing list of sightings.

Whether you’re doing something old or something new, I hope your Spring is off to a warm start.

Yours in pie,

Old-Fashioned Coconut Cream Pie

(From “History in the Baking: Recipes from the Iowa State Fair," with slight changes)

For the filling:

1 c. sugar

¼ c. cornstarch

¼ tsp. salt

3 c. whole milk

4 egg yolks, slightly beaten

3 T. butter

1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract

¼ tsp. coconut flavoring

1 c. flaked coconut

In saucepan, combine sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Gradually stir in milk. Cook until thickened and bubbly. Reduce heat; cook and stir 2 minutes more. Remove from heat. Stir a little hot mixture (about 1 c.) into beaten egg yolks. Return to saucepan and heat until bubbly. Cook and stir 2 minutes more. Remove from heat. Stir in butter, vanilla, and coconut flavoring. Stir in coconut; mix well. Transfer mixture to a bowl and place bowl in ice water bath, stirring to cool. When completely cool, transfer mixture to baked pie shell, cover surface with plastic wrap, and refrigerate several hours.

For topping:

1 c. whipping cream

¼ c. sugar

1 tsp. vanilla extract

Toasted flaked coconut (about 2 T.)

Beat whipping cream in bowl of electric mixer until frothy. Gradually begin adding sugar, beating continuously until soft peaks begin to form. Stir in vanilla. Top filling with whipped cream and sprinkle on toasted coconut to garnish. Store pie in refrigerator.

I shared this recipe on:
Full-Plate Thursday at Miz Helen's Country Cottage and
Church Supper at Everyday Mom's Meals.


A Break from the Drought (of Pie)

Pucker-Up Lemon Meringue Pie
I’m back, and so is spring! The warm sun and fresh air prompted me to make a pie, one that is equally bright and cheery, to awaken all the senses. (Except for hearing. I’m pretty sure we can’t hear pie. Unless that’s the point: peace and quiet.)
But first…
There’s been a long pie drought plaguing my household. I shared with you back in January that I would be adopting simplicity as a sort of theme for the year ahead. That meant that making pie, and sharing it on this blog, would happen a little less often.
Three months is a wee bit longer than what I had in mind.
Since that time, I’ve been busy. Aside from watching all the home improvement projects my husband has been completing around the house as we’re getting ready to sell (watching him takes up a lot of my time and energy), I have been working on some of my own little projects. Mostly, they’ve been in the form of organization. While reading Simplicity Parenting (you may recall seeing this book in a past photo), I decided to cut down the collections of toys, games, puzzles, and general kid-clutter in our house…by half. This made a serious dent not only in making the space more visually appealing, but also in our children taking greater responsibility to routinely clean up their things when they are done.
Books have been another issue that needed my attention. I love to read, and I certainly have some books that will maintain their place on my bookshelf for a long time to come. I have a habit of hanging on to books that serve as a reference for me, but once they are no longer useful to me, I pass them on. So my own books have not really been the problem. It’s the children’s books that have taken over our household.
I’d like to blame this on my children, but I can’t.  When my son was born and I quit teaching to stay home with him, all the children’s books I had purchased came home with me. Having been a reading teacher for nine years, there were a lot of books. And you can’t ask a reading teacher to get rid of her books.
But it didn’t stop there. We added board books for the baby years, gave our kids special keepsake books for every birthday, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter, and every major and minor holiday including Hanukkah (even though we’re not Jewish), and ordered from nearly every Scholastic book order (which often came home three at a time) since preschool started three years ago. Not to mention the Scholastic book fairs during parent-teacher conferences. And don’t forget the library books, both from the school library and the public libraries (yes, we are card-carrying members to four area libraries). Once, we had so many books checked out that when it was finally time to return them, I had to haul them in an 18-gallon tote in the back of my vehicle. (I think we had checked out over 80 children’s books, over the course of several visits to the library, at that time.)
Like me, my children also love to read. My son was reading early first-grade material before he even started preschool, and my daughter, who is currently in preschool, is reading at a mid-kindergarten level. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that all the books they have been surrounded by since the days of their births (yes, really – Goodnight Moon was one of the first board books I read to them in the hospital when they were born), have been a major contributor to their success as readers and more importantly, their love of reading and good books. And I know that watching their parents read, surrounded by lots of good books ourselves, has influenced them as well.
So, I’m not going to apologize for all the books, but I do still have control of them. While I’m quite certain that I didn’t cut down our collection of children’s books by half, I did remove a sizeable chunk. Enough that we could more easily house the books in the space we have. And in keeping with simplicity, I found a system for organizing them that finally works for us.
I’m not sure why I waited this long (only seven years) to figure this out. It’s essentially what I did to organize books in my classroom. At school, I organized my books by reading level because that’s how I needed to use them. This time, I organized our children’s books by category (such as science-related books, favorite authors, favorite characters, etc.), assigned a different color code to each category, labeled individual books within a category with stickers of the same color, and placed all those books in the same basket on the shelf. My son and daughter each have a shelved set of baskets in their rooms, where we keep all the books, and the books are shared by all. So that made 16 baskets of book categories. I had to get a little creative to come up with that many color codes, but I made it work. (I know that doesn’t sound simple, but it is when you consider the hundreds of books that would eventually end up in stacks throughout my kids’ bedrooms as they pulled them off the shelf because they couldn’t easily find the books they wanted.)

I still have to create labels with corresponding stickers for each basket front so the kids can easily find a book category and also quickly know where to put back a book. Right now they just check inside a basket to find sticker colors, and even so, it still is working so much better than anything else we’ve tried (or haven’t tried). 
And speaking of books, we’ve been using a recent book purchase to more thoroughly enjoy spring outdoors. I found this Birds of Iowa Field Guide in the bookstore of the Prairie Learning Center at the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge. We headed “to the prairie,” as we like to say, over Spring Break to enjoy the peaceful quietness we always find there.

While at the refuge scouting for the bison herd, we were surprised when we came upon a herd of 17 deer...

I also took the bird guide with us when we spent a few days over break visiting my sister. We had planned to hike a nearby nature trail while there, but it was unexpectedly cold and snowing that day. The bird guide wouldn’t have done the most good there anyway. My sister lives in Kansas. My bird guide is for Iowa. (I’m always prepared like that.)
We have been using the bird guide to study the birds we see in our backyard and the park behind our house. So far over the last few weeks, we’ve observed and identified: hairy woodpeckers, red-bellied woodpeckers (not to be confused with red-headed woodpeckers), blue jays, Northern cardinals, house finches, dark-eyed juncos, black-capped chickadees, American robins, and numerous sparrows, as well as the standard Canada geese and mallard ducks we often see in the ponds and creek we pass during walks along the trail near our house.
This is a female hairy woodpecker in a river birch tree in my backyard. Or it could be a downy woodpecker. They look very similar.

What does all this have to do with pie? The organization projects, time spent outdoors, and bird-watching are just a few of the activities that have kept me busy over the last few months. They are also what caused the pie drought in our house. But, after such a long spell without pie, this one sure tasted good!
Here’s to hoping this is the end of our drought.
Yours in pie,

The filling is a deeper layer than it looks in this photo. After I made the pie, I was impatient and forgot to chill it before slicing into it. As a result, the filling oozed out. Don't forget to chill it before enjoying!
If you’re looking for intense lemon flavor with just enough sweetness to make you crave more, and an insanely high layer of the fluffiest meringue this side of the Rocky Mountains, so fluffy you’ll think that it’s whipped cream, then this is the pie for you. I first saw this pie being made on Cook’s Country, and when I tried their recipe, the level of tartness was sky high itself. I’ll never forget the seriously-puckered look on my husband’s face after his first taste, which only became more so with each subsequent bite. The next time I made a few adjustments, and this became an instant favorite.

I entered this pie in the 2010 Iowa State Fair in the Machine Shed Pie contest. It took first place in the lemon meringue class, and then second overall for the contest, out of about 120 pies. I think you’ll agree: this pie is a winner!

Pucker-Up Lemon Meringue Pie

Adapted from Cook’s Country

For filling:

1 ¼ c. sugar

¼ c. cornstarch

¼ tsp. salt

¾ c. freshly squeezed lemon juice

¾ c. water

8 large egg yolks (reserve 4 whites for meringue)

1 T. grated lemon zest

3 T. butter, cut into pieces

In saucepan, whisk together sugar, cornstarch, and salt; add lemon juice and water, and whisk until dissolved. Bring to simmer over medium-high heat, whisking occasionally, until mixture becomes translucent and begins to thicken, about 5 minutes. Whisk in egg yolks until combined. Stir in lemon zest and butter. Bring to simmer, stirring constantly, about 2 minutes. Cool completely and pour into baked pie shell. Cover surface directly with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator until well-chilled, several hours or overnight.

For meringue:

½ c. water

1 c. sugar

4 large egg whites (room temperature)

Pinch of salt

½ tsp. cream of tartar

½ tsp. vanilla extract

Combine water and sugar in saucepan. Bring to vigorous boil and cook 4 minutes, until slightly thickened and syrupy. Remove from heat and set aside. Beat egg whites in electric mixer until frothy, about 1 minute. Add salt and cream of tartar. Beat, gradually increasing speed, until whites hold soft peaks, about 2 minutes. With mixer running, slowly pour hot syrup into whites. Add vanilla and beat until meringue has cooled and becomes very thick and shiny, 5 to 9 minutes. Mound meringue over chilled filling, being careful to seal the meringue to the crust around the edges. Bake in 400° oven on lower-middle rack until peaks turn golden brown, about 6 minutes. Cool completely on wire rack, then chill well in refrigerator before slicing and serving.

I shared this recipe on Church Supper at Everyday Mom's Meals.